Laying the foundations for VET in North Western Thailand
By Alex Cotter, CSD
Three years ago I decided I wanted to volunteer at Christmas. I found a small organisation called Baan Dada Children's Home and Community Services, based in North Western Thailand close to the Burmese border. I contacted the project manager, Dada (Sanskrit for brother) Ramakrishna and we agreed a date for my arrival in December 2008.
When I reached the remote village of Huay Ma Lai I was welcomed by the smell of burning meat, honking horns, the sun setting over the mountains and a pick up truck full of children with big smiles and welcoming arms. It was a very moving experience. Arriving at the home I felt incredibly nervous but also particularly excited about what I was going to encounter in my time there and what impact it would have on both my life and theirs.
I learnt that Dada was sent to Huay Ma Lai village, Sangklaburi, Kanchanaburi province in 1994 on behalf of the Neo-Humanist Foundation to provide a safe haven for the increasing number of disadvantaged children in the area. These children are not only Thai, but also Mon and Karen refugees who have come across from Burma to escape the poverty, disease, and political repression by the Burmese military Government. They are not considered full Thai citizens which leave them in a disadvantaged position as they lack access to good education, job opportunities and basic health care. Due to the lack of these educational opportunities and with the closest college being over 200 kilometres away Dada had a vision to build a technical school but due to financial and time constraints his dream for this project was put on hold.
Baan Dada is currently home to over sixty children and the majority of them are in basic education. They offer further skills in arts and crafts, sewing and weaving, languages, healthy living, music, cooking and mechanical and electrical skills. Dada is also project manager for the following current projects: Piloki Village Home Stay and Fish Raising Programme, Medical Outreach Programme, Vaccination Programme, Rubber Tree Plantation, Child Sponsorship Programme and Goat Lending Project. I am truly amazed and in awe of how much Dada does and his complete selflessness to dedicate his life to improving the lives of others.
I got involved with so many different activities whilst I was there. To name just a few, I learnt how to make mud bricks, I taught basic English and I organised the Christmas activities and dressed up as Santa and handed out presents.
In the summer of 2009 Dada began researching his vision of building a technical vocational school. He surveyed 55 high school students and found the majority want to pursue higher education or advanced vocational training. However, the average daily income in the area is US $2.85 and 54% of the students' parents do not have the financial capacity to send their children to college. These are just a couple of the reasons why young people go to work after finishing high school instead of staying on in education. They can only be employed in low paying jobs due to their lack of skills, making it almost impossible to break the cycle of poverty.
After further research Dada found the skills most in demand are in the areas of Automotive, Industrial Mechanics, Electrical Technology, and Secretarial Practice. He then began planning for the project which aims to offer four certified vocational courses as mentioned above that will take three years to complete. The course curriculum will comply with the standard regulations of the Thai Department of Education, and will have the capacity to cater for over five hundred students in the Sangklaburi district and those living in refugee camps in Burma. The Sangklaburi district has a total population of 74,493; 39,399 of them are non-Thai citizens. The cost of the project is approximately $2 million US Dollars which they aim to raise by holding fundraising events. The main event is 'Walk for Education' in October 2010, walking from the home in Huay Ma Lai to Kanchanaburi which is roughly 122 miles.
My time at the home was a life changing event and one I struggle to put into words. The children were truly amazing, such characters and a real inspiration and it's a privilege for me to support the projects through fundraising and sponsorship. I look forward to returning there again in the future and seeing the technical vocational school in operation.
For further information about the school, or to donate or get involved with a fundraising activity please visit: www.prsarkartechnical.wordpress.com
For further information about the Baan Dada and volunteering opportunities please visit: http://baandada.org/