Phuket school gives Burmese children reason to hope

Volunteers from around the world have helped with facilities, instruction and even dental care.

By Somchai Huasaikul for Khabar Southeast Asia in Phuket

August 14, 2014
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The Good Shepherd School started out small in 2010.

  •  The Good Shepherd School offers free instruction to Burmese children who live in Phuket. [Somchai Huasaikul/Khabar]

    The Good Shepherd School offers free instruction to Burmese children who live in Phuket. [Somchai Huasaikul/Khabar]

Catering to children of Burmese migrant workers who live in an economically depressed corner of Phuket Province, the school was then three concrete blocks topped with a metal roof. Its 20 students had to sit on the floor during lessons by the school's lone teacher.

Since, Good Shepherd expanded its teaching staff and in January opened its new home in a three-storey building near the port of Rassada.

"The majority of students here are the children of Burmese working in the fishing industry as well as in the local construction industry and a few in other jobs," school administrator Nan San San Wai said of its 121 students ranging in age from two to 14.

"We accept student regardless of whether their parents are legally registered to work in Thailand or not," San San told Khabar Southeast Asia. "For study purposes, we divide the students into two groups: those who intend to return and live their lives in Burma and those that do not. Overall only about 30% are preparing to return, mostly because the economy there is so bad.

"Some of these kids were born here in Phuket and have lived their entire lives here, while others came here with their parents."

Teaching students to be tri-lingual

Burmese migrants including San San and a local Thai organisation, were behind the school from the beginning.

The new building came about through a grant from British-based Michael Matthews Foundation and help from Quintin Clover, a former London Stock Exchange employee. He worked for free overseeing the building's construction and launched a website to raise funds for operating costs.

The new facility has a kindergarten class, administrative offices and kitchen on the ground floor; five classrooms including an air-conditioned computer lab on the second floor; and a spacious covered area on the top floor for conducting large activities. There is a small playground and football field outside.

"Teaching the children of migrant workers is very hard because of the transitory nature of the students' families-- their very different backgrounds. There are always new students applying," kindergarten teacher Mary Than told Khabar.

"Under these conditions, our only goal is to get the children to read and write Thai and Burmese– and hopefully some English too– to give them a chance for success in the future," San San added.

The Good Shepherd staff is assisted by international volunteers, including a Canadian dentist who offers students free dental care.

"There are generally four Danish volunteers here throughout the year who work teaching English and looking after the kindergarten," said Irish volunteer teacher Carol Gordison, adding the children's English betters that of kids at most Thai schools.

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