As educators we like to give the impression that we know all there is to know about sacrifice for our vocation. We quite naturally occupy the higher moral territory whenever the opportunity arises, and we sleep well in our beds knowing that the job we do is worthwhile.
So it’s very difficult when a fellow educator from another part of the world comes along and knocks that comfortable mindset, or to use a good Scottish expression “ca’s the legs frae ye” (sweep your legs from underneath you).
Yet that’s just what I experienced on Monday when I met Thein Naing. Thein is a remarkable man, from a remarkable place, full of remarkable people. He works in the Mae Sot area of Thailand just on the border with Burma. The area accommodates over 150,000 Burmese refugees and economic migrants.
The Mae Sot area has around 70 migrant schools which have started spontaneously to meet the needs of 30,000 children who have crossed the border with their parents from Burma. Of this number only 7,000 currently attend these schools, which receive no support from the Thai government and rely solely on resourcefulness and international support.
It’s to this cause that Thein has dedicated his professional and personal life – to help these children, many of whom are stateless, to receive an education and to improve their lives. He works with schools to develop their curriculum, teaching skills, health education, child protection and so many other elements of education which we take for granted.
I was close to tears when he told me that some parents choose to abandon their child at a school knowing that they will have a better life in the care of others – a story of parental love which is beyond anything in my experience.
As we spoke we began to explore possible things that we might do in East Lothian to support education in Mae Sot.
Here’s the pitch!
Next year we could ask each of our secondary schools if they would be willing/able take on one senior student (17 year old) to follow a full year’s study ending in formal qualifications. The schools would seek to find a family in their community who would be willing to host the student. The family would be responsible for feeding and supporting the student for the year – but we would look to raise funds to pay for recreational activities. For our part the authority would seek to find the money to pay for the travel costs for the six students and co-ordinate a support system for the students during their time in East Lothian.
I know that I would have been interested if one of my sons had come back from school and said he had wanted to host such a student, just as I would have been interested as a head teacher. The learning opportunities for our East Lothian students are obvious but we need to look beyond that benefit to the transformational effect it could have on our visitors, their own communities, and development of the democratic process in their country.
Could there possibly be a better gift to give?
Donations to help provide basic education for internally displaced people of Burma can be made at www.nhecburma.org or email@example.com