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
Good (and big) idea. Think you’ll have a lot of support for this!
Thein Naing has been posting to the Campie Primary blog, so anyone interested can read about his experience in his own words there:
First of all thank you for all your help with our Burmese visitors. You have been a massive supporter of Campie’s Global Schools Partnership and we were all very keen for you to meet Thein Naing and Say Hai. Thein Naing is staying with me while he is in Scotland and I have to say this is a pleasure and a privilege. He was delighted to meet you and very happy afterwards.
Your support is amazing, and we are all grateful at Campie. I think your suggestions to have students here is great, but there are many difficulties which you are unaware of. First all, most of the children living in the border region have no passports or identity papers so getting them over here would be difficult if not impossible. This is obviousy a massive obstacle, and one which is almost unsurmountable. It can be dangerous for the Burmese to travel within Thailand as they can be arrested at any time and deported. Also many of these children are seriously traumatised as they have lived through terrible things that we cannot begin to imagine. Communities over there are very close, and many people have suffered greatly when removed from their families and friends.
I know you are a great thinker, and this is a great thought, but I worry this is about travelling down this route. But as usual Don, you have opened a debate and hopefully will start people thinking about how we can help and what we can do that is going to be most valuable.
We have much to offer and so, so much to learn from this connection. This is definitely a two-way process as I know your realise. Maybe we can chat (along with Sheila) some time and come up with the best way to help.
Once again thank you for your support and involvement in our partnership.