Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Safely home and news re Migrant Learning Centres

Just home - well actually just finished cleaning up house after arriving home! Great flights. Dreadful 6 hr wait in Amsterdam when we were so so tired but that's not surprising considering the total journey took 27 hours. Thanks for all your good wishes.

Our good friend, Philip Campbell, who has been a VSO worker in Mae Sot and hopes to return there in 2010, has emailed to tell us that he was involved in the writing of the Thai legislation on Migrant Learning Centres and that he sees the legislation as being positive.

We will phone him once we have slept and keep you all posted on this site.

Night night.............. Sheila

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Bad news for Burmese Migrant Learning Centres

(see previous post before you read this one....)

Last week the Thai Ministry of Education held a meeting with the Burmese Learning Centres/schools in Mae Sot to inform them of a new legal regulation that is about to proceed through Thai parliamentary processes and is expected to become law by the end of 2009.

The regulation is called

Regulation of the Office of the Prime Minister

On Education Provision for Individuals with no Civil Registration

Or Thai Nationality

By Non-Governmental Organisations in Migrant Learning Centres

We have an unofficial translation of this document. Here is a summary of its content. If you want to see the main document, email

1. A National Committee comprising the Prime Minister’s Secretary and senior members of the depts of Education, Police, Royal Thai Army, Immigration Bureau, Special Branch, National Security Council, Dept of Employment, Bureau of the Budget etc will assume responsibility for the registration, standards, content of education and direction of the migrant learning centres in Thailand.
2. Local Area Committees will be established throughout Thailand to carry out the policies of the National Committee to ‘control the establishment, dissolution, merger and termination of migrant learning centres’
3. Migrant learning centres will only be allowed to exist if:
- they are administered by a Thai person with a university degree with enough assets/funding to provide for the migrant learning centre
- 20% of instructors have a university degree
- they teach Thai as main communication, Thai History, Thai culture and customs and the democratic government under the Thai constitutional monarchy.
4. Several clauses state how to dissolve a migrant learning centre and a wide range of reasons for doing this exist.

What does this mean for Burmese children in Thailand?

As we understand this, it seems to spell the end for most of Mae Sot’s 50 migrant learning centres and the end of education for most of the 10,000 children learning in these migrant learning centres. Only the wealthy and well connected will survive. What will become of the rest?

The Thai Government issued a policy in 2005, ‘Education for All’ which gives all children regardless of status a right to education (in a Thai school). However in practice it is too difficult for Burmese children to attend Thai schools because of costs of uniform, extra classes, language and also because of the prejudice and discrimination that exists towards the Burmese in Thailand.

Will most migrant centres have to revert to being covert, hidden and underground?

When is a school not a school? When it's a MIGRANT LEARNING CENTRE...

I need to blog this to explain the next blog post!

In Thailand, migrant learning centres are not allowed to call them schools by the Thai government because they do not meet the criteria to register as Thai schools. To do this, they would need to meet Thai standards of building and education, which are way out their reach.

So although we call Hle Bee and Say Ta Nar schools, they are not schools, they are MIGRANT LEARNING CENTRES.

Sheila and Geoff leave Thailand .... 28.7.09

Today is Tuesday and Geoff and I leave Chiang Mai tonight at 7pm to head for Scotland. We will arrive in Edinburgh on Wed 29 July 2009 at 3.40pm - we hope!

It's been another awesome year on the Thai-Burma border with our dear friends, who are like family now. One highlight has been watching 5 other Scottish teachers working here in Burmese schools/migrant learning centres with hopes that this can grow even more.

However, the dark side is that the struggle to make a living for many of our friends is probably getting harder. What will happen to the Burmese living in Thailand in coming months as the Thai government change regulations on work permits, why are they doing this, what's their agenda? What will happen to the Burmese schools under imminent threat of closure by Thai Education Authorities? Will Hle Bee get more funding from its funder?

And the big question... when will democracy come to Burma so the heart desire of most of our friends can be realised... when can they go home to the Burma they love?

Feeling sad..............

Monday, 27 July 2009

Gifts and Goodbyes

The school caretaker's wife and baby present Sheila with
a lovely lamp with a teddy under it.
People who have nothing
yet give so kindly.
When the teachers and students came to pick us up from DK hotel
they gave us these Karen tunics.
Fiona and Irvine, there's one each for you too.

When we got to the bus station in the pick up truck
of the school's Thai landlady,
the tuk tuk appeared too.... much to our delight.
21 folk hugging, waving and saying goodbye....
as we smiled then wept our way out of Mae Sot.
(Well Geoff didnae greet but I did!)
Au Revoir, Mae Sot...
We'll be back next year, won't we Geoff?

Kids, let's make a path....

On Thursday at the end of school, Thazin decided to make a path to Grade 5 and Grade 6 classrooms because that horrible gritty sand you can see was making a mess of the floor. "Students, let's make a path!" 20 mins later a path is made! They don't hang about at Hle Bee.

The School Animals

The school's animals fascinated us.
Chickens and tiny fluffy baby chicks....
Ducks and ducklings....
Fiona even saw a snake on the way up to our room in the hotel,
she declares she was too busy being terrified
to get a good photo of it.
We got this CRAB though......
And as for the school dogs and the school's neighbour's dogs.....
Irvine would love to tell this story.
Bo Bew the white dog is Hle Bee's dog
and here you can see he has come to teacher training session...
...along with his girlfriend
who he was constantly, let's call it, 'harrassing'!
Not what you really want at teacher training...

The girlfriend got bored with training and trotted off....
... where she goes, Bo Bew follows.....

On Saturday, Bo Bew was bogging filthy
so he got a row.

On Sunday, he went fighting
so he got tied up!

Bad Bo Bew!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Caption Competition 1

Any ideas for a caption for this interesting photo?
Clue... it's NOT
"Ohoh, the imodium's wearing off!"
Geoff says, "That stick I'm standing on has just started moving!"
Over to yous.
"Look! In the two minutes we've been posing for this photo,
the builders have put up another building!!"
"Someone's hair is crazier than mine!"

Last day in Hle Bee

Well imodium is a wonderful drug, enabling me to complete my teaching of Emotional Literacy and say goodbye to Hle Bee without fear. In fact, I could do a TV advert for them if they wanted.

Grade 4 have missed out on our input this year and the teacher was really keen to learn about Circletime. Grade 4 are a cracking class, full of sparky bairns. Interestingly the oldest boy in Grade 3 is 16yrs old. He's really tall, funny, confident and smart but he only came to Hle Bee from Burma via Malaysia last year and had not attended school so he is working his way up through the grades. Children are not placed in their year groups so he will probably finish high school age 20. That's the way it works here.
Geoff and 2 of the girls as we leave.
Saying goodbye to these astoundingly brave and dedicated teachers,
who have had no pay this month at all
because the funders haven't recommited yet.
They are all wearing blue because it's Friday
and the King of Thailand likes people
to wear blue on Friday
in honour of his wife.
It's yellow on Monday in honour of him.
People actually do this!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Trotting through the last day!

You thought you'd escaped the toilet stories this year. I thought you may have too. Despite the fact that Irvine was what he called 'uncomfortable' on the 3hr stretch of the bus from Tak to Chiang Mai, I have sailed through the 3 weeks with no toilet events worth recounting....

.... and then at breakfast I felt nauseous and it started..... not a lot of fun.... especially as it's 12 noon here and I am meant to be teaching and doing a goodbye assembly from 1-4pm this afternoon..... watch this space... well metaphorically.... I promise no photos!! Hee hee..... yuk!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Emotional Literacy in Grade 1 at Hle Bee

Today, Yan Yan and Than Thaing and I put up our Feelings displays that our classes were working on earlier in the week. The children loved seeing their friends' photos on the wall. We used the words to teach emotions in Burmese and in English.

I had given Yan Yan the P1 Feelings section of the Creating Confident Kids programme that Forthview and St Frances wrote, to read at the beginning of the week so today I said I would show him how to use Circletime to help his children talk and listen and share their feelings. The children were superb and Yan Yan picked it up really fast. First they said how they were feeling today, then they gave their reasons.
"I feel worried in case my mother hits me."
"I feel angry because my parents did not give me any money to buy a sweet at school."
"I feel worried in case I make a mistake in my work."
See, how they took to it like ducks to water.... speaking of which .... the school has its own mother duck and 3 little ducklings... I always wanted a duck!
Back to the subject.....

One boy in Circletime said he liked lions so we are all being lions... and loving it!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Scottish tourists in Myawaddy, Burma

Today we visited Myawaddy, the Burmese town across the river and border from Mae Sot. We have never been inside Burma before. Here are photos of the journey.

Just left Thailand.
"Are you sure you want to go to Myanmar?"
the Immigration officer asks us.
Off we go onto the Friendship Bridge
that links Thailand to Burma.

Across the River Moei

Others cannot legally cross the bridge
so this is the alternative way to go.

We are about to enter
The Union Of Myanmar.
First we are asked if we've been in contact with Swine Flu.
Then we pay 500 baht each (£10)
and we leave our passports.
"Go and visit our beautiful pagoda."
So we do and here it is...

Then off to a Burmese tea shop
where we are brought Burmese tea
and surreally watch Gone with the Wind on the TV.
Myawaddy benefits from 24hr electricity a day
because many deals are made with Thai traders.
We visit some Burmese friends.
Off the main road,
we find Myawaddy to be a lot quieter than Thailand,
much less cars but so many bicycles, trishaws and motor bikes.
The area we visit has a lot of green trees and plants
which make it pleasant.
However, there are no pavements and the main roads are full of holes and bumps.
It's really muddy.
We like the quietness though.

Every posting has to have
a beautiful Burmese baby.

Then off on motor bikes to the market.
Not our normal mode of transport.

In the dark, covered market
are many narrow lanes and
there we find
many tailors sit and sew garments for customers
in this dark enclosed space.
Back on the motor bikes
to a new pagoda in the south of Myawaddy.
Mae Sot is in the background of this photo below.

The view over to the Karen mountains in the south of Karen state.
This new community in the foreground
like most of Myawaddy
has no piped water.
Instead water sellers come round
selling water to the households.
We go back to the Friendship Bridge
where the Burmese Immigration Officials
laugh at my attempt to count to 10 in Burmese,
then give us our passports back.
As we walk back over the bridge to Thailand,
we see these women doing the washing
in the muddy River Moei underneath us.
Then back into Thailand
and to the comfort of water and electricity
in our hotel.
As we go into DK hotel,
we see a guy cycling
with 20 dozen eggs on his bike!
Amazing day.
We've been to Burma.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Future possibilities for linking with Child Development Centre

Sheila, Lisa Houston, Dr Cynthia and Mahn Shwe Huin

Today I visited Child Development Centre for the second time. Child Development Centre is the very large school run by Mae Tao Clinic. It has 1200 students. 400 0f these children are boarders in the school boarding house. They board because their parents may have died at the hands of the Burmese military because of last year's Cyclone Nargis or because they have become separated from their parents.
Our meeting was to discuss the possibilities of linking Child Development Centre's Primary School with a Scottish primary school and linking their secondary school with a Scottish secondary school through the UK Dept for International Development's Global Schools Partnership scheme. Mahn Shwe Huin, the Principal of CDC, Nant Htay Si, CDC Vice Principal and the 5 senior teachers I met were all very excited and keen to pursue partnership if this is possible. It was also decided that if we can proceed to partnership that Nant Htay Si would be the first person to visit Scotland. This is very exciting indeed.

Nant Htay Si, Sheila and Lisa

Dr Thein Lwin and Lisa Houston helped set up this meeting. Lisa is a Scotswoman who has worked at Mae Tao Clinic for many years as administrator and sometimes travel home to Edinburgh to meet her family. Her husband Rocky is Karen and they have 2 beautiful Scottish Karen children, Ailsa and Jack. Lisa visited Forthview earlier this year.
We were joined towards the end of our meeting by Dr Cynthia. It was a great honour to meet her. You can read about her amazing story and work on but in short, Mae Tao Clinic provides free health care for refugees, migrant workers, and other individuals who cross the border from Burma to Thailand.

Dr Cynthia is very keen to see such a partnership develop and looks forward to the professional development opportunities it will bring her teachers and the unique learning opportunities it will bring CDC students.

Hle Bee gain Health Accreditation status

Today Headteacher Thazin showed me why she wasn't at Hle Bee yesterday. She had gone with some students to collect a Health Accreditation certificate and prize for Burmese Learning Centres. Only 7 schools gained this status and Hle Bee was one. Well done Hle Bee.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Emotional Literacy in Grade 1

I used the Fischy/James Brown song, 'I feel good/bad/sad' to start off thinking of different ways we can feel good - happy, excited, laughing, wonderful and we can feel bad - sad, angry, worried, scared. The children wrote the words in Burmese and English for a display.

The boy above is writing SCARED.

This boy is ANGRY!

This girl is HAPPY.

The children are writing AFRAID in English & Burmese.
Their photos and writing
will make a good class display
later this week.

The children worked in groups. As you can see, there are no desks or chairs.

And finally, they are feeling HUNGRY
but lunch today, like 3 other days of the week,
is just rice.
Only on Friday do they get a little curry with their rice.

Hle Bee buildings

Hle Bee School has grown from the 2 buildings we first saw when we came. Here's a tour. The first building (below) is still built around Thazin's house, which you can see above the green tin (and therefore roasting) roof. Kindergarten B is in here. Fiona spent a lot of time last week showing how to run it like a nursery. In front of the house is a wee staff room, full of ants!

Below is the original second building. It holds 150 children in 3 classes - Kindergarten A where Fiona did some critical thinking work in groups on HOMES, a topic Forthview children in P1 and P2 will be investigaing too. One activity was that the children took home disposable cameras which Fiona will get developed in UK and the prints will be brought back with Forthview prints of the children's homes next year. We have to say that 150 children aged between 6 and 10 in this building is a nightmare. There is no space to move, never mind teach creatively. These children have no desks or chairs either as you will see in the next post on the blog. :(

This lovely long building below holds 2 Grade 2 classes with desks and chairs. This is where we held the teacher training session last Friday.

The Grade 3 and 4 building below is very near the toilets and pretty niffy!

Grade 5 and 6 share this huge new building below and there are less than 20 in each class. It seems strange to us when 150 Grade 1 and Kindergarten are squashed into the small building that Grade 5 and Grade 6 have so much space but resources here are prioritised to the oldest students. It's a great building as a wee breeze comes off the fields behind into the school. Thazin complains it's freezing!

To the right of the Grade 5 & 6 building is a house under construction for 5 teachers. This will be a luxury pad for them! Due to finish in a few weeks. Today the construction workers were trying to get the school's 2 cockerels to fight!

The construction workers live in this big house below which they share with the teacher Yan Yan.

This playground is out of bounds because it is the rainy season. Pity.

A shelter for the children to stay out of the sun made this week by Mon Sein (janny) and Mon Soe (cook).

The toilet block now has 7 toilets and they get the waste sucked out twice a year. I think it's due!
This is the tuck shop, selling all sorts of sugar treats and condensed milk to the children!

A side view of the tuck shop where the janny, his wife and baby live.

It's grown so big, hasn't it?