On Tuesday morning, February 16 Jen’s House students received a warm welcome, a tour and a presentation at Payup International College. The tour was led by the Head of International Campus Life, Melissa Stroud. Our English/Karen translator and Payup student, Wijit Wongboboon,  joined us as well and shared his own story with us at the end of the tour. The International College campus is the English Studies wing of Payup University.

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Ingi’s connections in Chiang mai led to this unique opportunity for our students and they had been looking forward to it for weeks. It was the first time these, Jen’s House students, have been in a university environment and their excitement was evident when Ingi and I arrived at Payup to meet them. They didn’t know what to expect but were quickly put at ease by our tour guides. I know they were very happy to be able to communicate in their own language with Wijit, and to understand everything that was being shared. A full tour included computer labs, a class in progress, the Northern Tribe museum and more. Our students were alert and as I looked around the room I could see that they were really listening to our hosts. After the college tour we went to a presentation room to chat and view a video that one of the Payup students had created. Her video provided an overview of Payup University from the eyes of the students. As the comfort level of the our students increased a few were able to ask some questions.

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After a short break we were honoured to meet Dr. Somboon Panyakom who is the Dean of Payup’s International College. Dr. Somboon addressed the students in Karen as well. Dr. Somboon began by writing his name in Karen on the blackboard. He is unique in his position, as he is able to address the Karen students in their first language. He shared stories about his journey from a five house Karen village to achieving his Doctoral Degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences from the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia.

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The students were fully engaged, Dr Somboon was warm and captivating. As a Karen man who, like our students, has come from very humble beginnings their connection was immediate. There was laughter when he told the students about one of his teachers throwing his work back at him in Australia because his English was so poor.  And, there was seriousness when he spoke about how much courage it takes to keep going.  Dr. Somboon is a man who has lived through struggles which are similar to the ones the students at Jen’s House have. He has lived their discrimination and he can lead them through a  higher learning process that will change and protect the course of the Karen peoples’ struggles.

 Kleo and Payup have opened the door towards developing a relationship that will benefit our Karen students in years to come.

Thank you for your warmth and hospitality. We’ll see you soon.