When I went to visit Mu Au Poo, Mu Aung in Thai, to visit Boowa and his family I had no intention of visiting the village school. I have been to the school many times and the only need they had expressed was for an English teacher. I have been unsuccessful in finding anyone and I’m never there long enough to reaIly be of much value. However, I ended up at the school begging for power to recharge my tablet which was doubling as my camera on the trip. There is no power in most of the homes despite the number of solar cells that are posted out front, another scheme by an ousted Prime Minister to get the votes of villagers who receive so little. Power for a vote seemed like a good idea at the time but the cells have long been outdated and are of no value.

Mu Au Poo has a government school, completely controlled by the Thai Education system. There is no Karen education, that fight long since given up. The teachers all speak Thai, no Karen, except the day care teacher who is a local woman.

IMG_20140212_121413The day I went begging the area superintendent was there for a visit, he also speaks no Karen or English and I, so little Thai that it was impossible for us to communicate. I let Boowa take the lead in begging while my influence as a gulawah, (foreigner) got us what we were after.

I plugged in the computer and was gestured towards a chair as Boowa started making small talk. It became clear that we were expected to stay until the charge was complete…it was going to be a long wait. Boowa continued to chat and interpret into a combination of Karen and English, something I refer to as, “Karenglish”, so that I could get the jist of things. As we spoke I gazed around at the pictures of the education hierarchy and the very large fact chart on the school’s attendance information, seventy-three in all. I was told that there were five teachers at the school but the day I was there, there were only two, one for the day care and one for every one else.

I guess we were deemed interesting enough because we were invited to stay for lunch as it was that time of day. The lone teacher joined us and asked me if I would teach English to the students, I figured it was better than making small talk for the next hour. I know she was happy to have a native English speaker help out but as the only teacher present I imagine she was also glad of the break. After lunch she herded the students into one class, all 34 of them which left me wondering where the others 39 could be. It is a common practice in mountain villages that all students of school age are registered whether they attend or not. Perhaps this is not the case here and I thought I’d give them the benefit of the doubt as I was asked to return the next day to finish teaching the students a simple song and phonics of the alphabet. Perhaps the other teachers and students were off the school premises that first day, oh ye of positive thought.

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Day two found me back at school to finish up, “You Are My Sunshine”. When I arrived I was duly impressed by the presence of five teachers, four who were sharing lunch. I was invited to join them and did.

I’m not sure who was providing the teacher lunches but they were of a different caliber than what we were eating in the village, the supplies I had brought up earlier in the week were long gone. We exchanged introductions and chitchat. One of the teachers introduced himself as the chemistry teacher and said he would call me CL. The others seemed to enjoy the joke, I missed it. I was trying to figure out what a chemistry teacher was doing at a Karen elementary school. I enjoyed my lunch, particularly the bottled water which I hadn’t seen for way too long.

I took the liberty of plugging in my computer again and headed for the classroom. Once again 34 students were crammed into one class with no others in sight. It was as I expected 73 registered but only 34 attending. There are a couple of reasons that this situation continues to exist. One is because many of the students in Grade 5 & 6 have simply dropped out, working with their parents until they are marrying age, for girls as early as 14. Another is because parents cannot afford the required uniform that students must wear to attend. I am reminded again about the vital link to education Jen’s House provides.

I enjoyed the students and they learned a little of a new English song and perhaps the older ones got the concept of using the alphabet phonetially.

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Mostly it was fun for them to have someone different around. I realize there will be no lasting effect but, what the heck, I was there and so were they. As I gathered my partially charged computer up the children were all moving to the gathering hall. I passed by and peeked in the door to see what was up, they were all watching a movie, no teacher was present in the room. As I walked back home one of the teachers waved as he passed me on his motorcycle. It’s no secret that the Thai education system is one of the lowest in Asia, the Thai media is all over this one, when they have time.

Need to know?

Pawba – the name of a bug that bites late afternoon, making one itch like mad, leaving a three-inch-round swollen area which heats up and lasts about two days. Likes to attack places like the ankle, the side of the hand, and the back of the arm. Enjoys natives and foreigners alike. Less swelling on natives — maybe if I’m in the mountains long enough the swelling won’t be as bad.