Aiming to expose Thai students living in a rural area to fundamental English and Chinese, as well as to provide exposure to sports like Frisbee and Touch Rugby, a team of 19 Dunman High School (DHS) students and 3 teachers embarked on a journey to Chiang Mai, Thailand, from the 15th to 28th of November. Simultaneously, this two-week Overseas Community Involvement Programme (OCIP) allowed us to immerse ourselves in the daily routines of the Thai villagers, living a sedentary yet satisfying, down-to-earth lifestyle.
This OCIP was mainly targeted at Rajaprajanukroh 31 (RPK), a school for tribal children who are less privileged. Undeniably, the Thai-English language barrier posed as the greatest challenge. Thankfully, our pre-trip preparation included relentless learning of the basic Thai language, which we were able to apply when teaching the Thai students. Focusing on essential conversation, pronunciation, spelling, grammar and simple yet core vocabulary, the DHS students utilized storybook reading, nursery rhymes as well as pop songs to pique the RPK students’ interest. This catered for both the English and Chinese sessions.
To conclude the language camp with the RPK students, they were required to design and create hand-made books from scratch. For the 13-15 year old students, the books revolved around fictitious stories helmed by principles such as sportsmanship, aimed to inculcate moral values. As for the 16-18 year old student, the theme was on Singapore. Crucially, we first exposed them to the integral Singaporean culture, food and popular destinations before the book-making session. This hands-on session not only allowed for the language application and cultural sharing, but also helped in fostering and furthering creativity.
In exchange for sharing the Singaporean way of life, the RPK students introduced us to a fundamental part of theirs- harvesting rice grains. Such an exposure is something the DHS students could not have experienced in Singapore. Finally, coupled by a school tour, RPK presented us with an extravagant farewell celebration, going to the extent of providing us with traditional Thai costumes for the night. The farewell left both DHS and RPK students crying relentlessly, exchanging sincere hugs, cards and gifts.
Toward the end of the trip, we set off for another school, Muang Dek Wittaya School, a private primary school. While the language barrier was less of a challenge, the difficulty faced was to capture the attention spans of these younger children.
Working as one to overcome this, the team made lesson plans which revolved around kinesthetic activities such as a more advanced version of Simon Says, a revamped ABC song and tongue twisters with hand actions incorporated into them. Once again, we parted with hugs, and we even received “Thank you, I love you.” cards from the students. As the saying goes, less is more. The short but sweet cards truly displayed the primary school students’ gratitude and appreciation. Needless to say, such sentiments were felt by the DHS team as well, for Muang Dek Wittaya School’s omnipresent warmth and hospitality.
As with all other OCIP trips, character building is definitely another priority, and the 2 days trek to the Karing hill tribe village in Mae Wang district did just that. Constant ascending up the mountain with time limits to be met, the trekking certainly strengthen perseverance, determination, teamwork, and the sensitivity toward one another. Yet, the time limits did not leave us short-changed. The scenery while trekking was spectacular, and upon reaching our final destination with a campfire under the stars, the sense of fulfillment was priceless. Moreover, the 4.30 a.m. sunrise the next day connected the team in unsaid unity as we silently observed a painting in the sky. Up on the mountains, the atmosphere was warm despite the chill.
All in all, to give is to receive. While two weeks is not a long time, this trip has certainly been a meaningful, purposeful and unforgettable one. And to the DHS team, “We were strangers starting out on a journey, never dreaming what we’d have to go through. Now here we are, and I’m suddenly standing at the beginning with you.”