TREAD: Thai Rural Education and Development project

Each summer, a group of International House students travel to rural Thailand to spend a month or more volunteering in a local community. This project is known as the IH Thai Rural Education and Development (TREAD) project.

On the 3rd of January 2016 the 20th phase of TREAD started, and encompassed four core members - Leanne Lim (21 years) from Malaysia, Jenna Cook (18 years) from Australia, Royston Ong (22 years) from Singapore and myself, William Taggart (18 years) from Australia. The next 26 days we resided in the Thai province of Buriram, specifically Nang Rong where a rural school was located.

TREAD
Jenna Cook, William Taggart, Royston Ong and Leanne Lim with school children in the Buriram province of Thailand

During our time there we taught over 40 English lessons from, but not limited to sport, directions, food and conversation, as well as hosting two one-day intensive English camps at nearby schools. Our team aimed to make the classes as interactive as possible in an attempt to break the typical ‘talk and chalk’ approach used by some Thai teachers.

One specific memory I have was from an English camp was when I was teaching the subject of sport. The lesson started as per normal, as I listed relevant sporting verbs including kick, spike and shoot. I then asked the class to repeat what I had said, gave them a ball and then asked them to perform the action. Much of the vocabulary was completely new, so the children struggled with some of the actions. During this time an older student acted as a translator for the younger students who did not understand, either by miming the action or by saying it in Thai. My translator at the time, a local teacher called P’Bo - who has looked after TREAD team members for the last five years - turned to me and explained that in her class, this student would be at the back of the classroom distracted and doing his own thing. But in this class he gave me his undivided attention and had a newfound eagerness to learn.

P’Bo then furthered this thought by explaining that the students were excited to have foreigners teach them. We made learning English real for the students, and made it applicable just by giving them first-hand experience conversing with natural English speakers. This inspired them to be more devoted to their study of the language.

The more important side, in terms of the long lasting impact of TREAD, is the developmental aspect. As Project Manager I was tasked with finding projects to fund at local schools while also reporting on the projects funded by previous years’ teams. In total we visited four schools who each delivered us applications that ranged from extending vegetable gardens to completely re-doing the tiling system so the school would cease to flood during the wet season. Our decision on which project to fund will be decided and publicised later in the year.

When visiting Watkanlaung, a local school in Nang Rong, I saw the result of the 2014 TREAD team’s labour, a 60 000 Baht (AUS$2400) rubbish facility. In the car ride there, the teacher stressed the importance of how useful this recycling facility had been to them. This school no longer burned its rubbish but had moulded an entirely new curriculum around the facility. Children are given small amounts of Baht for depositing their recycling in the room - the price dependent on the ‘market’ and the weight of the item - allowing the school to simulate a basic economy while also incentivising clean living. To the TREAD team of 2014, Watkanlaung is extremely thankful for your donation.

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Leanne Lim and Royston Ong teach a class of students

During our school visits it was evident just how practical and resourceful Thai schools are forced to be. They all attempt to produce their own food with fish ponds and vegetable gardens, and filter their own water so they can stay hydrated safely. Experiencing this put TREAD into perspective for me, and how trivial something like dealing with rubbish is to our western society compared to rural Thailand. No matter how small the project is, the impact that it will have on the school and the environment is tremendous.

The disconcerting part about TREAD is that only when you are in Thailand do you realise how pivotal fundraising is. Seeing what impact our money had in the past made me realise how much more we should have fundraised. I think no matter how much money any TREAD team raises there will always be need for more. You will always want to give more then you have.

To phase 21, 2017 TREAD and to all reading this, I implore you to donate and fundraise as much as you can for this brilliant IH student-lead organisation. I can assure any donors out there that the money donated goes straight into the schools. The benefit of having small organisation of volunteers is that we personally see all the money getting used, and we will be able to tell you exactly where your money goes and how it affects the community.

To make a donation to the 2017 TREAD project, email ih-alumni@unimelb.edu.au.

TREAD was founded by IH alumni Khun Mechai Viravaidya over 15 years ago. It allows the students of International House to make positive contribution in the international community and to strengthen cross-cultural communication and learning.

Published by International House on Monday 21 March 2016.