As I share these stories with you, I try to include as many photos as I can. Please take the time to look at even the tiny thumbnail photos at the end. Often, I just run out of space to include them. Double-clicking on any photo will enlarge it for more detail. I say that as I share a photo of the Thai teachers of English at Nan (Nahn) Christian School. In one of those moments in history when Thailand felt it was losing its uniqueness and identity with the influx of foreigners and foreign goods, someone came up with the idea to promote Thailand’s history and traditions through the wearing of traditional Thai dress on Fridays. Every Friday, teachers and students in all of the schools wear clothing made of Thai material and, often, cut in the traditional Thai style. It is a welcome break from the rigid uniforms of other school days for both students and teachers.
Set in a valley filled with rice fields and surrounded by rolling mountains, the city of Nan has played a key role in Thailand’s history. Once a sovereign independent kingdom, it rose to prominence in the Sukhothai period, often as the buffer between warring Burma and Vietnam. The city of Nan is filled with historic houses and temples, including beautiful teak houses in the traditional Lanna style, and there is a national museum that preserves much of the rich history of Nan. Today, with Thailand’s new highway system, Nan is rapidly becoming a tourist destination.
Nan Christian School has over 2,000 students in grades 1-12. It is privileged to have several native English speakers (the foreign men in the photo) among its English faculty. Recently, I met with all of the English teachers in the principal’s office at the school. (The woman on my right is Ajarn Supaluk, the principal, and the man on my left is Ajarn Thanom, my boss. There is another thumbnail photo of them below.) That morning, we had a lively two-hour discussion about the English program. Their greatest concern is the lack of native English speakers to help the younger children get a good foundation in the language. The foreign faculty are concentrating on the older students. Some teachers (Thai and foreign alike) are trying to teach English in classrooms that have up to 50 students! With class sizes that large, how can any student really learn a language well? And what time does any teacher have to share stories of their faith when class discipline becomes the dominant issue? Oh, we need some volunteers!
There are other problems as well. Just weeks ago, heavy rains caused the river in Nan to flood and the school itself got caught in the flood. Teachers were called in to help with the clean-up and several days of instruction were lost. But there is definitely an upbeat, “can-do” attitude among the faculty and staff and I really enjoyed my brief visit there. As Thailand prepares to become a member of the new ASEAN community of nations, the visionary leadership of Ajarn Supaluk and the dedication of these Christian teachers will prepare the students here for the brave new world that waits in 2015. They just need a few volunteers to help ease the burden of those who are already hard at work. They are making a difference in the lives of these students and the future of this country.
More photos from Nan and Prae: