What many of you know is that we recently hired a new teacher.
What many of you don't know, is his story.
4 years ago, Sai Aom, a Shan refugee and the son of our head teacher, Lan Mao, was accepted to study computer engineering at the University of Chiang Mai. As a refugee, it was an incredible chance and a dream come true. However, unable to cover the costs, he was ready to turn down the offer. When we heard about Sai Aom and his ambitious goals, we decided to help and find him a private sponsor who would be able to finance his entire university studies. A kind generous soul and 4 years later,
Sai Aom graduated!
Despite all the doors that were open to him now, Sai Aom's first reaction was to approach us and apply for a teacher position at Somwang School with a simple wish: to give back what he had received.
When we hired him, his first plan was, to use his newly learned engineering skills to help improve th school. He managed to receive solar panels, as well as computers, as a donation from the Thai military and installed the whole systems by himself. With electricity and a new computer lab, we are now even better able to prepare our students with a new skill set to meet the needs of demanding curricula at public schools and quality job opportunities. Hoping that, like their new teacher, they too will one day attend a university.
We are eager to share the exciting news that, after four years, one of our students, 15 year old Chai Khwan has transitioned from Somwang School to Ban Lan School, a local public school in Thailand. This is a transition that we highly encourage at Somwang and one that we specifically prepare our students for by teaching them the necessary English, Thai and Math skills to continue their education beyond the walls of Somwang at a public Thai school. However, we are also aware that such a transition can pose a great financial burden for most families: In Thailand, public schools are only free to Thai nationals and in addition it is required that a students and his family personally pay for uniforms, school supplies and transportation.
Thus, to prevent that families simply recruit their older children to make an extra $3 a day working on the orange plantations, we have committed to assisting our students on their path far beyond Somwang School by financially supporting them with our sponsorship program. To show them and their family how strongly we support them and to give the student an additional incentive to study hard and succeed, we find individual, private sponsors who, through MPG, are willing to support the students in their continued education by covering all school-related expenses.
Needless to say that when we broke the news to Chai Khwan and his mother last Sunday at our Parents Day that we had found a personal sponsor for Chai Khwan, the two of them were overridden with joy and gratitude. There was a mother willing to do everything she could to give her son the education he deserved, to give him a chance at a future different from hers, and to see the fear of not being able to do that lift from her shoulders brought tears to our eyes as well. It definitely makes us remember why we do what we do.
Chai Khwan is now attending 4th grade at Ban Lan School and he is doing great.
We are hoping that many others will follow Chai Khwan's path and that we can help them continue their education beyond the walls of Somwang by providing them with personal sponsors.
We are happy to announce that Somwang finally has a completely new roof! It took some time and was a lot of work, but this roof is going to keep our students and teachers safe from the sun and rain for many years to come. We would like to thank the workers for their great work, as well as you people out there, especially the Rotary Club Luxembourg-Vallées, who made this new roof possible with generous donations.
Let's keep building a better future together!
While being in Thailand over the month of November, we were thinking of ways to involve our students more, how to give them a voice and find a space and medium for them to express themselves. What we have come up with is an amazing project that we are super excited to share with you over the next months. For three days each, we gave 12 students a camera and asked them to take pictures of their lives outside of the school, showing it in the way they perceive it. What resulted are some deeply touching and intimate pictures of finding hope in dire circumstances.
Starting in March, we will introduce one student and his pictures every month on our website and facebook page. So watch out!
Despite the most recent political developments in Myanmar, clashes in Northern Shan State between the Myanmar army and armed ethnic insurgents seem to continue, forcing residents to keep fleeing their villages. Indeed, despite an agreed cease-fire, the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) stated at the end of November 2015 that, since October, new fights had erupted and the military had “launched repeated air and ground missile attacks on densely populated civilian areas,” including “fighter aircraft and artillery raining bombs on 6000 civilians” in different townships that harbored shelters for 1,500 displaced villagers. These attacks, that beside shooting, also include other, well-covered up war crimes and human rights violations such as the burning down of villages, abductions and rape of ethnic people, have forced more than 10’000 people from their townships yet again.
Efforts to bring peace to Myanmar have been built on the assumption that the Burmese army is changing, yet instead of devolving powers as announced, the army continues to burn down villages that did not sign the so-called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, and forces those that have to disarm and surrender. Thus, even though there is an air of hope with the new government lead by Aung San Suu Kyi, who has made ethnic peace her number one priority, restoring such fractured negotiations won’t be an easy task and “she will have a hard time because her main obstacle is the army” (BBC).
So let’s hope she will succeed.
This was probably one of the most fun and certainly the most colorful day we have had at Somwang so far!
As we had been repainting some of the floors during the last week, we tried to come up with an idea of how to use up the remaining paint to not let it go to waste.
Very soon we figured that the outside facade could use a makeover and thought it would be great to have the school's name painted on there. But that alone wouldn't help us to get rid of the paint...
With the wish to involve the kids in "decorating" their own school we thus finally came up with the perfect idea: have them dip their tiny hands into the paint and cover the outside walls with prints of their hands.
As we ourselves failed repeatedly at staying clean when we painted the rooms, we got a little worried about the kids: we already saw the paint all over their hands, colorfully sprinkled floors, new clothes, makeup and hairstyles. Thus, we figured we could just buy them plain white shirts that could get dirty just in case... But who were we kidding: could you ever expect a kid to wear a white shirt with paint all over his hands and resist the urge to paint himself or his friend?? NO!
And thus the paint party began!!
Needless to say we had a blast! Unfortunately we couldn't prevent the kids arms and bodies from getting all colorful as we soon realized that the paint went through the shirt.. at least that meant they could marvel at their body paint now too. It was so great to see how proud our kids were after they pressed their hand onto the wall and seeing how everybody wanted to get a print on his shirt from everyone just filled our hearts with joy. And of course we participated as well.
Why are we telling you all this? Simple. It was one of the best experiences ever and we were glad to be part of it, and we wanted to give you all a chance to be part of it too.
P.S. only one kid had partially yellow hair at the end of the day and we declared the shirts to be their new "uniform" for Wednesdays.
We are excited to announce that Somwang School finally has its own little library.
Though it is still in its initial phase, we have managed to get a bunch of books in Thai, Shan and English. On the very first day that the library "opened" the kids were super excited and some of them even spent their lunch break reading instead of playing. It was just great to see them so engaged and immersed in the books, either reading by themselves or with their best friend.
We hope that these books will help them to continue to learn and explore the world and all its magical tales and creatures.
As this would not have been possible without the great support from our friends at the Round Table 1 in Luxembourg, we would like to thank them again!
If you wish to help us give these children the childhood and education they deserve, please consider making a donation. Just hit "DONATE" and it will lead your right there.
Thank you all so much!
We are excited to let you all know that we have almost completed the works on our 4th classroom.
We had some workers drive all the way up to help us build the room. Had some dear friends from Luve Singapore who offered us new mats and a shrine. And then had some of our MPG staff and the driver do the finishing touches and paint everything blue. And it seems that the kids love their new room.
This classroom is much needed as we doubled our number of children since opening Somwang and currently have 57 eager students attending our "school for kids far from home" every day.
While we could not be more excited about this increase in students, this of course means that we need your help now more than ever so that our kids can continue to learn, play and sing at Somwang.
While we were at it, we decided to just keep going and paint the floor of the outside pavilion so that it will be easier to dust and clean. And though we tried our very best to keep the kids from getting messy, we couldn't help but watch them go at it in end!
Today, on World Refugee Day, we wanted to take a moment to bring attention to the Burmese refugees that we are currently serving with our school.
There currently are a total of about 140000 Burmese registered refugees living in Thailand across the Burma/Myanmar border. Estimates of non-registered vary from 300.000 - 500.000.
Our Somwang School is located at this border and the people living here are mostly Shan and Palaung who've fled (and are still fleeing) the terrors in Burma, seeking refuge in Thailand, bringing nothing than what they're wearing. As Thailand is not part of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the country has no domestic legislation recognizing refugee status. Thus considered illegal, yet tolerated, migrants, they are subject to arrest and deportation by Thai military authorities and have no legal rights to employment.
Around the world, the refugee numbers are higher than ever, and many refugee children do not access education and enter harmful, often illegal, work to maintain themselves and their families.
This is exactly what we are trying to change and prevent. The truth is that these people are no different from us and if we deserve an education, so do they.
On this international day of refugee protection, we thus call for your solidarity so that we may continue to support these amazing children and shall continue to see smiles on their faces.
They need your help.
Let's give them the chance to thrive and walk towards brighter futures.
I promise you, it will not be in vain.
We wanted to take a moment to thank the guys from Round Table 1 for supporting us yet again!!
Though it was a long day at the Stroossemaart in Luxembourg City, it was a day filled with lots of fun, a great atmosphere and 495kg of oranges.
12 hours later, there was not a single orange left, we had sold 1252 orange juices and thereby broken all previous records!!
This wouldn't have been possible without all of your help and support.
Thanks to all the people who stopped by.
Thanks to the Round Table for having us.
We had a blast!!
And yes, we're done with oranges for now!
Our latest news are regularly put together by our executive board to give you the latest updates on our work and progress.