Last week I was lucky enough to be invited along to help with the volunteers in the Special Education School just outside of Surin. I had managed to coax my last remaining Elephant volunteer into coming along on the project as well, which is actually under our Medical Project banner-head due to the conditions of the children that attend the school; that being said, there was in fact one medical, one teaching and one elephant volunteer that joined us on that very hot day.
Anna and Henry 😀
Having never been at this school before and not knowing a huge amount about the way in which special needs were catered for outside of Bangkok, I was incredibly curious to what the school, its grounds and the teaching and care that went on within were like. I would say, somewhat to my own surprise, that the special education school is actually the best fitted school that I have seen in my entirety of staying in Thailand. The buildings are beautiful and very well maintained and the teachers there are beyond compassionate and have such a high levels of dedication, professionalism as well as love towards every child that is there.
Cas looking pretty stocked for the Special Education School
Luckily for us, we were actually helping with a meet up that had around 50 children with special needs attending as opposed to the usual 15 or so that attend the school full time. It was wonderful to see so many children that might normally be ignored or pushed aside because of their needs, actually being shown that they were appreciated and being shown an amazing day that I know they will remember for a very long time.
Cas showing his name on his Team Green name name card 😀
When we first arrived we had to sign into the school register and also write our names on a piece of card that was to be strung around our necks for the rest of the day; little did any of us know they would also play a much larger role as well. Next we all took seats as the teachers and head teacher said some words of thanks and explained about the days activities. without giving to much away of course 🙂
Teachers and staff explaining about the day 🙂
We then had to line all of the children and staff up on the grass in around 6 lines where we all had to sing and dance to the first few letters of the alphabet; and for anyone that havn’t heard the Thai alphabet before, it is a little different from the Western one. They don’t just sing ABCD they actually sing the letter and then a word which has that letter at the beginning, not only does this create a very strong word association it also teaches Thai children when to use certain letters. For example the first three letters all sound very similar to the sound ‘kuh’, a little like a lower case C; now seeing as there are three sounds there are also three letters and one of them is not used in general writing but it is still required to know for formal writing so, of course, everyone has to learn it.
Aow striking his trademark smile!
It would seem like non of my volunteers knew about the alphabet either so were rather confused as to what was going on and why they were being asked to sing and dance! After I explained and we had all learnt the words and motions we coaxed the volunteers to stand up at the front and to show of their new moves to everyone. Of course whenever any music is sung I always end up doing the Gangnam dance which later lead the sound guy to play Gangnam which all of us, including the children joined in with; if you would like to see me making a fool of myself whilst dancing to Gangnam then check out my Twitter @WendyAVReece and you shall see that piece of magic 😀
Yeah you show them how to do it!!
After our dance session, we all held hands and played a very brief game that I still do not quite understand the rules of! Next we were told to go to the flag that matched the colour on the piece of card that our name was written on; very cleverly Oam and Aow had both matched their colours to a volunteer so that they would have a translator present for them, they didn’t tell me this so I had scribbled my name down onto a pink piece of card, when none of the volunteers had done the same 🙂
Cas representing Team Gangnam
Two lovely boys in Team Pink
So I was sat with the pink people whilst we all wrote our names on our new notebooks that we would be using to write down the names of 6 vegetables, animals and fruits that we would find on our nature walk. I was quite happily sitting down playing with two lovely boys in my pink team when I glanced over at Cas, my last elephant volunteer, and realised that he was having a bit of an issue understanding what was going on so I bounded on over to help him. After getting him to write his name, age and class down we were then taken to the first stop on the nature walk. This was actually to the garden that the children plant and learn in everyday, Cas was asked to explain in English the colour and name of the plant he was given and then he had to plant it in the ground and water it. Cas is Dutch and didn’t know the name of the plant in English and neither did I sadly, we were saved from huge embarrassment however by a wonderful girl nicknamed Deng (Red) who yelled out ‘KEO’ as the name of the plant. Keo is actually the Thai word for the colour green and was the source of roars of laughter from the other children in our group.
Cas teaching the children about plants
Cas planting his new plant into the vegetable garden at the Special Education Center
Next we received our bags of snacks, milk and water to take on our nature walk. Me and Cas had to explain to the children what the pictures of plants, animals and fruits were in English and how to write them down as well. This was again a source of great amusement as me and Cas have very different accents so the some children were speaking with a Dutch/American accent when the others were speaking with my, very RP, British accent. The children in the special education school are just like every other child in Thailand, all they want to do is learn and their disabilities might aid them at times with learning, speech or movement but it in no way changes their desire to know about everything and anything.
The kids definitely out run us on the nature ‘walk’
One thing they do try to teach in this school is how to eventually make these children have a level of independence that they otherwise might not get, Thailand is very supportive of special needs but at times parents often mollycoddle their children and don’t allow them to do things that children of the same age could do, for fear of either failure or inability to do so. So after our lengthy, and very hot nature walk, where you will be happy to know every child in mine and Cas’ group got every plant, animal and fruit, we went back to one of the main school buildings for a rather interesting practical lesson.
Look at all of those ingredients
Now everyone remembers food tech classes at school right? You know the ones where you would make bread, or pizza and that one kid would always burn their food whilst another forgot all of his ingredients? Well we were actually in place to teach three different classes about how to prepare (and eat :3) sandwiches – hence the title of this blog!
Anna dishing out the vital pieces of bread 🙂
Now this was certainly one of the funnest lessons I have taught, even if our teaching volunteer Henry did make it that I was on toasty duty! We showed the children how to butter, with salad cream, add your salad and meat and then how to toast your sandwich. I have never seen so many children so enamored with the different concoctions and ways in which you can make a simple sandwich; one of the teachers at the school made a rather strange burrito style sandwich that lead to all of his salad cream seeping out of the one open end and melting all over the toasty maker!
Burrito Sarnies 😀
Cas expertly showing the kids how to butter the bread; with salad creme
The children in every class loved their lesson and especially loved eating what they had made as well, even letting us sample some of their creations whilst also having teachers make us our own individual sandwiches along side the ones we had already made ourselves. I think I ate about 4 on my own and this was just after lunch as well so needless to say I was around 80% carbs after all the rice and bread 😀
One of our sandwich classes 😀
It was all worth it though just to see these children have a wonderful day at school, meeting and making new friends and developing skills that were very new to them whilst also showing the parents that were in attendance that their children are able to undertake tasks that children of their own age can do as well.
A little girl nibbling at her sandwich before it reached the toastie maker
After sandwich practice we all gathered to take near a thousand pictures for the school and teachers and then we made our goodbyes to the children that had made our very hot day a very happy and fulfilling one, both with their smiles and their sandwiches 😀
To be able to work with these wonderful children you don’t have to medically trained in anyway you just need to want to teach and have fun, whilst bearing in mind that some children can’t do certain things. So if this sounds like you, or you want to take a look at any of our other wonderful work with the Thai community in and around Surin then you need go no further than the Starfish Website, Starfish – Volunteer Thailand Facebook page or the Starfish Tumblr page as well.
Build. Protect.Teach. Care. – The Starfish Motto