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Led by Kru Heidi, The St. Euphrasia BanYa Children’s Quality of Life Project with which the UWC-Thailand had been working over the past number of years has been awarded the 2021 Richard T, Krajczar Humanitarian Award.

“The depth, breadth and quality of the multiple programs folded under the Ban Ya Project are among the most impressive and moving service programs judges have seen during their decades in international schools. Kru Heidi and colleagues have truly created a remarkable alliance.” were the congratulations shared by the EARCOS Executive Director Édward E. Greene. This award includes a cash payment of US$10,000, paid out equally over two consecutive years.

A massive thank you to all of the students who have been involved with BYLC and Good Shepherd over the years, to Kru Laurie and Kru Nicki for their extra efforts and last but not least, to K Heidi who drives our service programme ever forward.

Below is the Richard T. Krajczar Humanitarian Award Submission Article written by Kru Heidi Oxley-Whitnell

Empathy is ‘walking in someone else’s shoes”, but is it possible? We may be able to slip on someone else’s shoes, but we can never truly experience their reality.

Later this month, Grade 8 of the United World College, Thailand, will participate in a Refugee simulation during their Experiential learning class. As part of a “family” with a specific identity and role, they will work through the simulation and face challenging scenarios and problems to solve.

In `To Kill a Mockingbird”, Atticus tells Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  

Walking in someone’s shoes may help muster up sympathy within those who lack any understanding of an experience, but is this enough to truly understand the journey that many refugees have gone through?  At UWCT, we strive to understand one another by getting to know each other and not assume details or pretend that we know. 

The simulation lesson challenges the student’s assumptions. It is scary and emotional for some, and it is a powerful touch of reality for others. However, it gives them an insight into what some of the students from The Saint Euphrasia BanYa Children’s Quality of Life Development Project (formally known as the BanYa Literacy Centre) have faced.

In Phuket, The Saint Euphrasia BanYa Children’s Quality of Life Development Project (BY) works with children from the most marginalised, mainly migrants from Burma.  The Burmese migrants who are legalised can only work for one employer and are wed to the employer’s conditions. Those not recognised legally must negotiate their arrangements with their employer/s and, therefore, do not have any entitlements to a minimum wage.

Around 200,000 Burmese live in Phuket, many of whom have been trafficked by unscrupulous people smugglers presenting as ‘agents’ who lure their clients with the promise of employment and a better life on the beautiful island.

When they arrive, workers and their families are dumped, left unemployed in the heart of the fishing district with a mounting debt to the ‘agent’ and without legal status to work in Thailand. They are forced to prop up the burgeoning construction and fishing industries, offering dangerous work conditions and paltry wages.

To date, The Good Shepherd Organisation, the governing body of BY, has focused on the following – 

  • The Promotion of Anti-Human Trafficking and Human Rights protection in Phuket. This project provides a mobile centre that includes life skills and health care by establishing a library,   and providing counselling and therapy services.
  • Child Protection – Many children of Myanmese construction workers live in poor construction camps with no running water and little supervision. Children are the most vulnerable and often have to  work in the markets, construction sites, or the sex industry. 
  • BY  & The Good Shepherd Order  – Over the past five years, working with volunteers, established a literacy centre for some 250 children with ten staff that ensures they can speak Thai and sit tests, making some of them eligible for entry into Thai and Burmese schools and universities.
  • Health and WellBeing. – Providing a sustainable environment is essential to learning, and BY delivers clean drinking water, safe sanitation, nutritious meals, regular health and dental checks.
  • Swimming Lesson – Water Safety classes have been introduced to ensure children can swim, a significant cause of child deaths in Thailand.
  • Good Shepherd Development and Vocational Training Centre Patong. Provides vocational training,  post BY, for women to undertake English language, Massage and Hairdressing courses. 

United World College of Thailand (UWCT) partnership began with The Saint Euphrasia BanYa Children’s Quality of Life Development Project (BY) 4 years ago. With the Mission of 

“To protect and provide a safe setting for young Myanmar children in construction camps, improve literacy, teach Thai Burmese and English improve health and hygiene and to empower the young to live an independent purposeful and creative life of their own. To allow every boy and girl to realise their potential fully, live in harmony within their family and community and make a contribution to making the world a more sustainable and peaceful place.”

It was easy to see why we were invited to partner with them and support their mission. A mission that closely aligns with who we are as a UWC. Over the four years, the UWCT  Grade  8 students have been guided by the headteacher Khun Ming, where she tasks the UWCT students with a range of projects to support her students.

Within the 100 mins of experiential learning every week, the Grade 8 have learnt about the hardships the Burmese face in Phuket, planned and delivered activities and lessons, run on-campus holiday programs and raised money. Thus, providing the BY students and teachers activities that are generally not accessible.

Examples of their work include

  • Stop motion animation focusing on environmental issues and uses various research skills, art, animation, and technology to create mini-movies.
  • Team building and problem-solving activities.
  • Teaching sports that they do not have the opportunity to do at BY
  • Science experiments
  • Grade 8 ran a stall at the annual UWCT Festive Fair to raise additional funds for school art supplies.
  • Created “Break out” activities, activities that explore collaboration, language skills and creative thinking.

As the Grade 8 program developed and became established, we looked at how other grade levels could also be involved.  Constantly meeting with Khun Ming and being mindful of the BY program’s aims and objectives, Khun Ming wanted to explore building relationships with the younger students. As a result, we partnered up our Grade 5 with the BY kindergarten class and Grade 2 with the BY grade 2. As an extension to the UWCT Grade 5 leadership program, our students work with the UWCT Kindergarten classes,  trialling ideas before taking them to BY.

Now that Grade 5 has adopted BY as their service partner. Every month the grade 5 work with the BY kindergarten classes, providing lessons in Thai and English on a variety of topic-based tasks on colour, animals, numbers,  incorporating language, art and music skills. The BY staff, who are very traditional in their approach, have enjoyed working with the UWCT Grade 5 teachers. In December 2020, the Grade 5s made 60 “boxes of hope” for all kindergarten students, which were greatly received and will now be an annual commitment.

Last year our Grade 2 joined BY by creating friendship and further developing our sense of community by working with students of the same age. Sharing, playing and having fun both at BY and hosting at UWCT has helped all to become confident in their interactions, helped them plan and share in experiences and led to students developing their language skills. 

Our senior girls have set up a co-curricular program, “Because I am a Girl”(BIG).  BIG focuses on the rights of the girl child. The team of 11 girls had initial contact and started to work with the senior girls (aged 13-16) of BY  before the Covid outbreak.

They aim to build a supportive environment and create meaningful relationships with the Burmese girls at the BY. They hope to support vocational skills through various workshops and empower these young women through education, friendship, and sharing of cultures. 

“Our project is especially focused on providing workshops related to technology and entrepreneurial skills, including working at and baking goods for our student-run cafe. We want the young women to feel properly equipped to pursue a variety of careers so that they can better break the cycle of poverty that their community faces.” 

Appreciating that many girls from BY miss school during their menstruation, the BIG team have created reusable sanitary pads:

  • Research how to make them
  • Learning how to use sewing machines
  • Sourcing funds to purchase underwear
  • Collecting donated in-service flight bags, the types you get in business class, are suitable for storing underwear and reusable pads.

In April this year, we hosted 4 of the BYP for three days in our Lower primary. This school year 2021 – 2022  we have committed to providing teacher mentors to coach and support the BY teachers in providing professional development to support their needs.

Finally, BY has seen the reduction of donations and food from the local 5*  hotels and resorts. As a result, the students at BY are now only getting one very simple meal a week. Understanding the impact this is having on the children’s health and education, some UWCT teachers are now supporting financially to provide for weekly meals. This is something that we will continue with until the local hotels are able to donate again.

The Burmese community has been marginalised and has suffered from the impact of Covid. Typically, tourism provides 80% of Phuket’s economy and employs more than 300,000 people; Revenues have fallen by 200 billion baht to 320 billion baht for 2020. 

As a result, the community that BY  serves has been hit even harder. Parents’ wages have been cut by almost a 1/3rd,  and many of them have lost their jobs. As a result of losing income, parents have struggled to feed their families, and many have lost their homes.

During this time, the work that BY does becomes even more critical, providing stability, a meal and education to children who do not always have that at home. UWCT will continue to help and support in whatever way we can. We are encouraging all of our community to be humanitarians. Albeit that each of us plays a small part, it does enable us to have human values and understand the situations the BY community faces. Regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, and social status, we work towards common human goals and ensure we support people with respect and dignity.

So it was with great honour on behalf of The Saint Euphrasia BanYa Children’s Quality of Life Development Project and UWCT I was able to share our collective experiences and apply for the Richard T. Krajczar Humanitarian Award. An award that recognises, each year, the work of one not-for-profit organisation with a proven record of philanthropy in the East Asia/Pacific Region.

Receiving the grant of $10,000 will enable BY to pay their teachers, utilities and purchase well-needed supplies and stationary. BY relies heavily on donations, and with funds drying up, receiving the Richard T. Krajczar Humanitarian Award will make a significant difference over the next two years.

Service activities are at the heart of the UWC educational model. Our commitment to service is embedded in our learning philosophy and embraced in our mission. We aim to challenge and inspire our students to act for the good of all and the sustainable development of the planet. 

So as we go back to Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus said to Scout, “look at the situation from that person’s perspective”.  We hope that the opportunities we provide allow our students at UWCT encourages them to act with empathy and compassion. Where student participation in service projects actively promotes engagement and leadership that can bring many benefits to our students and the communities the projects serve. Now more than ever, we need our students to know, understand and inspire each other to make a difference. 

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