The following is a postcard from Charissa Murphy, GlobalGiving's In-the-Field Representative in Southeast Asia, about her recent visit to DEP-DC in Thailand.
Approaching DEP-DC's campus in Mae Sai in northern Thailand, I saw a collection of children with workbooks and engaged questions filling the outdoor classroom area. Although they were on their school's break after the end of the school year, the children and the teacher were studying together for extra help on their Thai language skills. The age ranges of the children varied, and each child had a language workbook suitable to his or her specific language level. I was captured by how engaged they were in practicing, collaborating, and asking the teacher questions when they needed it. It was clear from the beginning of my visit how dedicated DEP-DC is to supporting these children, allowing them opportunities for not only language development, but also for personal empowerment to feel confident in asking questions and understanding the value of education.
Since its beginning 25 years ago, supporting children and communities who are at-risk for human trafficking, DEP-DC has grown into an organization that not only provides support to the children and families in the surrounding community, but also to groups and organizations who want to learn from its strong model of programming. The staff shared that they host visitors often who are eager to learn from them, which has also allowed the organization to grow strong relationships with other support organizations in Thailand.
During my visit, I toured the Half-Day school, which really is a full day school with educational, as well as life skills and personal development teachings. I also saw the community learning facilities where they run programs for the entire community, including Thai literacy courses, English as a Foreign Language courses, and vocational trainings. Due to funding limitations, some of these courses have temporarily stopped unfortunately.
One of the volunteers, Matt, has been working with DEP-DC now for over 8 months, and he plans to be there for about a year in total. His enthusiasm for the organization was contagiously inspiring, and he hopes to return there for his research studies or after he finishes his university studies. Matt enthusiastically shared his experience working with the children at the Mekong Regional Indigenous Child Rights Home, which currently houses eight children, providing them opportunities for rehabilitation, reintegration into society, and educational and skills training. I could almost feel him glowing from across the room as he shared some of the agricultural and training experiences the children share daily!
Though it was extremely motivating to hear about the many programs that it currently runs, it was disappointing to hear that it has stopped various programming due to lack of funding that supported the children and community in more non-traditional teachings. One such program is its Child Voice Radio, which helped the children learn about reporting, journalism, developing research and sharing it to an audience, and overall confidence and practical writing and speaking development.
As I left and smiled and waved my farewells to the students who were still at the school, I felt really thankful to meet an organization that is not only dedicated to its beneficiaries, but that also has developed programs that truly make a difference here.
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Today, July 16th (Wednesday), beginning at 9AM EDT, GlobalGiving will match 50% of any donations (of up to $1,000 from any individual donor) to DEP-DC. There are $130,000 in total funds available for matching today for all of GlobalGiving’s partners. To ensure your donation is matched before the funds run out, please consider donating early today shortly after 9AM.
I want to thank DEP-DC for allowing me to visit!
Here in Mae Sai, the Half Day School program has just started the new school year. The students are back from their summer break and it’s great to once again have the Centre filled with the sounds of fun and learning, which we’ve all missed while the kids were away. Academic classes and vocational training have resumed and the Centre, where the Half Day School is located, is again filled with the new and improving abilities of the children.
The morning air carries the scent of food as children learn and help to cook for themselves and their classmates. The sound of tools attests the new projects and continuing improvements around the Centre. This gives the children the opportunity to learn and to help preserve the second home where their days are made brighter. Among the many other life skills and vocational training classes going on, the agriculture site stands a lush green. The field is located just outside the Centre building and has begun to soak up the seasonal rainfall. Students and staff members diligently maintain the agriculture site throughout the school year.
Last but not least, the games and spontaneous fun of happy, carefree children have returned. Badmintons fly between friends, whose games are driven more by enjoyment than rules. Soccer balls curve and score to shouts of success and broad, delighted smiles. Volleyballs rise and fall to a chorus of laughs; the score less important than having fun with friends, trying their best and surpassing their own abilities. And the sun sets each day, splashing baby blues, inviting oranges, deep purples, and delicate pinks across the sky, as it watches the children return home with warm hearts, light minds, and the promise of an approaching tomorrow.
These activities mean a lot to the vulnerable children whom the Half Day School program cares for. One example is May, a 14-year-old student who has been at the School for 6 years and recently graduated from the 4th grade. Abandoned by her mother and left with distant relatives in Mae Sai, May has no citizenship papers and knows only that she was born in Nakorn Pathom Province in Central Thailand. May’s foster family cannot provide all the care she needs, since her primary caregivers are sick, elderly family members, so we make sure that she has access to basic food, water, clothing and medical necessities.
May faces significant inducement to leave school and to work in order to help support her foster family. Half Day School teachers appreciate the situation, and, though May will work part time, they have convinced her to remain in the vocational training until she finishes the program. This means that she maintains contact with the School, making it easier to monitor her situation, while she will also continue to learn important skills with which she can support herself in the future. For May, as for the rest of our children, the Half Day School program provides an opportunity for a safer, happier, and more secure life.
To all of the supporters of the Half Day School and DEPDC/GMS, thank you for your kind attention and generosity. We love the work we do and we are always trying to improve and refine its programs. We would love to know what supporters think of the program and any ideas for how together we can continue to tackle poverty, exploitation and human trafficking. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
The Half Day School (HDS) has continued smoothly since our last project report. The school has been abuzz with fun, laughter and learning thanks to generous people like you who help us to provide the children with the critical things they need to attend school. In addition to the always important basic necessities for students, your contributions have helped to provide good food, clean water and a safe place for children to be, learn, develop and spend time with friends. Below are some recent events that the Half Day School students have been involved in, some ongoing activities in which they continue to participate, and some upcoming events and activities we are looking forward to.
In November, the children celebrated the famous Loi Krathong Festival. About 100 students worked together to make the famous ‘krathongs’ which they float gently down rivers to celebrate Thai and Buddhist history and pay respect to their beliefs. It was a great bonding time during which the students had lots of fun and felt a sense of connection with each other and with the broader society celebrating alongside them. For children from vulnerable and often marginalised communities, this kind of event empowers them and lets them feel a sense of community that is important for people’s core well-being.
On the 10th of January, more than 100 children at the Half Day School spent Children’s Day, ‘Wan Dek’, playing games, winning awards and having fun with friends, Thai staff, and International Volunteers. Everyone brought something which they could give to someone else so that everyone received a present on the day, and if any children couldn’t afford to bring something, the Half Day School staff made sure they were given something which they could use as their own gift to give. With a speech about children’s rights, empowerment and futures from our founder, Khun Sompop, to close the day’s activities, the children received and left with a deep sense of belonging, self-worth and gratitude, which is DEPDC’s aim to provide.
Likewise, Sports Day on February 7 gave more than 100 children the opportunity to compete, exercise and have fun with friends and go home with full stomachs and big smiles. And lastly, on February 14, which was a Buddhist holiday called ‘Wan Makha Bucha’, HDS teachers led a study tour to the Opium Hall in Chiang Saen, the Golden Triangle, and two different Buddhist sites to learn about Buddhist, Thai and Greater Mekong Subregion histories. The students learned about the dangers of the Golden Triangle, crime, drugs and ways they can remain safe, all the while enjoying themselves. The children love these occasions and we love hosting them, so we must thank our generous supporters for helping us to continue to provide the students with events and activities such as these.
Other activities at the Half Day School have remained very much normal. Classes and the vocational and life-skills training continue to help the students develop their skills and build towards safe and self-sufficient futures. The Little DJ programme that trained the children about how to use radio for outreach and as a platform for them to communicate with others and to express themselves also continues, as does the agriculture programme that becomes more impressive every day and continues to teach growing numbers of children about sustainable, self-sufficient techniques to meet their basic needs.
We are currently on the verge of final exams for the 2013/14 school year and the graduation of our oldest class of students at the Half Day School ahead of our summer break. It is an exciting time and, although it is always sad to say goodbye to our sons and daughters, we are extremely proud that they have successfully completed the programme and will take their skills on into the future. And as they continue to create lives for themselves, they will always have a home at the Half Day School if they want to come and help teach children the way that they were once taught themselves. Besides that, we look forward to summer break activities at the centre, welcoming back students when the new school year begins, and adding new members to the family when new students arrive through our gates.
Thank you so much to everyone who has made and continues to make it possible for the Half Day School to do what it does. With support from you and others like you, our programmes will continue to make important differences in the lives of vulnerable, underprivileged children and to give them futures of which they might otherwise never have even dreamed.
The school term break during the month of October was quite busy for teachers and many of the students at our Half Day School. Over the course of three different training sessions, participants learned how to manage the school’s recently initiated radio broadcast program and increased their awareness of social problems which directly affect many of the young people throughout the Mekhong Subregion. While some recreational activities lightened the mood surrounding serious issues, students gained crucial information about the real and ever-present dangers to their physical safety and well-being which are inherent to the local community and region, and about the causes and consequences of human trafficking and the exploitation of child labor.
The “Camp for Increasing Life Skills” on the 8th, 9th, and 10th of October served fifty-five students on site at the Half Day School. Specific topic discussions engaged the children on day one to learn more about themselves and their individual rights, their role within traditional and alternative family structures, and their place within the larger community and social framework. The second day was highlighted by an educational hike through a protected forest park nearby the Half Day School. All cooperated to pack supplies and food in the morning before setting off, and after a variety of fun orienteering activities along the way and some ninety minutes later, the group reached a natural mountain pool where they picnicked and had a cooling swim. Students then had a chance to listen to a park official speak about nature conservation and environmental hazards. On the camp’s final day, students were given a demonstration by army soldiers who specialize in training canines to search for illicit drugs. They also discussed social problems and dangers related to the trafficking of contraband which is prevalent at border crossings and throughout the Mekhong Subregion. Teachers wrapped up camp activities with a gathering to guide students to reflect on questions about what they learned over the three days.
The Half Day School’s ‘Little DJ’ program was set in motion on the 16thof twenty students in an all-day training conducted by instructors with expertise in socially responsible media programming. The school’s broadcast studio has been home to the Child Voice Radio (CVR) community outreach radio program for the last seven years, and with this training students will be able to host an enhanced series of programs throughout the school day which will also be on air in the surrounding community area. Participants had the opportunity to learn not only the technical side of radio program production, but also to understand important elements of deejaying and public speaking such as self-confidence, appropriate speech techniques, and resourcefulness. Instructors encouraged students to overcome anxiety and shyness when speaking out, to value their own ideas and viewpoints, and to take ownership of input into program content and production. Students then collaborated to create a mind map in summary of all aspects of radio programming and remarked that the training was valuable for both their practical knowledge and personal growth, aside from being great fun and something to look forward to each school day.
Another training session at the Half Day School in October was held over three separate days and focused on the issues of child labor exploitation and human trafficking. A group of thirty-one students joined each day to learn from experienced teachers, to analyze various media sources on the subjects, and to participate in group discussions concerning the causes and consequences of victimization. The first training session concentrated on the definition of exploitative child labor with specific discussion of the difference between working conditions which are healthy and safe and the forms of child labor which are harmful and illegal. Teachers increased students’ awareness of what dangerous situations can be like for exploited children through analysis of documentaries and case studies, and with such examples they also taught students ways to decrease their vulnerability to becoming victims themselves. The second and third days of training combined a review of types of exploitative working conditions as well as in-depth discussion of human trafficking risks for young people in this region and of features of the worldwide network. Teachers guided participants to consider the definition of human trafficking and its multitude of forms, potential situations and dangers faced by victims, and how to identify and evade perpetrators who are endemic to this region in particular. With the close of the final day, students were encouraged to think critically about their social environment and to proactively share their knowledge with friends, family, and community members.
It is with training opportunities like these, provided in addition to the Half Day School’s prevention and protection oriented curriculum, that students continue to build their personal resources – critical thinking skills, practical knowledge, self-confidence, a sense of belonging and self-worth, and the ability to empower their peers and their community. We would like to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of the Half Day School’s full-time faculty members and part-time instructors, whose expertise and training skills are invaluable in the preparation, planning, and execution of these such events which have been proven effective not only in keeping our children safe, but also in nurturing the development from which they will grow into healthy adults and community leaders.
Half Day School has been running smoothly since the children returned in May! Thanks to your generous support, this school year the Half Day School provided vital education, vocational and life skills training, and material support to over 150 children from vulnerable communities in the Thai-Burma border region.
I’d like to tell you about some recent developments at the Half Day School, including special activities, new programs and partnerships, and the work of international volunteers. I also want to update you on our ongoing activities in education, vocational training, and personal development training. This school year saw growth in a number of areas including the organic agriculture project, the Buddhist Project, and English teaching.
Our regular classes have continued this term, with students learning English with our International Volunteers, Mathematics, Thai, Computer Skills, Science, Social Studies, Health, and various Vocational Skills. Our blog documents the diverse range of learning opportunities and fun-filled activities that the children of HDS partake in, which are made possible by donors like you.
Students have been getting up to all sorts of fun things this term. Teacher's day was a great success, the students made the most beautiful gifts for their much loved teachers and presented them in a wonderful ceremony.
The Buddhist Project is still running successfully. Every Friday Monks from the community come to our Half Day School to teach the children about how to live harmoniously in society. You can read more about The Buddhist Project here on our blog !
Also on our blog, you can read about the typical day of Susanae, an akha student of DEPDC and how DEPDC has helped her so far.
The Half Day School continuously tries to improve and diversify the students’ experience and learning opportunities. We’d like to tell you about some of our ongoing activities as well as some new ones.
(All HDS students are also provided with lunch every day.) Besides their academic education, students at HDS participate in vocational workshops including:
We have been greatly enjoying our term so far. As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions on improving our students’ learning experiences. Once again, on behalf of the Half Day School students and their families, I extend my most sincere thanks to you for making it all possible. Your generous contributions make it possible for the children most at-risk for sex and labor trafficking to learn, grow and gain self-confidence!
Thank you so much,
DEPDC Director of Projects
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Director of Mae Sai Projects