The Very First SENS Cohort in 2016
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Recent events have made us more deeply aware than ever of how much we rely on all of our donors, including those of you who donate regularly or monthly through GlobalGiving. In this report, we will explain what we mean by these words, but first I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart, as the designer and director of our SENS programs, for what you have made possible at this difficult time: based on the support we have received, our SENS 2021 program is now officially scheduled to run from May 2 – July 22, 2021!
Facing the Challenges of Running Our Program During the Pandemic Era
We all know how much the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do things. For schools, universities, and training programs, much of the work and interaction has had to move online. Parts of the world have already contained the pandemic to a very high degree; others still struggle tremendously. Here in Thailand, we are closer to the side of containment and mitigating damage. Thailand currently ranks 116th in the world in terms of number of overall cases. Although Thailand had one of the first known cases outside of China, Thai health authorities managed to contain the pandemic very quickly and effectively through public health measures and restrictions on travel. Illegal border crossings created Thailand’s first surge much later, although that, too, has been largely contained through heightened control of the border, active contact tracing and testing, and now also vaccination programs in areas that were at the heart of that surge.
The School of English for Engaged Social Service (SENS) is a program that relies heavily on face-to-face interactions in the classroom, as well as on field excursions that allow students to meet prominent Thai leaders. Although we have successfully run programs online, the three-month SENS program would quite simply not be the same if it had to be entirely virtual. For this reason, we postponed our SENS 2021 program from January to May of this year. Now, through extensive research, communication with overseas embassies, inquiries into the costs and conditions of quarantine and requirements for visas, we know that we can run our program safely in Thailand. To make this possible, we have shifted more of our scholarship monies to supporting Thais, who can attend relatively trouble-free. At the same time, we have pledged higher levels of support to those who will be arriving from overseas.
This year, the students who make the decision to attend from overseas are truly committed: they must not only arrange for a visa to enter Thailand and a flight ticket, but also reserve a quarantine hotel in Thailand, purchase medical insurance to cover their time in Thailand, get a COVID test within 72 hours of their departure, and likely face quarantine upon their return home. To make all of this easier for them, our Logistics Coordinator, Topsi, works very closely with each student to ensure that they understand the next steps and have all the necessary information. Furthermore, we pledge to support them financially for all costs that they themselves cannot cover. Here is where your support has played such a vital role. When a student says they have $500 USD and no more, we are able to cover all other costs thanks to the generosity of our donors. Often, this is what ultimately allows them to join us.
Is it worth it?
Yes—we feel strongly that it is. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many of the underlying crises that the world is experiencing now, including the increasing inequities of the world economic system, struggles for democracy in many places, and deepening stress on the planetary systems that have allowed humans and other species to flourish for hundreds of thousands of years. Whatever one may think of these crises, perhaps all can agree that the world needs kind, creative, and compassionate leaders from every group and community—leaders deeply aware of the challenges we face, leaders ready to respond thoughtfully to these challenges, leaders encouraged and supported to act, not only to fulfill their personal dreams, but also to work hand-in-hand with others to create solutions to the urgent needs of their communities and societies.
This is the kind of leader the SENS program is proud to cultivate.
Due to the military coup in Myanmar, we are not able to bring two wonderful community leaders we had selected, as they are currently unable to leave the country. We have welcomed them to attend our SENS 2022 program, which we expect to begin in January of next year. We will likely be able to bring students not only from Thailand but also from Vietnam and a third country as well to participate in SENS 2021.
We Just Organized Our First Ever All SENS Alumni Gathering
Our applicants from Vietnam are a testament to the growing strength of our alumni community. Our first-ever participant from Vietnam attended SENS in 2020. Upon her return to her homeland, she wrote such a glowing report about our program that we now have some 16 applications from Vietnamese young adults! We do not have the funds to bring all of them, and we need to maintain a balance of nationalities as well, even if we only have three countries represented. Still, the interest from Vietnam has been outstanding, and we hope to bring more of our Vietnamese friends in the coming years. Other alumni have likewise played key roles in spreading the word about the SENS program.
A second example of the strength of our alumni network is that our Assistant Director in 2020, Melissa Storms, organized a meeting of SENS 2020 alumni to talk about how to respond to the dire situation of our Myanmar brothers and sisters. This meeting led to the formation of the SENS Socially Engaged Action Network (SSEAN). This will be a means by which all SENS alumni can come together to discuss and take thoughtful action on issues that require humanitarian and other forms of constructive response.
Finally, on Sunday April 4th we held our very first All SENS Alumni Gathering, which brought together representatives of five years of SENS programs. These included teachers, students, tutors, and staff. This gathering was a chance for members of each cohort to get to know those from other cohorts, as well as to reunite with members of their own. We spent much time listening and sharing stories, both personal and those that reflected on developments and needs in our respective communities and societies. Many of the attendees were visibly moved by being able to meet with other members of the SENS community, both those they knew and those they had just met.
Once again, I would like to thank you for your generous and ongoing support, support that has allowed this group of budding leaders to continue to grow together and to have beneficial impacts on our world.
Designer and Director of the SENS Programs
The 2017 SENS Cohort Visiting an Inspiring Leader
A Class Activity for SENS 2018 Led by Lucy Burriss
Tearful Goodbyes to a Beloved Tutor - SENS 2019
Members of SENS 2020 Sharing a Meal in Bangkok
SENS 2020 Students Work on a Project Together