So what is it that we’re doing here in Ranong? Besides eating delicious Mangoes at 15 Bhat (that’s 75NZ cents) per kilo while evading the 30+ degree heat?
I began my duties last week – teaching at several Burmese learning centres. These learning centres are a bit of a strange concept so they require a bit of explanation. Lets see if I can do this in 10 bullet points…
1. Ranong is pretty much a backwater town on the Thai coast very near the border with Burma (Myanmar was the name given by the self-imposed military junta)
2. The major industries here are fishing and processing of fish.
3. Given that there is virtually no health-and-safety or employment legislation that can’t be bent or broken, the fishing industry can be very profitable. All it needs is a large source of cheap, disposable labour.
4. As you may know, the military rulers in Burma don’t really care much for details of governance like human rights, due process, impartial justice, freedom of communication, freedom of association, education, power supply, infrastructure etc. This makes majority of ordinary (not part of the junta) burmese pretty poor and unhappy. But where can they go?
5. The free market is never more free than when people are not. Supply and demand fulfill eachother; Thai businesses have access to labour in the form of thousands of migrant workers who leave Burma (legally and illegally) for Ranong.
6. So now there are (no one knows for sure) between 50,000 and 100,000 migrants here in Ranong, most with little or no legal standing. The ‘official’ Thai population of Ranong is 25,000 so this is a big deal for the authorities.
7. A series of by-laws keep the Burmese sufficently repressed; they’re not allowed to drive, ride bikes, own computers or cellphones, definately not allowed to own land or a business and limited (in practice) access to the Thai health or education system. They are also not allowed past Ranong into the rest of Thailand (military checkpoints on the major roads)
8. In order to keep the thousands of children of the Burmese migrant workers out of trouble, the government has allowed 13 ‘learning centres’ to be created in Ranong to educate the migrant children. Naturally the ‘qualifications’ provided by these learning centres are not recognised anywhere in Thailand or Burma.
9. Marist Mission Ranong (MMR), who we are here to work with, provides English language teachers to some learning centres at no cost.
So for the next six months, I am ‘English teacher Andrew’ for three such learning centres. I’m teaching a total of five ‘classes’ between the three learning centres, but each ‘class’ is really just a collection of students of varying age groups and abilities sat down in front of a teacher and a blackboard. My ‘classes’ share a single room with upto three other ‘classes’ that are all running simultaneously so it can be a pretty chaotic environment. At between 20 and 38 students per class, they’re small classes so the challenge isn’t discipline (the kids are very well behaved) rather it’s getting them to keep their voice down when they know the answer or pitching the lessons to just the right level.
On friday the games I was playing with my 8-10 year olds was proving too popular for the Burmese maths teacher in the same room to compete with and her students began ‘defecting’ to my class.
So far I’m finding the whole experience pretty tough. There isn’t a clear direction to what I’m doing, besides just providing the kids with an example of how it can be fun to learn and that actually there are some people that do care about them.