You’ll notice that we’ve been a bit slack on the old blog writing front. With good reason however. We’ve been pretty busy, concentrating all our efforts on various projects for the Tomato Village School and working with Ben.
The village has only had main electricity for a couple of years and during heavy rains, or thunderstorms, both of which are frequent, the power goes out. Sometimes for a few minutes, often for hours. We teach in the evening, so as back up we have car batteries that power 12 volt strip lights. The ‘emergency’ lighting is also backed up with candles. The top classroom only has one working light and the smaller bottom classroom has only one too. After 2 days of long power cuts and teaching in very dim light, Chris decided to take this on as a project and improve the situation before we left.
After measuring and looking at the ‘interesting’ wiring, Ben and Chris went shopping in Mae Hong Son ( 33km away, down a steep, winding mountain road, about 1.5hrs drive). Never one to do things by halves, Chris arrived back armed with 6 new strip lights, bulbs, switches and yellow plastic piping, with corner bits. Chris then spent several hours over the next few days, re-wiring, fitting new lights, testing, covering the wiring with pipes to protect them from the rats ( those crazy rats seem to like chewing the wires). Finally he hooked everything up to the battery in such a way that rather than having to mess about with jump leads in the pitch black, you can simply flick a switch!
I was very impressed ‘how did you know what to do, where did you learn to do all that?’, Chris’s modest reply was a shrug of the shoulders.
In the bottom classroom ( my classroom) Chris also fitted a second light there and another switch. Now when the power cuts happen, there is instant light!
Meanwhile, I decided that the lack of books and opportunity for reading was something to look at. Reading can extend your vocabulary, teach you about sentence structure and grammar, as well as being entertaining. We found a small selection of story books in Ben’s house, but they were not being used. At the back of my classroom is a second room, built to be volunteers accommodation, however it is currently not in use and remains an empty shell.
I felt that it would be a good space to use… in my mind I had a picture of my junior school classroom, with the carpet area where we would sit for a story before home time. It was a comfortable, quiet area, with lots of books around us… the land of Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and Please Mrs Butler!
So off to Mae Hong Son once more. At the market, I found a fabric shop, run by two sisters, one of whom speaks good English. Although, on my first visit she was lying on the floor having a Thai massage, tucked away behind rolls of fabric at the back of the shop. I had a random conversation with her as she lay there, trying to explain that I wanted to make cushions. I left happy with a colourful floor mat with elephants on, 4 metres of fabric and a big bag of stuffing. I set about making some cushions by hand, which was fun,although by cushion 5 you start to wonder if it was a good idea!
I also managed to source some posters for the walls with ABC, Numbers, flags, animals and a map of Thailand. Next good find was a small wooden shelving unit that I thought would work well as a book case and place to store other teaching resources. To top it off I found some plastic box containers with clip lids to store things ( read: keep them clean from the dust, dirt and damp). It was all coming together quite nicely. I moved all the books I could find down to the ‘reading room’ and looked forward to seeing what the kids made of it all.
There are a few challenges with this whole idea. The children cannot read English well enough yet to sit and read on their own. Some kids are still learning to read in their own language. Some don’t even seem very familiar with books. If they can read the words they may not understand the meaning. To learn to read, you ideally need to sit with an adult who can help you, page by page, line by line. With 22 kids for 2 hrs each evening, it’s not very easy to do this and so reading skills are generally picked up through writing and worksheets, rather than by reading story books.
One idea we had, was to record each of the books onto CD, that way a student could borrow a book and the CD, allowing them to listen and read at the same time. Eventually creating an audio story library. Many families in the village have TVs and CD players, so it could work…As well as this I found a shop selling Thai/English books, with lovely illustrations and fun, easy stories. I bought one set of 16 books for the school.
So with some final touches, with kids work on the walls, I showed the room to the children. They were very enthusiastic, both about the books and about having a place to play. Some sat with books and read them during break time, others played dominoes, with me trying to get them to play in English rather than Thai. Some chose to have a pillow fight with the new cushions – I has to set them straight on that one, no play fighting in this room, it’s for sitting quietly!
The girls in particular like being able to use this space at break time and always asked if they could go in and get the books out (the boys also like to ‘hang out’ in there!). So I am hopeful that over time they will make use of the books and be able to enjoying reading stories in English.