Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coconut Club Break-in

I can't sleep right now, because my mind keeps turning about what happened today- I guess it would be wise to talk about it...

Today was a hard day but another good lesson learned being new at this job. I came into Coconut Club at my normal 2:30 time to set-up for our after school daily activity only to find the place ransacked and broken into. There is a separate room inside of Coconut Club (which is a normal sized classroom). This separate room is basically an office and stockroom which I keep track of. I organize in-kind donations in this room, birthday presents for the children, new games, special toys like battery operated ones which they can play with on special occasions, nice cameras for photo projects and snacks and candy to give away when a child does good clean-up or is extra helpful. The Office had been broken into and all these things lay strung about with empty wrappers, garbage strewn everywhere, toys stolen, presents destroyed etc.. I wish I could say some mean old horrible person did this. Unfortunately the facts must be faced and truth be told, it was 6 of our Coconut Club children.

There are so many things that can be said in response to this behavior and although I cried, was angry, canceled Coconut Club and wouldn't smile at any children for the next hour so they knew how infuriated I was, I feel pity and sadness for these 6 kids. To understand what I'm talking about you have to understand Coconut Club (CC). In case you haven't understood what exactly CC is and my role in the program let me explain: Its an after-school program where the foundation does special activities for the children who live at the school (many are orphaned and many have families but they cannot afford to feed them). CC is a safe haven, a place the kids can collectively share toys, play games, have fun and be supported by adults- something they currently do not receive at school. We do arts/crafts, volunteers from off the island on holiday bring donations and toys, we go swimming, throw birthday parties, take the kids to BBQs and nice sponsoring hotel events. My role is Program Coordinator a polite way of saying- I manage it. I consider that room to be my responsibility and that office space is precious to me. When I first got here and took over this role I cleaned, organized and made the place beautiful. To have someone come in and mess it all up especially when it is someone who I have made the space beautiful for, really really hurts.

On a more constructive note is what needs to be said about these 6 children. These children who I found out broke into CC are by far our most "special needs" children. They're the kids who are failing their classes, can speak hardly a word of English, who never leave school grounds- or receive family visitations. These are the children who REALLY need CC. Which makes my job of enforcing discipline by banning them from CC sooo much more difficult. I can't help but feel turmoil and heartache over this situation. I found out who had done it because I told the 20 kids who showed up today that they needed to report any information to the teachers. In Thai culture, Stealing is considered really bad. I'm not saying that Americans condone it, but we definitely don't have the same distaste for it that they have here. The children were defensive for me and their CC space and all fingers pointed at the same 6 kids.

I've never been one to agree with public punishment but this sure as heck ain't my turf. The Thai teachers felt the need to scold them out in front of the school in front of all the children, Yes I understand the cultural acceptance, but as a mother hen this was again, hard. One of the kids began to cry with guilt and confession saying sorry and bowing to me and another English teacher. The Thai teachers found this amusing and laughed. I don't know if my thinking about how to deal with children when they've done something bad is totally out of whack, but I would never laugh or embarrass a child when they already felt bad or showed remorse. I wasn't going to tell the kid, "Oh its okay (because it wasn't!)" but something about the situation just doesn't sit right. Here are six kids that need adult love and support more than ever. They do a destructive act which is obviously a cry for help (in my book) and the response is to ban them from the one place they receive that support and humiliate them publicly. So what happens after their banning period is over and they're allowed back in- would they respect me and the CC space suddenly? I don't think so. It would be even less of a home to them than it could have possibly been at one time. Or maybe I'm just too soft hearted?

Here's my idea- I will make them clean CC. They will still not be allowed to participate in activities or attend CC, but I will take them up there, outside of CC hours and have them help me clean the space. Would this not help them appreciate and love the space more? Maybe even persuade them not to mess it up. If they're really good and well behaved and respectful of me and CC then maybe I can trust to let them back in to participate. Or am I too big hearted, optimistic, idealistic and unrealistic about the nature of these children?

Feedback on this entry would be great... I know your not a commenting bunch but there's at least 40+ people out there I've confirmed are reading this, so if you have a moment hit the comment button at the bottom here....


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mothers Day and the Kings Foundation Visit

Today was one of the most memorable days I've had since I've come here. It might have been the excruciating heat I sat through for 3 hours in heavy business attire in a stuffy assembly hall or maybe the heart-warming Mother's Day tradition I witnessed that made all the sweating worth all the joyful tears.

Mothers are sacred in Thailand, really family, but I'm going to spend a moment just talking about moms. It seems that the children Muslim and Buddhist are told since day 0 years old, to be thankful and appreciate their mothers love, for they would not be alive without her carrying you for 9 months. There are 10 principals the children at the Kings Foundation school recite daily, I don't know them all yet. But two of the highest priorities are 1. Love your King 2. Appreciate your Mother. Daily they repeat this philosophy (and 8 others), similarly to the United states where we recite the pledge of allegiance daily at school.

So, mothers day assembly is a day where all the mothers of all the children come to the school and sit in a circle around the perimeter of the room as guests of honor. Then, each class of children is called out one-by-one (who's mothers are present) and their mothers are asked to approach the front stage of the room and take a seat in the chairs set out. Their children then approach them, gift them a flower and then kneel at their feet, placing their head down in their mother's lap. The mothers place their hands over their children's head and together they spend a minute praising one another and sharing a very loving and spiritual exchange of appreciation. EVERYONE CRIES, I cried. At first I thought it was more of a great anthropological observation of Thai culture, but suddenly the mothers and kids were all crying as they lifted their heads, while smiling. My heart began to fill with emotional attachment to this moment feeling overwhelmed with the beauty and love in the room.

They spend about 30 minutes doing this because the children are then invited to go to all the women in the room (teachers included) who has acted as a mother in their life and praise them. It's beautiful. One teacher sitting next to me who has a close bond with many of the residential children who didn't have mother's present, started to receive a line of kids kneeling at her feet and holding her, it was intense! Speaking of the residential children who's mothers either couldn't come because they are unable to pay for the distance to visit their children or simply do not have a mother- this was the hardest part. Working at Coconut Club full time where I only really get to know the residential children, I had a particularly difficult time with this. I had to hold one girl for about 5 minutes while she soaked my shirt bawling "no mother". All I could do was hold her and simply cry back. Many residential children would comfort each other, lying on the floor in the room holding each other crying. It was an awe inspiring moment to see all the children who I'm greeted happily by daily, be sad for the first time and get a glimpse into the true horror of their past or life as an orphan. Many outside visitors when I explain the set-up for the 150 children who live at the school say "Oh yeah like a boarding school, I went to one." The misconception is big, its more like an orphanage, these teachers Thai and English are the closest thing they get to an adults support and love. In this way, the foundation is pertinent to their lives and I'm glad I can be a part of this....

Oddly enough Mothers Day was accompanied by a visit from the President of the Kings Foundation. On several accounts I've herd co-workers say, "In the 2 years I've worked here, a man this high-up in the Kings Foundation has never visited- this is a big deal!" And it was, I have never seen the students so stoic and well-behaved, especially after such an emotional morning. But it didn't matter, a man was coming who represented the most important person in the country and that was more important than any mother in the room suddenly. I of course didn't understand anything he said, it was all in Thai, but i did understand the importance and cultural respect made due to his visit. We had every news station on Phuket and Bangkok in our Assembly hall. The Governor of Phuket Showed, The mayor of Phuket and more important people traveled from Bangkok to accompany him for this hour long speech he made to the school. The message seemed well received so I guess it was all good things he said, and our school is considered doing well by the Kings Foundation Standards. One student was talking while he was talking and he made the student come stand next to him in front of the auditorium, to set an example- he continued this as students kept talking.....

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cooking tip

Next time your cooking with your Wok, clean it this way BEFORE you enjoy your food: Empty out your cooked food and leave wok on burner while still on. Add a tbl spoon of oil and 2 tbl spoons of water, let simmer a bit while scraping the scum a bit with your wok utensil, the oil and water pull it all off as you rotate and scrap a bit. Turn off burner and dump into the sink, do a quick rinse with the faucet = clean. Thais do not use sponges or soap on their wok and definitely do not wait more than 30 sec. to clean it after they've used it. It's so darn easy you'll be surprised!