1/25/10

Haiti in the Classroom... in Thailand

We just received this uplifting dispatch from one of our Thailand volunteers, Stephanie Paguio.

"Last week, I was moved to teach my high school students about what was happening in Haiti. I had no idea whether or not they were aware of the earthquake and how much damage it had done to the country and its people. The day I found out about the earthquake, I emailed my best friend, “Sometimes I feel like my heart is so big that I don’t know what to do with it. I really want to help Haiti. I’ve been so moved and devastated with the news... I just never know what I can do but I think I can really bring this message to my students.”

I centered all my lessons last week on Haiti in my seven classes. I explained the idea of natural disasters and asked them if they were aware of Haiti’s present circumstances. I presented them with the number of Haitian people believed to be affected and dead. I showed them pictures of the aftermath and the noises of sympathy and shock that came from their mouths was a relief.

We also did a listening activity with the song, “We are the World,” which, I have to say, is an unbelievably moving song. As I tried my best to explain the meaning behind the lyrics, the words never failed to move and inspire me on the spot.

Though I am not quite sure if my students completely understood everything that I was saying, my students’ body language and eyes told me that they were truly trying to understand. Their attentiveness to my words and actions was above the norm. They seemed to know that I was talking about something that mattered and they wanted to learn more.

The class donation box, decorated with photos from the earthquake. [photo courtesy of Stephanie Paguio]

I told them that I could have taught them English that day but what I really wanted them to learn were things that they can take for the rest of their lives. I wanted to teach them about life and the world, the reality of its pain and suffering, and what a difference it makes when one person chooses to lend a helping hand. Some students listened to me with understanding eyes, doing their best to understand what it was that I was trying to communicate, both with my words, but also especially through my body language, the emotion behind my eyes, the passion in my voice.

I tried to tell them that there is a world outside of Thailand and they need to be aware that suffering happens all around them. I told them that I love to help people and that I wished for them to develop the same compassion for people around the world.

Many of my students last week walked out of my classroom singing, “We are the world… We are the children,” which of course just made my day.

I created a donation box last Monday and pointed it out to my students at the end of my Haiti lesson. I am keeping the box inside my classroom for my students to donate at any point. Word spread pretty fast around my high school that I was trying to raise money for Haiti. What began as an inside the classroom Haiti fund has now become a school community effort. I have received so much support from my principal and my fellow teachers. Students that are not even my students are passing on their donations to their teachers to then give to me. The biggest contributions by far have been the parents of the students. All in all, I am in awe from the generosity and support of my school community. I have always truly believed that even the smallest actions make a difference. And as I receive new donations from students, parents, and teachers, their actions seem to validate for me that we are one world and that human compassion does exist.

I began collecting donations for Haiti one week ago and have so far raised a little over 10,000 Baht ($300). I honestly did not think I was going to even raise 1,000 Baht. Living in a village where the overwhelming majority are modest farmers, I am humbled by the community’s unhesitating willingness to donate to the people of Haiti.

My principal has encouraged me to take students along with me to walk around the village asking for donations from the local hospital, post office, and other public buildings so there is a possibility that village participation may now be underway.

Last week, hands down, was by far my most rewarding week of teaching. "

Stephanie is teaching in a large high school in the village of Pla Pak, team teaching with a Thai teacher named Oa. She is living on campus at this school where students are also involved in a lot of farm work. Stephanie reports that students raise crickets and vegetables and regularly take them to the nearby market in addition to their usual schoolwork. Stephanie and her school, including students outside of her class, have now raised over 10,000 baht, which she plans to donate through the Red Cross.

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