The authors, Heesun Sonia Min, 18, from South Korea, and Margaret Cutlip, 17, from the United States, are high school students at Hong Kong International School.
For the second year in row, a student group from HKIS spent a week in March at Yaowawit School, which lies 90 minutes outside of Phuket in the rainforest in Phang Nga Province. The authors of this piece, Maggie (second from the left) and Sonia (third from the left), are pictured here standing in the walkway of the beautiful Yaowawit school campus.
Little Miw’s grin stretches across her face as she grabs my hand and chirps, “Wait, wait!” Suddenly, tiny fingers tackle me from behind and my face is smothered with neon green paint. The children shriek with laughter as I turn and chase them, grabbing blue paint and preparing for a counter-attack. This was a typical morning at the Yaowawit School in Kapong: a place that truly upholds Thailand’s reputation as the land of smiles.
As senior students from Hong Kong International School, we’ve had the chance to volunteer around the globe, teaching English in Cambodia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, India, and Rwanda. Like many of the other children we have worked with, the Yaowawit students come from challenging circumstances. However, what is most striking about the Yaowawit students can be summarized in one word: resilience. As Fiona Parsons, a volunteer who lives in the area, says, “Kids at Yaowawit are much more confident and happy than kids at other local schools. They have much brighter futures.”
Originally built in 2005 to educate orphans who had lost their parents to the devastating 2004 tsunami, Yaowawit now boasts nine classrooms, a set of dorm rooms, a swimming pool, guesthouses, a temple, a theater, and two spacious patio dining rooms. The school educates 108 students between the ages of four and eighteen in the standard Thai curriculum in order to prepare them for national exams. However, Yaowawit’s unique educational environment stems from its focus on valuable life skills such as learning English, sustainable agriculture, and hospitality services.
As one of the school’s main initiatives, students are currently developing ten agricultural learning stations. Last Sunday we were privileged to be a part of the grand opening of this program, which involves using recycled materials, such as tires and toilets, to grow herbs and crops as a source of food and income. The students also learn how to work in the hospitality industry, serving meals to our twenty HKIS volunteers with the utmost enthusiasm.
Despite disadvantaged backgrounds, Yaowawit students demonstrate an eagerness to learn. As regular visitors to the school, Gary Soden and Amanda De Norminbille, from the United States, came to talk to us about how Yaowawit has progressed over the years. They commented on the curiosity of the students by saying, “Yaowawit raises the standards for all other schools in the region.” June, who is graduating this year at the age of eighteen, speaks flawless English after years of dedication to her studies. She is now seeking an international scholarship to further her education. The teachers currently at Yaowawit hope that students like June will return one day to help other children succeed as well.
Despite the strong reputation the school has garnered, they refuse to rest on their laurels. The funding the school receives from donations, the government, and hotel guests only covers about 80% of the costs from month to month. While their farm produces rice, herbs, fruits, and vegetables, they have not yet reached their ultimate goal of self-sustainability.
When we arrived at Yaowawit last week, we couldn’t imagine how much we would come to care for the children in this school. Not only do we admire its progressive principles of sustainability, education, and hospitality, but we also treasure the inspirational dedication and positive attitudes shown daily by the students, teachers, and staff. To sustain such a home for children with outstanding potential is of highest priority, and so we turn to you.
Whether you visit as a tourist and stay as a hotel guest, work as a volunteer, or just donate resources, supporting Yaowawit is investing in a positive future for Thailand.
Lars Henriksen, one of our guest speakers and an “uncle” to the kids, shared first-hand experiences of the tsunami relief effort. When asked about his thoughts on Yaowawit, he had only one comment: “After the tsunami hit, people asked what my best hope for the region was. Yaowawit School is beyond my dreams.”
(N0te: this article was published by the Thai English-language paper, The Nation, on March 13, 2012:
Boom Boom, a special friend of former HKIS teacher Amy Vlastelica, sends a “hello” to her.