English Speaking Course
In 2006, some activists in Nu Po noticed the need for English education for adults who had the desire to resettle to a third country. After the USA announced it would accept almost 100,000 refugees from Burma as new citizens, many applied or started to have hopes for a future in that country. Other countries would also increase the intake of refugees so the mood in the camps changed dramatically.
Up until then camps were mostly occupied by Karen escaping civil war and repression by the Burmese government. Education in the camp was organized by the Karen and supported by several organisations, like ZOA and World Education. This meant that for children and teenagers it was possible to have 12 years of formal education. In addition some programs provided further education, however these programs could only offer this to a select group of students.
John Glenn and another member (should get the name, Ton), in front of the office of the Thai Commander.
In 2005, the Thai authorities started to motivate refugees who stayed in Mae Sot or Bangkok, to move to the camps, and the resettlement program gave them a carrot and a stick in one. In order to be eligible for resettlement, a refugee had to live in one of the camps. For Nu Po that meant that in a short time the population grew from around 13,000 to 18,000. Not just with Burmese from Mae Sot, but also new refugees from fighting in Karen State and those who were active in the Saffron revolution.
Several committee members discuss a plan of action.
Most non-Karen ended up in a new section of the camp, called the PAB section. A High School was established and several kindergartens and primary schools. For adults, there was nothing. After several meetings, a committee was formed and plans for a special program were created. Some activists had contacts out of the camp and with those contacts a curriculum was chosen and two volunteer teachers found.
Through the whole camp, posters were hung and flyers distributed.
On a day in June 2007, flyers were hung all over Nu Po camp and people were asked to sit a placement test for the new school. The driving force behind ESC was John Glenn, a former political prisoner with an abundance of energy and plans. A day after the flyers were hung he would walk around telling everybody who wanted to hear, and everybody who didn’t want to hear that 100 people had applied. A day later he would tell the same people that 200 people had applied. And as days passed by and the testing day drew nearer, the numbers of applications would grow. On the day of the test almost 700 people showed up.
With a large committee as organizing entity, the testing day was an example of the benefits of collaboration. The applicants would do the test in groups and the whole atmosphere was more like that on a summer music festival than like the anxiety of a testing day. The last groups had to do their testing in the evening, using candles for illumination.
As this was a placement test, even those who couldn’t answer one question would be accepted into the program. The idea was to have classes ranging from absolute beginners to intermediate to advanced students. Marking the tests happened at the same time, and within one day the students knew what classes they had been accepted to.
The curriculum was selected by Hugh Cory, and he also gave some teacher training to the 5 local teachers who would be part of the staff. With vast experience in teaching English as a foreign language, he showed ESC the direction in order to be successful.
Htay Htay in charge of registration.
People come to sign up.
Slowly the crowds are coming.
Over 700 people signed up and most of them would sit the test.
Have a committee and you get rules.
And here they are in the classroom, doing a test.
Organising an event like this needs support form all authorities, and camp officials send some guards, or did he come to do the test?
“No Talking during the test”
“So what did you answer there?”
While John Glenn probably worried about the event, Hugh, as usual, is calm.
Asking people to be patient.
And they kept coming.
A specail marking team was formed, in the end Ton marked 83.7 % of all the tests.
Whole families came to the event, and the whole day was very joyful.
Another class has finished.
Some people waited several hours before they could sit the test.
And as every body is everybody’s neighbour or friend it was a great day.
If the camera manperson asks you to smile, yopu smile.
Students who have finished compare answers.
“With the hand on my heart, I will come back to finish marking, I need to use the toilet!”
Htay Htay speaks with a local teacher, probably in Chinese.
Committee mebers gather outside.
Still more are arriving
Although it is getting later, still people wait patiently.
If you can’t get a baby sitter you take the baby with you.
After finsihing the test, applicants go home.
And slowly all people can sit the test.
What she said is forgotten, but the look on Ton’s face suggest it was a mean joke.
Committee members discuss the for the last time.
The light is dimming and the last groups take the test.
Candles are lighted.
Students think hard.
Soon we all can go.
The last group needed the most light.
Members pick up the last answers.
Burma Volunteer Program (BVP) searched for two volunteer teachers, using their extensive connections. Typically a volunteer for BVP would come to Mae Sot for three months, Michelle and Ryan had other plans. Instead of a honeymoon they wanted to volunteer for a year, and ESC was the grateful recipient of this gesture. Leaving the beginner and starting classes to local teachers, they divided the remaining classes, using the books that Hugh had recommended. The other volunteer residing and teaching in Nu Po, Ton, would take the advanced class.
BAP high school offered their classrooms before 8.30 am, and after 3.30 pm. Not all 600 students would show up on the first day, and from those who did, not all would stay on. Within a few months a stable group of 250 students would remain.
Soon after ESC opened its doors, the official day is July 7, 2007 or the auspicious 7-7-7, another program started as well. This was funded by the UN and implemented by ZOA, with the same aim, offering English for those who wish to resettle and who aren’t going to another school. Many ESC students would visit this program as well, showing their eagerness.
This first year, each student would get 1 ½ hours of English per day, 3 days a week. The levels were Beginner A and B, Starter A and B, Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate and Advanced. The first two groups, Starter and Beginner, were taught by local teachers, the rest by the foreign volunteers.
Soon teachers started organizing out of class activities and Michelle and Ryan soon were immersed in camp life. As Nu Po is over 6 hours away from Mae Sot, it is not worthwhile to leave the camp too often. Besides that, the interactions with students take place inside and outside the class rooms and that is what makes ESC successful and special.
At the end of the first year, Michelle and Ryan went home. Reviewing the first year, John Glenn and Ton came up with the idea to build ESC’s own classrooms. Some money was found and while Ton went home for a visit, John Glenn started construction. When Ton came back he saw a building that was 4 times bigger than the first plan. In fact John Glenn had made a copy of the students’ building that was destroyed by the Burmese authorities in 1962, on July the 7th!.
Since then over 30 teachers have come to Nu Po and taught at ESC. The program has changed, a library and badminton court attached, but the idea behind the school stayed the same: offering quality teaching to those who want to improve their English skills.