Against the trend

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The last few years the situation in Nu Po and other camps, has changed a lot. Donors have redirected their focus on working inside Burma, organisation are following thye donors, and part of the population either follow organisations or are finding refuge in Thai jobs, thirds countries or somewhere in Burma.

Not everybody is ready to leave and some people really have no place to go even with rations going down and other services disappearing. Education is still maintained but at a bare minimum. The community tries hard to keep schools in the camp, but they have not much to offer.

ESC has so far been able to function at the same level as before, this is in part because of the fact that it has always been a very basic idea, bring those who can teach together with those who want to learn. The main asset of the program are the teachers, the main tool is the daily conversation between teachers and students.

What helped was the fact that each student only had to show up for one lesson, for one hour. Nobody falls asleep after one hour. What helped was that each student could follow their own pace. What helped was that the teachers at the program have always been students themselves.

The volunteers from Europe, the USA, Australia, South America, Canada learned about different cultures, the local teachers learned from experience and sometimes from those who came from abroad.

Due to changes in camp composition, ESC has adapted in ways that has not hit the main objective. With a strong focus on the teachers, ESC has shifted some responsibilities and now it is a program that is 100% run by local teachers with support from their students.

Naw Cherry, Aung Kyaw Oo and Saw Peacock each takes some responsibility for running the program. All there make sure that new students are recruited. They write the monthly reports and they write proposals when the roof need repair. They find people to fix the roof, materials and make sure the school is a dry place for the next rainy season. In the meantime they provide the classes.

 

Funding

ESC has never been a free school, although for those who can not afford the fee, a waiver is in place. Joining ESC is for three month periods and each student pays 20 baht a month for one hour of English each working day. The first few years extra money was found by asking visitors of Nu Po and friends in Mae Sot or even abroad.

Then the program found a donor in the family of one of the founders, Hugh Cory. Two times they covered all the cost for one school year, and both times ESC managed to make this money last a lot longer, in total all the cost for 4 years were covered.

For the last few years ESC runs on a small budget that is provided by friends of the school, some who once attended the program and are now living abroad, in America and also in Burma. ESC is very grateful to those friends.

Volunteer Teachers

An imported part of funding are the volunteer teachers, who receive a small stipend for expenses in the camp, for food a cup of tea. The local teachers also donate a lot, their time, their skills and although they do receive a stipend, it cannot be called a proper salary due to the fact that they don’t have enough teaching hours.

The last few years it has been very difficult to convince applicants that teaching in Nu Po is a wonderful experience, both for the volunteer as for the students. Last year our friend Marco taught for almost 8 months and he has already been back as he misses his students, his geckos and the rest of Nu Po.

A new attempt is now underway and hopefully somebody will see that teaching in Nu Po is the same as teaching in Burma, you only don’t need to travel the whole country, everybody can be found at ESC.

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The First Week

A first week is always full of surprises, students register on the appointed day, and the day after, and the after and the day after and probably a week after. Classes have started and teachers are asked to be lenient and we are.

The second session started so far with 94 students, of which 37 are new. The students come from every section in the camp, and the majority is female.

Today we also had a small farewell as our teacher Wah Wah Htoo Say is leaving ESC for another future. She was with ESC for almost two years and has been very helpful with setting up the school again in 2017. Her enthusiasm in the classroom will be missed.

And also Tun Hla will focus on other topics. He was the person who started the talks in November to restart the school and he helped clearing the compound and some maintenance of the buildings. Without him ESC might not be the school it is now.

The school compound added to the farewell with being beautiful.

First Session 2017 January-April

The first session of 2017 started in January, with an placement test on the 7th and the first classes on the 16th. The week in between we had a badminton tournament and 136 students sat the test and signed up for classes. A school working group was already in place although one of the three original members had to leave because of other commitments. Our new set up meant that we started with two office managers and three local teachers, on top of that Marco from the USA would arrive later for the Intermediate and Upper Intermediate classes. Until his arrival Ton would take on his classes.

During the first week students would still register until we stopped that possibility as classes had started. With Three Starter A classes, 2 Starter B, 1 Elementary, 1 Pre-Intermediate, and one mixed class of Intermediate and Upper-Intermediate we started the program.

As a team we had much to learn as most knowledge about running ESC had gone. In a way this makes the school also a learning place for the working group. Soon it was discovered that it would be better to adjust expectations to the level of development so far. Each day things would be done in a better way and right now the school independently run by local staff.

After two weeks Teacher Marco arrived and he took over the classes of Ton, and the students had to get used to the different way Marco would teach compared with Ton. Ton said it was an improvement.

On April 7 was the final school day as Tingyan or Songkran was around the corner. Thara Marco stayed until the end of the month, promising to return for three more months.

Test for the 2nd session

On April 29, the placement test for new students was held and 31 new students came to the school to sit the test. Students from the first session are automatically placed, although they may opt for another level.

As it is a placement test all students will be accepted.

On May 2, the second session will start.

 

Introduction

Welcome to this blog where I will try to create a history of English Speaking Course (ESC) in Nu Pho, a refugee camp on the border between Thailand and Burma. Since the start I have been involved with this school, although it was not something I started, that honor goes to a group of dedicated people who resided in the camp in 2006. All of them, I think, have by now moved on to greener pastures, as have many of the students that joined the program.

Those who went to countries like the USA, Australia and Norway, from time to time express fond memories of the time spend in Nu Pho and at ESC. Others went on to find employment in the camp or in Mae Sot, often with an enhanced confidence that was nurtured at ESC.

Hundreds of students called ESC their home during its existence, and it is still running, and over 30 volunteers came from all over the world to teach for 3 months, often staying longer.

It is my hope to show through this blog what a group of people can do if they have a shared objective and the willingness to aim for something higher. Several individuals made the difference between talking about a plan and executing it, the whole group made it all work.

To be part of this is humbling.