Community Assessment for the Ban Mai School in Ban Mae Tuen
We left Chiang Mai, Thailand on the 10th day of our trip to strike out on a new journey to find the Ban Mai School located in the small village of Ban Mae Tuen, south of Chiang Mai. Professors Ingle and Kim had not visited the school yet so we did not have much information for what the school needs really were. Having had stories about the disrepair and rundown condition the last village was in when our professors first visited it 5 years ago this May. I had envisioned Ban Mai to be in similar condition. However, I was very surprised upon our arrival to see large, painted and colorful buildings, signage and a small town with shops, a restaurant and other businesses. The school, which is home to more than 300 students from kindergarten through 6th grade during the Thai school year, was in better condition than I initially had expected but still largely lacking in regular maintenance.
Throughout our three day stay at the Ban Mai School we performed health assessments for each student which included height and weight checks as well as oral, lice and lesion checks with corresponding care given to help treat it. We also worked to repair a concrete step that was in disrepair by removing the old concrete and framing, mixing and pouring new concrete. The new step was a project that will provide a more safe entrance into the cafeteria/eating hall. Lastly, for our service work at Ban Mai we also spend a class period with the children in their classrooms teaching them games that would help work on their English skills and would also encourage class participation. In my group we taught the kids a song that was reinforced with actions so the kids could sing in English as well as act out the words they were singing.
While working on these service projects we were reminded to keep an open mind about various school needs that we come across and to critically think about creative solutions to those needs. I particularly found myself identifying many needs that could benefit the school and more importantly the school children but it became even harder to sift through the ideas and simplify it down to a few good ideas that were not only sustainable but impactful for years to come. I did not want to focus on small items that the community could do themselves but rather help on the larger issues that they might not have the capacity to do on their own. The criteria that I used to help me prioritize the list of needs I created was
- Is it sustainable for years to come?, Does it help free up time to focus on other projects?
- Does it help the largest amount of people?
- Is it affordable and can we execute it within the next 3-5 years or less?
Using this criteria of prioritization I was able to narrow down the scope of potential projects that we, as a May term trip, could execute within the timeframe of 3 to 5 years. It also helps to keep our focus on the larger goals that can help the school in areas that may not have otherwise had the capacity to do. One approach to helping a community such as this one is to help with large projects that will in turn free up resources such as labor. This transition from daily needs to more long term project planning will help with community development and can rollover the additional resources into future projects. This type of bootstrapping is a social entrepreneurship solution to small scale community development. If our May Term Thailand group can help with some of the larger projects to help free up their time from all the daily worries then the Ban Mai School can begin to shift focus to more mid and long term planning.
Here is a non-prioritized list of ideas that we brainstormed in a debriefing meeting after we left the Ban Mai School. These are student’s preliminary high level ideas and are not confirmed projects yet.
- Address clean water storage and collection for year round use
-Rain water collection system
- Hygiene and dental care- not just brushing teeth but also keeping cuts clean and taking care of sores
–Annual care packages for incoming students
- Improving the dorms- better bedding, more beds, better conditions for all (esp the Hmong), and more clothes, shoes
–Clothes washing system for all students to use
- Mechai’s Pattana School model for gardening
–Teaches planning and teamwork
–Incorporate social entrepreneurship through the program
- More/better materials for the classrooms- more English texts, more variety than just the workbooks, some basic technology stuff
–After school programs with non-classroom learning focus
–Career exploration, job shadowing, skills training programs, etc
- Community involvement for future projects
–After school programs/classes where kids get to learn in a more creative way
–Addressing other building maintenance items beyond the cafeteria- lights, roofs, etc.
The next step for this process I think would be to thoroughly vet out the ideas with supporting cost benefit analysis and structure a timeline for implementation of each item. A supporting document such as a strategic plan would be beneficial as a deliverable to the Ban Mai School included with a letter of intent. In the future many of these projects are dependent on the level of student engagement and support for the fundraising that makes the May Term Thailand Service Learning class such a success. As fundraiser dinner coordinator I worked very hard to make this year’s fundraising activities a success, especially with the fundraiser dinner but, not without the help of great students. However, each year a new group of students are in charge of assuming this fundraising role and cannot be expected that every year will be as successful. In order to keep this class a success and to continue the work we are planning we need to be sure there are successful fundraising for the years to come. I see this as one of the largest weaknesses of the program.
I hope to somehow stay engaged in more work like what we have begun in Ban Mae Tuen, Ban Mai School. I see a lot of future need with social entrepreneurship and business education within the community to help maximize the community’s potential and resources. I think through community education and town hall meetings businesses can really thrive once informed and empowered. And with social entrepreneurship properly implemented beneficiaries such the community can really thrive from better education of the Ban Mai School education the next generation of business savvy social entrepreneurs.