Author Topic: The girl who dreams of school  (Read 706 times)

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Offline thaiga

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The girl who dreams of school
« on: August 13, 2012, 05:16:37 PM »
Life in the hills of northwestern Thailand, deprived of the chance to get a basic education

Nine-year-old Thanya Jateekoi is the middle child of an ethnic-Lahu family living in remote Hua Pai village in the mountains of Mae Hong Son, Thailand's most northwestern province.

Thanya, a nine-year-old Lahu girl, has never been to school and cannot speak Thai. She is one of an estimated 600,000 primary school-age children in Thailand who are either not currently attending schools or who enrol late.

While her elder sister goes to school, Thanya has to stay at home to look after her younger brother and help with chores around the house. Thanya's father, Jamu, says he can only afford to send one of his children to school.

"I am worried about my daughter's future because she doesn't get to study like other children," says Jamu, who makes a living growing rice and corn or by hiring himself out to work in the fields of other villagers. "Without an education, she'll have to work in the fields when she grows up, just like me."

Jamu, 24, earns about 400 to 500 baht a month working in the fields. But once the crops are harvested, he has no other way to earn income.

Jamu says he feels sorry for his daughter when he sees her doing chores or carrying heavy buckets of water for household use, but there is nothing he can do about it.

"I have no money to send her to school and there's no one to take her there," he explains.

He has no motorcycle of his own, so he asks people in the village who own motorcycles to give his elder daughter a lift to her boarding school, which is down in the valley, some 15km away.

Jamu usually covers the petrol expenses for this weekly trip, but when he has no cash he barters work in the fields for his daughter's ride to school.


Not long after the cocks stop crowing, Thanya gets up and makes her bed, a simple thin mattress and some blankets on the floor. Six o'clock is the usual start of her day, and it is also when she begins her working day.

Every morning she helps her mother cook for the family and prepare food for the pigs they raise. The family's daily staple is rice with some chilli paste. When there is nothing else to eat, they scavenge for wild vegetables in the forest.

The pigs are raised to earn money for the family and are only eaten when there is a special feast.

After breakfast, Thanya feeds the animals boiled pumpkin and carries buckets of water from the river for the household chores. She then washes the dishes and takes care of her little brother, who is five.

"I give him a shower and look after him," says Thanya, who can speak and understand only Lahu. After cleaning up her brother, she dries and wraps him with a piece of cloth, and carries him on her back as she walks around the village
Thanya sometimes also works in the field. Since she is still too small to use a hoe, she uses her bare hands to help pull the wild grass from the fields her parents are preparing for planting.

If she is not helping outdoors, Thanya stays home and washes the family's clothes. She also cooks rice for her parents in the evening.

If they return home from the fields late, she prepares the evening meal for herself and her brother, pounding dried chillies, mixing in a bit of MSG, and then having this with some rice.

During her free time, she likes to sit in an old tyre suspended from a beam under her family's house and look out at the rutted, dusty trail that is the only road into the village.

"I want to go to school," she says in Lahu. "I want to be able to speak Thai. And I want to be a policewoman when I grow up."

Thanya is among around 600,000 primary school-age children in Thailand who are either not currently attending schools or who enrol late.

Many children still do not receive an education because they have to work to help support their families or because the nearest school is too far from their home.


Hua Pai, where Thanya lives, is situated in the rugged mountains of Mae Hong Son's Pai district. There is no mains electricity or tap water there. Villagers use solar cells to store electricity for limited use at night, and rely on water from the river.

There are about 150 people in the village, 48 of them children. According to community leader Paku Jateekoi, about 15 of these children are over the age of seven, but are not receiving an education.

The closest school is about 15km _ a walk of three hours or so _ from the village. It takes more than an hour to travel by motorbike from the village to the boarding school in the valley due to the steepness of the road and its many winding curves.

Students stay at the school during the week, returning home on weekends.

Getting children to and from the school is a problem for many families due to both the distance and the price of petrol. Paku says it costs about 200 baht in petrol to make the return journey, so when money is scarce he may only pick up his daughter from the school every two to four weeks.

"All the children here want to go to school," he says. "But because of the difficulty in getting there, they can't all go. It'd be great if there was a school near the village, so that the children who don't have the opportunity to go to school at the moment could also get an education."


Unicef is committed to getting all children into school regardless of their gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity or religious beliefs. Since 2005, Unicef has been supporting a project that provides ethnic hilltribe children in poor and remote rural areas of Mae Hong Son with access to a primary-level education.

"The goal is to ensure that all children have access to schools where they are taught to read and write Thai and do basic mathematics so that they can communicate with others and earn a living when they grow up," says Rangsun Wiboonuppatum, who works with Unicef in Thailand.

So far, 33 Unicef-supported hilltribe schools have been established under the project in all seven districts of Mae Hong Son (Muang, Pang Ma Pha, Pai, Khun Yuam, Mae Sariang, Sop Moei and Mae La Noi). More than 900 children are receiving an education at these schools and Unicef is working with local Education Service Area Offices to identify other children that could benefit.

Unicef will continue to support the hilltribe school project and to advocate for the adoption of policies that will ensure all children living in remote areas of the country get access to an education.

Thanya helps with household chores while her mother works in the fields. She cooks, feeds the pigs, washes dishes and takes care of her little brother.

Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined.