Health and Human Development Programs’ (HHD) Southeast Asia Initiative has developed a new education project for youth in four Thai “sea gypsy” communities and Baan Nam Kem village—the village hardest hit by the tsunami. Funding from Deutsche Bank will permit HHD to offer life skills, vocational training, market research, and formal education assistance.
After many trips to Phang Nga Province, HHD Southeast Asia staff found several groups, including sea gypsies, who were left out in the tsunami relief process. The tsunami not only destroyed their way of living, but it also completely ruined the local economy. “Over a year after the tsunami hit, people in the South of Thailand are continuing to feel its impact,” said EDC’s Regional Director Angela Chen. “It seems that the tsunami reversed the development in that area by many years.”
In some of the villages in the target area, almost 30 percent of children drop out of school after 6th grade, even though it is compulsory to continue education until 9th grade. Khun Ganyanee Sang Se-Ma, a teacher at Chao Thai Mai Primary School in a poor Moken village is disturbed by this trend. “I have taught here for 29 years, and I am just tired of seeing all the children drop out of school and go to work at the local rubber plant. They make 130 baht [about $3.25] a day! This sounds good to them now, but it won’t in five years!”
“In order to bring sustainable development, we need to focus on educating young people so that they can take leadership and make a difference in their communities,” said Chen. The new program’s objectives are to deliver educational services, improve access to education and information, equip communities with diverse skills, and build a more resilient economy with alternative careers and jobs rather than depending purely on fishing and tourism.
The project’s first component is to work with the Bureau of Education to support the creation of a seventh grade. Beyond formal education, there is also a need for employment opportunities for young people. After holding community meetings with various stakeholders—teachers, principals, and community leaders—HHD learned that the vast majority of people in these communities have little employment opportunity nor information about viable jobs available to them. “We can’t simply say, ‘go to school!’” said EDC Project Coordinator Elliott Prasse-Freeman. “Rather, we have to show them why an education can lead to a better life and where potential opportunities for future success exist.”
The project will deliver innovative life-skills training to children, youth, and other community members using computer software and games. In addition, more than 150 students ages 5-18 will benefit from vocational education and career events that will bring together students from 10 different schools and facilitate sharing of information gathered through an in-depth survey of the job market in Phang-Nga Province.
Finally, the community centers, run by the local NGO, will be supported by the project to ensure that they are providing a stable, enabling environment where young people can learn and think constructively about their future. “We hope that this program will make a difference for our children,” said Khun Ganyanee, “and give them an opportunity for a brighter future.”
Originally published on February 1, 2006