Joys of Sponsoring
By Ursula Wall
“I am not the same, having seen the moon on the other side of the world ..."
Mary Anne Radmacher
Educator, writer and photographer Ursula Wall shares her experience of being a THEP sponsor and accompanying Susan on a site visit.
Ursula features more about her experiences with THEP on her blog: www.ursulasweeklywanders.com
My husband and I currently sponsor three children, all at different points in their education. They struggle so hard, and we are happy to make it just a little bit easier for them. It is a real joy to watch them progress through their schooling: this little one was starting Kindergarten when this picture was taken. Our "eldest" graduates from university this year.
We couldn't be more proud!
Travel is such an eyeopener. There are parts of the world that fill me with joy and humble gratitude.
I love Thailand, and I especially love trips into Mae Hong Son in Thailand's north. It is gorgeous country: green jungle-draped mountains that rise steeply into the clouds, cold waters tumbling down the hills into the river valleys below, and picturesque thatched-roofed wooden houses punctuating terraces of cabbages and rice for market.
What makes The Hills special, though, is the welcoming warmth of the people. People who work hard and have little, but who are still willing to share.
Many of the people here belong to one of several “Hilltribes” - the ethnic minority groups that live in remote villages across Northern Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. These communities are often well beyond the reach of basic infrastructure, like electricity and/or running water, and people support their families through subsistence farming.
Across Thailand, schooling is free to all its young citizens and the Department of Education provides classrooms and teachers. It does not, however, provide funding for auxiliary infrastructure, like libraries, canteens and dormitories, and does not help with other school expenses, like books, uniforms and (required) extra-curricular activities.
Schools in The Hills (especially beyond the earliest grades) might be a long, difficult walk away. Without dormitory accommodation during the school week and help with school expenses, historically, many Hilltribe children drop out of school early, and the poverty cycle continues.
It has been ages since I've forayed into the remote and rugged hills of Mae Hong Son on the wild border with Myanmar. My last trip was with Susan Race and THEP several years ago. She was on one of her many trips north to interview students who were recipients (or hoped to be) of modest scholarships, and to oversee some of the many projects she helps manage through THEP, the Thailand Hilltribe Education Projects.
THEP operates completely transparently, and Susan is always happy to have companions on her trips. I have participated in several trips, and have really enjoyed them. It is always a pleasure meeting the students, and when possible their families. They are so polite, and appreciative of the help they are getting to continue their studies.
But the trips are fun, too. The food is great: fresh, local and tasty. The scenery is fabulous. Sleeping conditions might be a bit “basic”, but we are still doing better than the students who sleep top-to-tail in overcrowded dormitories!
An of course, you just have to be able to keep up with Susan! She is tireless in her passion for making the most of every baht donated to THEP.
The pictures below are just a sample of the projects we visited and the students we interviewed on just one day!