The Mulberry Learning Center Story by Andaman Discoveries

In Southern Thailand, along the Andaman Coast in the province of Phang Nga, the majority of the local economy is comprised of fishing and tree farming.  Each year thousands of Burmese migrants come to the piers and fields of Kuraburi, Phang Nga, looking for work, bringing with them their families.  The children of these Burmese migrant workers are unable to access the Thai education system and their parents often have little or no education.  They do not have legal citizenship in Thailand, nor are they recognized as citizens of Burma.  Access to education is also difficult due to discrimination, the cost of enrollment and uniform fees, lack of transportation, language barriers, lower levels of education and fear of arrest and deportation.

“The children of these Burmese migrant workers are unable to access the Thai education system and their parents often have little or no education.”

Before the opening of the Burmese Learning Centre in 2005, by the Foundation for Education and Development (FED), there were no educational facilities that could be accessed by Burmese children in the Kuraburi area.  A small center was converted into a make shift school near the Kuraburi Pier, doing its best to provide education for children that normally would be denied this privilege.  Dedicated staff delivered lessons in Thai, Burmese and English and offered a wide range of subjects such as mathematics, geography, arts, music and sports. Doing their best to deliver interesting and engaging lessons in a challenging environment and with very limited resources, the staff conducted daily classes for up to one hundred students.

In 2009, Andaman Discoveries (AD), a community based tourism organization located in Kuraburi, Phang Nga became aware of the center’s need for volunteers.  Through their operations as a volunteering based tour provider, AD began to send interested travelers to volunteer at the center for weeks or months at a time.  Volunteers conduct lessons in English, helping the teachers to learn new methods of teaching a foreign language, to keep the students active and engaged.  The volunteers also introduce activities or special hobbies and interests and work with the children in a friendly and loving way.  This offers the children interaction with foreigners that they may never be able to have otherwise, and an opportunity to develop communication skills that could be beneficial in future employment.  Since the initial set up of the volunteering program, AD has sent over 35 volunteers to the school, to share with the children skills in art and crafts, music and English language.  Before the volunteer program was set up, children often sat in classes without a teacher, patiently waiting for their turn to be taught.  Unlike children in the west, the children sat quietly, in expectation, with often the older children taking lead and sharing some knowledge.  Since the collaboration there are teachers available for most months of the year, ensuring the children are learning and interacting with teachers and volunteer staff on a regular basis.  The children’s English skills are slowly improving, whereas their self-confidence and outlook on life has improved dramatically!  The volunteering program not only aims to teach children English, but also that opportunity is for everyone and the Burmese students grasp this with both hands.

In 2011 both AD and FED recognized a dire need for a new location for the learning center, as the conditions at the school by pier had degraded substantially.  During rainy season water would flood the classrooms, bringing water up to knee level of the children. Sewage and waste water running behind the school posed health hazards to the students and teachers.  These conditions made for an unsuitable learning environment and would cause cancellation of class for days at a time.

Andaman Discoveries began to use its extensive network to find sources of funding to help the learning center.  Through its working relationship with Planeterra, a non-profit subsidiary of the tour provider G-adventures, the two were able to secure funding from, Mulberry Marketing Communications, for the construction of a new school.  AD was also able to receive funding for the purchase of land from a private donor so the school could be moved from the pier to a nice field that was once a palm oil tree farm.  The new area and building would provide the perfect place for these children to receive a quality education.  In June of 2012, the construction was completed and the school was proud to be opened as the new Mulberry Learning Center.  The new building has capacity to provide education for up to two hundred students, offering classes according to the Burmese curriculum as well as lessons in Thai and English language.  A new playground offers the children a safe and healthy environment for play and exercise.  The completion of a small room for computers will be able to offer these children an opportunity to learn skills that are requirements for most employment in this technological time.  Future plans include an organic garden to provide healthy vegetables and fruits for the school.

Even with all of the accomplishments earned over the last year, the Mulberry Learning Center is still in need of additional funding to cover basic expenses like teachers’ salaries, a proper kitchen structure and lunch programs.  Andaman Discoveries continues to actively seek funding to assists this project for success in the future, so it can continue to provide a quality education and opportunity to this special community.

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