Today, while Thailand is struggling to recover from the menacing problem of political disunity, the efforts of a small group of young students are as welcome as a breath of fresh air.
About a year ago, 16-year-old Athi-chai Ounkomol founded the Rural Development Club at his school, the International School of Bangkok (ISB). As the club's president, Athichai mobilised his fraternity of fellow students who shared his goal of making a difference in society by helping the underprivileged in the rural communities in Thailand. Their first project was recently launched in the form of the English Centre at the Chonpratarn School in Nonthaburi province.
Together, the club members undertook to renovate a vacant classroom at the school and convert it into a happy learning place for its students. And that's not all. These ISB student volunteers make regular trips to that classroom to share with their Nonthaburi peers their knowledge of various topics, such as health care and world cultures.
"This idea of sharing came to me during the New Year's holidays. And after I proposed it to the club, all the members wholeheartedly agreed to adopt the plan. In addition to our fund-raising events, the club contacted charitable corporations like Peppermint Field to join in as sponsors of the project," said Athichai with a smile.
After several meetings and trips to survey the location, the club members got together one full weekend to make their dream a reality. "We spent our first day shopping for furniture and other materials needed for the room. The following day, we cleaned up the entire room and repainted the walls ourselves. The third and final day was decoration time. We unpacked the new furniture and set them in the room, as well as put up posters and other teaching materials," Athichai related, adding that he also managed to collect some 40 books, all in very good condition, as a generous contribution from ISB's library to the English Centre.
"The students are really responsible and well-organised. I barely had to do anything," said club adviser Sucheera Ruangtrakool, beaming with pride.
Now that the English Centre is complete, the club members will take turns to make a monthly visit to teach the children. Club Vice-President Prima Vithoontien elaborated: "We are confident that these sessions will be beneficial to all. We are ready to teach after having successfully tried out class sessions held by us during a trip to a rural school in Nakhon Pathom earlier this year."
Teaching the children about world cultures, Athichai believes, will nurture in them a greater interest for learning. "By sharing with them the culture of such 'popular' countries as Japan, Korea and the US, we will foster a stronger desire to learn more about the world around them. They will meanwhile appreciate our friendship and care as we teach and play with them."
Being a multiracial group, the club members find their mission a relatively easy one. Club Secretary Andreas Rauch, a student of German-Filipino origin, confirmed: "We are confident of successful implementation because of the diverse cultures at ISB."
From this initial success, Athichai said the club will soon explore the possibility of extending its services to other rural schools. "I'm sure that our project will make a difference to the rural communities. I also hope that they will grow up with a thirst for knowledge and thus equip themselves adequately for making the right choices in life."