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The Regent's School accommodates

International students contribute to Thai society and experience character-building activities throughout Thailand

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Amid the light rain and soaring temperatures, high-school student delegates from around the world and local Thai students enthusiastically paint the walls that surround the compound of Father Ray Children's Village, located to the east of Pattaya city. 

The Regent’s School and its chairman, Virachai Techavijit, PhD, top right, host the International Round Square Conference 2010 at the school’s Pattaya campus, bottom right. During the course of the international conference, delegates from Round Square schools representing 22 countries undertook social service activities at several local community centres, including the Father Ray Foundation, the Pattaya Orphanage and the Fountain of Life Children’s Centre. PURICH TRIVITAYAKHUN, BJ JOHNSON AND A THE REGENT’S SCHOOL

When the international student guests arrived at the village late in the morning, several pictures had already been drawn on the walls and were waiting to be brought to life with colour. The murals depict various aspects of the theme of International Round Square Conference 2010 (RSC): "We Walk Together". All the painters, local and foreign, got spattered, laughed and worked hard together to complete their tasks.

"I'm very glad that someone is adding life to my drawing," says Veeraphat Methanisadudee, a youngster at the Father Ray Children's Home as he adds his own strokes to the huge mural.

Serving communities

The activity at Father Ray Children's Village was one of many programmes assigned to the delegates during the two service days of a week-long RSC in Pattaya hosted recently by The Regent's School. The worldwide event drew over 700 students from 22 countries.

King Constantine of Greece, president of Round Square, and Queen Ann-Marie were present at the conference.

Mike Walton, headmaster of The Regent's School, Pattaya said that the theme for this year was aligned to the service pillar from the total of six pillars of the Round Square notion developed by German educator and philosopher Kurt Hahn. The six pillars jointly form the acronym "Ideals", which stand for internationalism, democracy, environment, adventure, leadership and service.

Many of the delegates arrived in Thailand one week early to participate in pre-conference projects, such as helping to build a community service centre on Phi Phi island and helping to teach English to students at Ban Mae Lid School in Mae Hon Son province.

Besides the social service activities featured in this article, the RSC also featured 11 thought-provoking and entertaining globally renown keynote speakers, such as Peter Dalglish, executive director of the South Asia Children's Fund and founder of Street Kids International; Mechai Viravaidya, founder and chairperson of the Population and Community Development Association; Father Joe Maier, co-founder and chairman of Human Development Foundation; and Louis Ng, the founder and executive director of Acres, an animal protection agency in Singapore, to name a few. Comments by them will be addressed in a future article, while today "Education" concentrates on the core activities of the two service days during which the international students dispersed from the Pattaya campus of The Regent's School to service communities in Chon Buri, Rayong and Bangkok.

Wall of partnership

Father Ray Children's Village is one of the entities of the Father Ray Foundation, which is founded by American Catholic priest Fr Raymond Brennan. The foundation houses and assists underprivileged children and disabled juveniles. Currently, around 850 youngsters benefit from the foundation's care.

The village, as well as the other entities of the foundation, provided opportunities for the Round Square delegates to get in touch with and render services to the neglected. At the moment, Father Ray Children's Village hosts around 150 orphaned or abandoned children.

The delegates had the chance to work with youngsters from the Father Ray Children's Home, a body of the foundation that takes care of more-mature juveniles, who drew the pictures on the wall.

Although the painting activity did not provide much opportunity for the delegates to get in touch with the orphans, the fact that the delegates learned about the life and livelihood of the underprivileged children was sufficient for them to form an additional perspective of the world.

"I got to know more about some situations in the world, and I think that it is important that we should not just look to our own survival, but that we also have to ensure that the rest of the world is alright. It is great that we can work together on something," said Jodie Cheng, a student delegate from St Paul's Co-educational College in Hong Kong, revealing her feeling as she was finishing up her mural.

Australian Jade Stuart from Billanook College, Melbourne said, "I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to come to this service [project] because it's like I'm giving [something] back to [a few] people in Thailand who don't have the same quality of life as I do."

"If we work together, we can achieve anything," she added.

"It is good for our children as well," said Derek Franklin, public relations officer of the Father Ray Foundation. "This shows [the children] at the foundation that there are people out there who care for them, think about them and want to help them. And this gives the delegates from various countries a chance to see life in Thailand from a different perspective."

"I hope they will get to meet children whom they may have seen only in the media. Talking about homeless children and street children, some people might think that they are [mentally] different, but in reality, we are all the same. They have their dreams and goals [of] what they want to be, but they just don't have the same opportunities of many other people," Mr Franklin added.

'Disabled' for a day

Meanwhile, the delegates in another group were carrying out an activity at the Redemptorist Vocational School for People with Disabilities, which is also under the Father Ray Foundation. The school offers vocational courses for disabled persons aged 17 to 35 years. Here, the delegates felt what being physically challenged might be like.

"That was really difficult," commented Sophiya Chhabra, a student at Vidya Devi Jindal School in India, after she had finished a walk around the campus with both legs tied together and could move only with the support of two crutches.

At the school, the delegates were split into three groups. Each group took turns to experience three types of disabilities. In succession, their legs were bound and they were given crutches to ambulate. Next, they used wheelchairs. Finally, they were blindfolded and assisted by a partner. The delegates had to move around the school in their physically-challenged conditions, cross a street, and buy goods from convenience stores located outside the campus.

"The delegates will come away with a certain kind of understanding of how a physically-challenged person might feel. For example, how difficult it is to open the door and cross the road; how tricky it is when you have to move about on rough ground; and when they go out to shop, what it might be like when people stare at you," said Lucy Kuyper, a teacher at The Regent's School and coordinator of the activity at the school.

"I've learnt that we should not make fun of disabled people," Sophiya said.

Giving without conditions

Not far from the vocational school, a group of around 35 delegates was doing artwork with the orphans at the bright and well-maintained Pattaya Orphanage, which hosts about 180 abandoned children. The delegates had bought some supplies for the orphans out of their own pocket money, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, colour pencils and T-shirts.

"I feel it is a blast spending time with these children," said Michael Hutchison, a student from Lower Canada College, Canada. He admitted that he had always thought that orphanages were unpleasant places. Another student, Vishakha Sharma from The Assam Valley School, India, said that she had never seen an orphanage in India as well-equipped as this one.

"I feel overwhelmed with happiness. All my life, I have been selfish, buying things only for myself. But once I bought something for another person, I felt really good," she said, "I've fallen in love with them (the orphans). At the same time, I have come to love myself more because I can do so much for them."

A pledge for the future

Even though the delegates spent only a couple of weeks in the conference and the pre-conference activities, many of them have already pledged to contribute part of their life to service.

Cheng said that she will share the messages obtained from this conference with her classmates and will play a more active role in community service in Hong Kong.

Stuart intends to make people aware of the problem of child trafficking and the sexual abuse of children through an online social network, as well as by joining other community services. Sophiya is determined that she will work with a non-government organisation that deals with disabled persons.

Hutchison, who is going to study medicine, expressed his interest in becoming a doctor to help people in remote or rural areas. "Service, from now on, is gonna be a big part of my life," said Vishakha, adding that she is going to rejoin the Junior Red Cross and participate more vigorously in social service projects. She said further that she might take a year off to teach underprivileged children in Nepal.

As a result of this year's RSC, it is clear that soon the world will have a new breed of social-service practitioners to help the deprived and to work towards ensuring that everyone has equal access to the same opportunities.

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