Wooden school in the concrete jungle

Wooden school in the concrete jungle

The busy Sukhumvit Soi 8 area has office buildings, condominiums, hotels, bars, massage parlours, restaurants and one wooden school that has changed little since it was built in 1946.

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Surrounded by high-rises of all types, the 70-year-old Wannawit school sits on land worth many millions of baht – but its not for sale. Photos by Somchai Poomlard

Wooden school in the concrete jungle

My mother established the school because she wanted local children to have a place to study, says Wannawit's 94-year-old principal Mom Rajawongse Ruchisamara Suksawadi, who prefers to be called "Yai" or grandmother.

The busy Sukhumvit Soi 8 area of Bangkok has office buildings, condominiums, hotels, bars, massage parlours, restaurants and one wooden school that has changed little since it was built in 1946.

That school is Wannawit School, owned and managed since 1954 by 94-years-young Mom Rajawongse Ruchisamara Suksawadi, who prefers to be called "yai" or grandmother.

The school's teaching staff numbers 37.

Her school building may be nearly 70 years old, but is still in good condition. The floors are clean and shiny and the wood looks well cared for. None of the classrooms has air-conditioning, but a natural breeze flows throughout the building.

These days, the school, which does not get government funding, is struggling a bit with 514 students, down from its peak enrolment of 800.

Wannawit students often excel in Buddhist studies, frequently winning prizes for their achievements in religious education.

Fees are remarkably cheap, kept that way to provide a place for children of lower-income people to get a quality education. The school charges 1,702 baht each term for primary school children and 1,318 baht for those at secondary level. Pupils pay an extra 600 baht every semester for computer lessons.

Even though her school is grappling to cover its expenses, MR Ruchisamara made it clear that she doesn’t want any donations.

“I don’t want to bother other people. I have my own money to cover all costs.

“How’s your day going? Are you happy today? Come over here,” she says, beckoning each child over and giving them a pat on the back and a hug. “I run this school like my family. These kids are like my own children.”

While the school may be relatively poor, the land it sits on is worth many millions of baht and MR Ruchisamara has been approached by developers more than once.

“I told them no, this school is not for sale,” she said.

Adapted from a long and interesting feature in the Bangkok Post's Sunday Spectrum magazine by Chaiyot Yongcharoenchai. You can read it here in full: http://www2.bangkokpost.com/news/special-reports/475377/the-school-that-time-forgot

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  • achievement: something very good and difficult that you have succeeded in doing - การบรรลุผลสำเร็จ
  • approach: to speak to somebody about something, especially to ask them for something or to offer to do something - เข้าหา
  • beckon: to signal to someone to come towards you - ส่งสัญญาณเรียกโดยการใช้มือหรือศีรษะ
  • bother: to make someone feel worried or upset - ทำให้รำคาญ, ทำให้วิตกกังวล
  • breeze: a light and pleasant wind - สายลมที่พัดเบาๆ
  • cheap: costing little money or less money than you expected - ถูก
  • concrete jungle (noun): a way of describing a city or an area that is unpleasant because it has many large modern buildings and few trees or parks - ป่าคอนกรีต
  • condition: the physical state of a person, animal, thing or place - สภาพ
  • developer (noun): real estate developer, a person or company that builds new "real estate developments" including buildings, houses, shopping centers, etc - นักพัฒนาที่ดิน
  • donation: money or goods that you give to an organisation, especially one that helps people - เงินหรือสิ่งของบริจาค
  • enrolment: the number of students at a school or university - การลงทะเบียน,การลงชื่อ,การสมัครเข้าเรียน
  • establish: to start a company or organization that will likely continue for a long time - สถาปนา, ก่อตั้ง, จัดตั้ง
  • excel: to be very good at doing something - ดีเยี่ยม, ยอดเยี่ยม, เก่ง, มีพรสวรรค์
  • expenses: money spent in doing a particular job, or for a particular purpose - ค่าใช้จ่าย
  • extra: more than is usual, expected, or than exists already - เหนือกว่า
  • fee: an amount of money that you pay to be allowed to do something - ค่าธรรมเนียม, ค่าตอบแทน, ค่าบริการ
  • flow (verb): to move continuously in one direction - ไหล
  • funding: money given for a particular purpose - การให้เงินสนับสนุน
  • grapple: to try hard to find a solution to a problem - ต่อสู้ดิ้นรนกับ
  • local: in or related to the area that you live, or to the particular area that you are talking about - ท้องถิ่น
  • lower-income: poorer -
  • massage parlour: a place where you can pay to have a massage - โรงนวด,สถานบริการ (อาบ,อบ,นวด)
  • natural: existing in nature; not made or caused by humans - เป็นธรรมชาติ, ตามธรรมชาติ
  • pat (noun): a gentle friendly touch with your open hand or with a flat object - การลูบ,การตบเบาๆ
  • peak (adj): the time when something is at its highest or greatest level - ช่วงเวลาที่หนาแน่น, ช่วงเวลาที่พบมากที่สุด
  • primary school: a school for young children usually between the ages of 5/6 and 11 - โรงเรียนประถมศึกษา
  • principal: the person who is in charge of a school, college or a university - ผู้อำนวยการ,ครูใหญ่,อธิการบดี
  • provide: to give someone/ something that they want or need - จัดหาให้, จัดเตรียมไว้ให้
  • quality: the standard of something when it is compared to other things like it; how good or bad something is - คุณภาพ
  • relatively: somewhat; in comparison with someone or something similar - ค่อนข้าง
  • religious (adj.): relating to religion, or to the beliefs and practices of a particular religion - เกี่ยวกับศาสนา
  • remarkably: in a way that is unusual and surprises or impresses you - อย่างน่าอัศจรรย์ใจ
  • secondary school: a school for young people, usually between the ages of 11 and 16 or 18 - ชั้นมัธยมศึกษา
  • semester: one of the two periods that a school year is divided into in some countries - ภาคการศึกษา
  • shiny: something that is very bright when light hits it - เป็นมันวาว
  • staff: workers employed by a person or organisation considered as a group - คณะผู้ทำงาน, คนงาน
  • struggling: having serious difficulties - มีความยุ่งยาก

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