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Home Our Missions Mission of Education A Humanitarian Education

A Humanitarian Education

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A Humanitarian Education
A humanitarian education
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Chiang Mai Tzu Chi School, located in the ancient city of Amphur Fang in northern Thailand, opened its doors to students in 2005. This year, it produced its first batch of graduates. "I want to be a great person!" has become a mantra and a goal among the students. Such an exclamation is music to the ears of the parents who have had to sacrifice to put their children through the school. It's also the reason why teachers are willing to come from far away to teach in this remote region. They want to help these students realize their dreams.

Learning Chinese has recently become a popular trend in Thailand, and learning the language is emphasized at Chiang Mai Tzu Chi School. In addition to learning Chinese and other academic subjects, students in the school are taught to cultivate their moral character. They are learning to become decent, upright people who will venerate the traditional Chinese and Thai cultures of civility and graciousness.

At five in the morning, darkness and silence envelop the village of Mae Ai in the Amphur Fang district of Chiang Mai Province. The stars have not yet faded from the sky and dawn is still some time away, but a yellow light spills out of the window of a farmhouse and throws a bright square on the ground below. Zhang Jia-li (張家麗), an elementary-school student, is already up and getting ready for school.

Jia-li washes her face, changes into her uniform, and ties her hair into two neat braids. Her simple breakfast consists of a boxed drink and two pieces of toast.

Jia-li is a third-generation Chinese; her grandparents came from Yunnan, China. Though of Chinese descent, she is more comfortable speaking Thai. She transferred from a local public school to the elementary division of Chiang Mai Tzu Chi School in 2007 in order to learn Chinese. There was no vacancy in the fifth grade when she took the entrance examination, so she volunteered to move down a grade to get into the school.

Jia-li's new school is farther from her home than her former school. To be on time for the flag-raising ceremony, she has to get up two hours earlier than she did before. Her schedule would be difficult for an adult, not to mention a child. Her mother feels sorry for her. "I know it's hard on her now, but I believe her future will be better than those of the other kids in the village."

In a pepper field not far from Chiang Mai Tzu Chi School, a woman wearing a broad-brimmed hat busily sprinkles water on the crops. A mask covers her entire face and neck; only her two eyes are visible. Nearby, a water pump rumbles loudly as it delivers river water to the field. The woman points to a large pile of harvested shallots lying to one side; she tells us their price has dropped from 11 baht a kilogram to four baht (32 to 11 U.S. cents). Her husband and their five-year-old daughter are busy tying up shallots into bundles on the front porch of their stilt house. They hang the bundles from a horizontal beam to dry, waiting to sell them when the prices improve.

The husband works as a construction contractor in addition to helping out on the farm. He points to the Tzu Chi school in the middle of a field and tells us proudly that he was involved in its construction. "No other school is as beautiful and sturdy as that one. It was founded by Taiwanese people. Folks here all want to send their kids to that school." He adds that he and his wife plan to enroll their daughter in the school next year.

The growing trend of learning Chinese
The Thai economy has grown rapidly in recent years. Many Chinese businesspeople have established factories in Thailand, creating a demand for employees who can speak Chinese. As a result, learning the language has become a popular trend.

Students in the elementary section of Chiang Mai Tzu Chi School receive five hours of Chinese instruction every week. Teachers are hired from Taiwan to teach students standard Chinese. Principal Mandhana Chongmansathaporn (莊貽麟) remarks, "Anyone who wants to master a language must practice it often. Without constant practice, you could study for years and not know how to form a complete sentence." The principal hopes that the school's teachers will spend time after school tutoring students in Chinese after construction of the school dormitory is complete.

The student body is comprised of two main ethnic groups. Seventy percent of the students are ethnic Thai. They attend the school to learn Chinese as a second language, hoping to be more competitive in their future careers. The other 30 percent of the students are of Chinese descent. They are expected to learn the language so that they can help carry on the Chinese culture and heritage.

Amporn Saejiaw, 15, is one of the best students in the school. Her Chinese pronunciation is flawless. Her Chinese language teacher, Feng Ling-ai (馮令愛), praises her skills. "Her Chinese is so good that the regular teaching materials are inadequate for her. I have to prepare special materials just for her."

Amporn thanks her mother for her proficiency in the Chinese language. Mrs. Saejiaw was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Thailand with her parents when she was young. She grew up in Thailand, got married, and soon after gave birth to Amporn. When Amporn was two years old, she started teaching her Chinese using books and videotapes from Taiwan. "We didn't just teach her the language; we also taught her the history. She is a Taiwanese and should know her roots and origins."

Amporn entered the Tzu Chi school two years ago. She had just finished elementary school and was about to advance to junior high school when her parents decided that she should transfer to the Tzu Chi school instead. It meant that she'd have to enter the fifth-grade class. Although she was two years beyond the fifth grade already, it was the highest grade in the school at the time. She objected strongly to her parents decision. "My scores were very good; I didn't understand why I should move down two grades just to study at that school."

However, her reluctant attitude gradually changed after she entered the school. "The new school put a lot of emphasis on learning Chinese. Because mother had been teaching me the language since I was young, I took the Chinese lessons in stride." Amporn derived a great sense of achievement from her Chinese lessons and grew to like the school. The lively, interesting ways the teachers conducted the classes increased her fondness for the school even more. "Although I had to move down two grades, I feel that I'm learning a lot more here."


 

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" Be clear and complete when you talk and listen. Do not pick one sentence here, and one sentence there; or you may by accident intensely hurt someone. "
Jing-Si Aphorism