English as an Opener

Monday April, 23 is #EnglishLanguageDay and we're thinking about all the ways that English helps bridge the opportunity gap. As a world language, English opens up educational and vocational avenues for people who may otherwise be faced with a lack of opportunity. To native speakers of English, this might seem simplistic, so let us share the story of what learning English can do: 

Boss (name changed), first joined English Corner (a drop-in English group Imagine Thailand facilitates at Entrance Coffeehouse and Studio) after attending an English Camp run by the Chula Student Club with help from friends from the U.S.A. in July, 2015.  When the camp finished, Boss wanted to continue practicing conversational English, so he quickly joined our twice weekly English Corner sessions and has been one of the most engaged members for the last 2-and-a-half years.

When he first joined, Boss was nervous to speak English. He could understand what people were saying, but was often reluctant to speak up, fearing he would stumble over his words or would not give the “correct” answer. However he was keen to learn and enjoyed meeting new people, so as well as English Corner, he also came to games nights, bowling trips, and every other activity that we planned.  He also loved to meet teams and interns, although his usual welcoming line, along with his beaming smile, was “Hi, my name's Boss, it's nice to meet you. Sorry my English is not very good”.

This self-deprecating line is commonly used by ESL speakers when they first meet native speakers, as they compare their language abilities almost apologetically. Yet, this is a bit like meeting Roger Federer, and apologizing for not being very good at playing tennis! The purpose of any language is communication, and if you can make another person understand what you are trying to say, to build a relationship, even if you can only speak a few words, then you have succeeded.

In an effort to increase his learning, and also to continue to build relationships with volunteers from English Corner, last year Boss joined another of our language courses. While attending, he got to meet more people and to practice listening to different accents. This, and other regular exposure opportunities with native speakers, really catapulted Boss' learning, and brought on a rapid growth in language ability and assurance too.

Over the years it has been encouraging to see Boss grow in confidence, and his joy of learning and using language correctly has led him to apply to study a Masters program in Engineering at a university in America. He is still in the process of taking a number of English tests to guarantee his place, but so far the results look promising.

As a sign of how much he has grown in his abilities and confidence, Boss has this week, worked alongside a team from Canada as they have led an English Camp at a local school in Bangkok. This is the second English Camp he has helped with, something that when we first met in 2015, he would never have believed himself confident or competent enough to do. It is exciting to see him passing on his love for English to children, and encouraging them to try, and not give up.

Learning a language is not easy, but in Asia particularly, English is a very valuable skill to possess and opens up many doors of opportunity. Teaching English with Imagine, whether that be in Takua Pa with children and the community at the Lighthouse Learning Centre, or in Bangkok or Hat Yai with university students, is an unforgettable experience. It is an easy way to serve, but the impact of it could change a nation.



Keys to the Car + Driving Lessons

Suppose someone bought your 13-year-old self a band-new shiny car with all of the bells and whistles one can imagine. Pretty awesome, right? Now let’s say that buying the car is all they did for you. No how-to tutorial. No driving lessons. Sure - you could make a go of it. You might bounce off a few things, but deep in your heart you’d know that you’re not getting the most out of this new machine you’ve been gifted.

Now let’s say that the car is a water filter system. Making the investment in a water system for a school or community is amazing, but it is only the beginning. Knowing how to use and maintain the system ensures success in the long run!

At Imagine Thailand, we design and install custom water filtration systems to help schools, and the wider community, have sustainable access to safe drinking water. And this is a good thing - it ensures people are healthy to learn better, play longer, and help at home more - but we don’t stop there.

With our water projects we include one year of maintenance and training. A member of the Imagine Thailand team will do on site inspection, maintenance, and filter replacement to train people at that location. It equips people with the knowledge they need to make the water system their own. It also gives migrant schools and boarding homes time to build replacement filters into their operating budget. We don’t want to create dependencies, but rather build a relationship and so after that first year, we’re always available to help our water partners when needed.

#WorldWaterDay turns 25 this year and we’re celebrating 10 years of #TheCleanWaterProject at Imagine Thailand. We’re big believers in more than just the water filtration systems - we believe in the people, schools, and communities where we work. We believe they can drive the car and go far!


The 2017 Wrap-Up

Before he was the famous Apple CEO, Steve Jobs wrote a book titled “The Journey is the Reward.”  The idea behind that book title was not an original thought, however it does have great insight and relevance for many who struggle to live fully in each moment. The reminder to appreciate each step of the journey is apt.

For Imagine Thailand, the past 12 months have been a remarkable journey, but one that has been ever so rewarding. At years end, we’re provided with a great opportunity to reflect on and appreciate each step along our 2017 journey as an organization.  

In the Mae Sot area, we’ve engaged with 69 schools this past year.  We’ve installed 6 new water systems in 2017. This means that over 4,000 people now have access to clean water that previously did not. Since the project’s inception, we’ve installed 80 water systems!

Through our generous partners, in Mae Sot we were also able to:

·      Make and distribute 7,650 liters of Soy Milk

·      Give away 1,152 cups for kids

·      Install two new toilets in Migrant Learning Centres

·      Distribute 7,645 kg of protein enriched Mana Rice, 108 kilograms of Tuna, and loads of clean blankets, quilts, sweaters and hats

Even for us, these annual numbers can be a bit staggering but it’s extremely rewarding to know that so many people were positively impacted.

Down South in Takuapa, we average 50-55 kids every week at our  Lighthouse Learning Centre.  We completed ESL camps in 7 different schools and more than 460 kids attended those camps.  Our staff in Takuapa provided terrific internship experiences to 2 great young leaders.

Short-term volunteers were a huge part of Imagine Thailand’s 2017 endeavours. 59 different people volunteered with us in some capacity this past year.  Working with an estimate of  8-hour days, this adds up to a whopping 34,928 volunteer hours of impact.  We want to say a huge public thank you to every individual who volunteered their time, energy,  and finances to make a difference in Thailand this past year.

In Bangkok at Chulalongkorn University  and in Hat Yai at Prince of Songkla University we continued to engage university students in 2017. We believe passionately that the next generation of Thai leaders has tremendous potential to create lasting change in their country.  We’re excited to continue providing opportunities for them to develop not only English language skills, but also their leadership capacity.

None of these accomplishments that we’re celebrating as we close out 2017 can happen without the support Imagine Thailand receives from our partners. It is only because you are committed to standing with us that our tremendous team of staff and volunteers is able to make a difference on a daily basis. So please receive our heartfelt thanks!  

It’s been a wonderfully amazing 2017 and we look forward with anticipation to what’s to come in 2018. Bring it on!


People Matter: what it takes to influence a nation

What does it take to influence a nation?

Imagine Thailand believes that people are the major influencers of a nation, it’s culture, it’s values, and its future.  So we, as an organization and as individuals within that organization, dedicate an immense amount of resources toward the people in this country.

Because people matter, and that matters to us.

On December 26th, 2004, Baan Nam Kehm and it’s neighbouring communities were devastated by one of the worst tsunamis in history.  3,500 Thais and foreigners lost their lives.  Proportionately they suffered the worst losses of any town or city in Thailand.  Families, houses, and relationships were ripped apart in mere minutes, but into the human and physical wreckage came help.  Locals and internationals gathered to help pick up the shattered pieces.  And Imagine Thailand was there.  Right from the start.  And after the initial clean-up, when most aid groups had left, we stayed.   

Because people matter, and that matters to us.

The ravaged community of Takua Pa asked if we could help their children.  Imagine Thailand responded by establishing the Lighthouse Learning Centre, an after-school educational support facility.  Children who would otherwise have struggled in school or dropped out were given an amazing opportunity: help with their studies and a place to be loved and nurtured.

Between 2004 and 2013 the Centre grew out of a small, crowded house and into a permanent facility with room to grow and the kids kept coming.  In ever increasing numbers.  By 2015 we had again outgrown our space and so we launched the “Container Project”.

By early 2017, thanks to generous donations from many people and organizations, 2 shipping containers were converted into classrooms, 1 part-time and 2 full-time employees were hired, and 65 students from 6 local schools were welcomed into their new learning home.

9 students, who have attended the Centre for over 10 years, will graduate this year and move onto higher education. 3 of them will be the first in their families to ever graduate from high school despite the tsunami. Their graduation is an incredible, wonderful, almost unimaginable event!  What made the difference?  In their words, “we received an opportunity to learn, but we’ve also been shown we can make a difference, today and tomorrow”.

Because people matter, and that matters to us.

Each school term, at the request of the local government, our Lighthouse Learning Centre Director, Tak, is asked to lead a Teacher Training Seminar for teachers throughout the region.  One of the attendees commented to her that “one of our girls attends here.  She says she gets more than just tutoring, she also gets love”.  She then asked, “how do you give students love?”.

Tak responded, “We treat every student with dignity, we tell them they have value, we tell them we love them, and we hug them”.

When Tak visited this teacher’s school the following week, the teacher came bounding up to her with a smile on her face.  “I tried what you taught us.  It’s working!  By showing love to the students, they listen better, they are more respectful, and they are showing love and respect to each other.  And what’s more, I realize how much I need love, too”.  And with that she reached out her arms and asked Tak for a hug.

We believe that when a student, a teacher or a community are shown love and given the opportunity to love, they can make a difference.  That’s what it takes to influence a nation.

Because people matter, and that matters to us.

Join us this Giving Tuesday as we seek to strengthen our existing relationships within the community, and look for ways to grow our influence, as we grow the influence in others.  But much more than that, we hope you find an opportunity to give and receive love this season.


The Lingua Franca at Entrance 

For native speakers of English, it feels like we can cheat linguistically around the world. There is often someone, somewhere who can offer assistance in our mother tongue. Here in Thailand, there is a resurgence in the value placed on learning English. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has decided that English will be it’s unifying language. And just like that, there is a felt need to move beyond the jargon specific to one’s field of study and build confidence in free-flow conversation and everyday life (in English, of all languages).

At Entrance Coffeehouse and Studio, investing in students by developing their English skills is a key way to serve the university community. Hannah, our Imagine Thailand team member at Entrance, takes a lead role in using English as a means of connection. Practicing the art of conversation requires a topic (or four) and so learning a language often pushes people to talk more - about the world, about their experiences, and about their expectations.

The staff at Entrance also participate in weekly English lessons with Hannah. Entrance is very much a Thai coffeehouse, but like anything here in Bangkok, there is an international pulse. So you’ll be greeted in Thai by Thai staff members, but know that you’re in the heart of a multicultural mega-city.

Hannah has been running English Club (EC) for four years now and in that time over 200 students have learned communally through EC. Students often start coming motivated by ambitions of working for a larger international company where English is a must. It usually takes a few weeks, but with time you see students grow in confidence and begin to express themselves more freely. EC is a wonderful space for students to move past the educational model of absorption and adoption and into the trickier waters of exploration and discovery. EC meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 17:00 to 19:00 at Entrance Coffeehouse and Studio.

Entrance Family Gatherings (EFG) take place on Friday evenings from 18:00 to 20:00 where conversation centers around a set topic. There is a short presentation of the topic, small discussion groups, and food (because great conversations usually happen around great food). While EC offers the opportunity for conversational practice, EFG is focused time to explore life’s bigger issues and the subject matter engages with life, faith, society, and family. It’s a safe, conversational space to explore some thoughts you may have been having or interact with thoughts you’ve never had before.

If you’re looking to improve your English, check out Entrance. If you’re English is already excellent, then come and enjoy a coffee. Know that the heart behind it all is connection - in any language. For more information contact Hannah (link to Hannah’s email).