Phuket Has Been Good To Us

Working to improve the economic opportunities and life chances of young people, by funding and implementing high quality, practical English language education in government schools on Phuket Island.

Friday, August 25, 2017

“No I don’t teach, I work in the Office” – by Erin Grout


My mother was skeptical when I said I was leaving for Thailand in a month to work as a full-time volunteer for an NGO for half a year. She was reassured when she saw that the organization had a website, was on Google maps, replied to my emails, and generally seemed legitimate. Still, I had student loans and the more responsible choice at the time seemed to be staying in the US, getting a paid job, and maybe taking a holiday to Thailand someday. But I decided it was the opportunity I was looking for and, bank-account-be-damned, I was off.

Luckily, it turned out moving to Phuket and volunteering for Phuket Has Been Good To Us Foundation (PHBGTU) was a great decision. Volunteering for the Foundation doesn’t just mean making coffee (although we do enjoy our morning cup of Joe); I became the primary marketing and communication fellow or the “Marketing Department”. This role meant liaising with media sponsors, updating our social media, creating our quarterly newsletter, marketing and helping to plan our major fundraising events, and more! In short it was amazing career experience, working with great people, on a beautiful tropical island! #Winning.


Even the fact that I happened to arrive on the island during an El Nino year –which meant the rainiest high-season most people seemed to be able to remember – hasn’t put a damper on my time as a full-time volunteer. One of the best parts of the job is helping out at Coconut Club, the after-school programme for residential students at Kamala school. For an hour each day we play games or create arts and crafts with students who live full time at the school because they are orphans or their parents are unable to take care of them. Spending time with the children we work to benefit through quality English language programmes is the best reminder that a day full of monotonous emailing was worth the effort. 


Fortunately, working in the office was usually very dynamic and meant taking responsibility for a variety of projects. I stayed with the Foundation for 9 months and was able to take part in all three of our major fundraising events over the course of the year: A Night at the Opera; Black Tie, Muay Thai; and Pop Up 3. While I was primarily working on marketing our small team shared responsibility for tasks and everyone was involved in our fundraising events. Even our seven-member teaching team would help out before and on event day.


 While a salary is a nice perk of any job, I am incredibly happy that I chose to be a full-time volunteer for PHBGTU. I was lucky enough to move to Phuket and meet fun people, take part in great festivals, eat delicious food, and travel around Thailand a bit! Plus, while my time with the Foundation is wrapping up, I am hoping to stay on in Phuket and I am therefore seeking new work opportunities. In the meantime, I will definitely stay informed on all the happenings at Phuket Has Been Good To Us and take part whenever I can!



Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Brand New Website Launch Next Week! -by Evi Verdoodt



Working together with the Weber State University, Utah, USA, we are excited to announce that we will be launching a new user-friendly and dynamic website next week. HOORAY! Watch our FB page for the exact date and time to join us in our virtual launch party!

Phuket Has Been Good To Us’s previous website was kindly donated by the ESCAPE and we were able to provide all our news, events and sponsors information to our supporters through the website for a long time. After several years, however, it became evident that we needed to update in order to keep our content relevant. Moving into a decade where dynamic content is very important, we were enthusiastic about the suggestion of Dr Fry from Weber State University to support the Foundation by building a new good looking, user-friendly and dynamic website. And we are so happy with the result.


You are definitely going to want to check out phukethasbeengoodtous.org and discover our new look and exciting new content! 

We are confident our supporters are recognized and thanked more than ever on the new website, our future teachers and volunteers can navigate more easily through the website and find all necessary information and all visitors experience a pleasant journey, seeing new videos, pictures, upcoming events and exciting news!


Thanks to Oscar Suarez for dedicating his time and choosing to design our new website as a project in his curriculum and thanks to Dr Fry for coordinating between the Foundation and his students, and for his guidance and the support.


Be sure to follow us and stay in touch so you don't miss the official launch date!



Monday, June 26, 2017

The Road Less Traveled

Let me introduce myself through an excerpt from my all-time favorite poem written by Robert Frost:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by…

    I am Jerraleen J. Balais, a teacher by profession and human rights advocacy is my passion. I was born and raised in the Philippines, grew up in a simple, loving family with parents who have shown us that although life is not easy, there is always something good that we can do for others.

    I had an amazing but challenging high school life and was surrounded by teenagers like me having the same teenage issues and pressures and in the middle of all these, we’ve had teachers who despised us and we’ve had those who made us realize that although we cannot control all the situations in our lives, we can use our experiences to learn more about ourselves and understand others better. 


Childhood, teenage years, it is a very critical stage in anyone’s life. Some children do not have a safe home or family, and I am thankful that schools exist because it can be the closest place for us to have that nurturing environment with caring people. It is because of these teachers, my heroes - that I was inspired to be one.


I graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Bachelor of Secondary Education, majoring in Character Education and School Guidance. I started teaching high school students in the Philippines and volunteered in different non-profit organizations in our long holiday. I studied at night and took a Diploma in Social Work at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.



I worked part time in Childhope Asia Philippines’ prevention, recovery and rehabilitation program for street children through organizing youth activities in the slum areas of Manila and teaching basic, functional literacy in a temporary shelter for street girls who have been sexually abused and in need of rehabilitation. In all these experiences, I realized how education can change the lives of people one single to collective effort, one policy, one step at a time.

In December 26, 2004, the devastating Tsunami hit so many countries including Thailand. I went with the Daughters of Charity to visit and distribute relief goods in the evacuation camps of the displaced Karenni community in Phuket in April. My journey also took me to the refugee camps along Thai-Myanmar Border and to the nameless mountains in Mae Ramat to visit the stateless people. Before I left my country, I had so many complaints about the government, politics and more…here I was humbled and met people who are peaceful, happy, strong, surviving even if they are ‘unwanted’ in every country they go. They don’t have freedom. They don’t even have a flag to be proud of. I was still in my last semester in my Social Work course but I decided not to go back home to finish it and proceed to the Master’s program but instead spend my time doing in real life what we were taught in class. I helped organize a school for street children, mostly of the indigenous peoples and Burmese migrants. It felt selfish for me that in reality, the people that I have met and their stories of courage taught me more about life than I have taught them in the class. How little I know about humanity, about people’s pain and suffering. I can’t change their past but education can help them start anew.



In as much as I wanted to continue volunteering, I had to find paid work to support myself and family back home. From the north of Thailand, I moved to the south and worked as a teacher in private and government schools. In 2007, I was a teacher and also the liaison officer representing the principal and the board of directors in an international school in Songkhla province. I taught English, Character Education, Arts, Science and Information Technology to primary and secondary levels.

I traveled back and forth Thailand and Malaysia as the Liaison Officer and also the Primary Years Programme Coordinator of our IB (International Baccalaureate) School in Penang Island. I was involved in school management, curriculum planning and development, guidance and counseling, teacher training, events and charity projects of the school. 

I was working with the same company for 7 years. I loved my work, the children and my team, yet in the middle of those busy days and administrative tasks, I was missing the hands-on teacher and human rights advocate in me. I left my job gracefully in September of 2015 and headed back home for a brief rest. My parents asked me what I wanted to do next. I knew what I wanted – I wanted to be back in the classrooms again and I wanted to do more than teaching.

It seems that fate has brought me to Phuket Has Been Good To Us Foundation. It feels like all my experiences in the past, all those stops in the ‘road less traveled’ have a significant connection to what the Foundation does. When I’ve read that the Foundation was started after the Tsunami, that their main mission was to provide better life opportunities for the children through education and that in their biggest school- Rajaprachanugroh 36 (RPG 36), there are more than 170 residential students needing help, I told myself - “This is my next path.” And I couldn’t be any happier.

I started working in the Foundation in February 2015. I was amazed how a small group of teachers and a small team in an office could do so much not only for the 3 government schools that it is working with, but how it slowly helps the local community. In April 2015, I was offered the role of the Senior Teacher.

My favorite time of the day is being with the children either in classes or at Coconut Club. I am teaching Grades 3 and 6 as well as Year 2 and 3 in secondary level. Some days are tough but as a teacher, I know that those who have behavioral issues in class are the ones that need my understanding and attention the most. Happy days are those times when you see your students write their own names independently, or hearing them say “I can”, or seeing them do a task they haven’t done before confidently. It is when children who started out quiet and aloof suddenly share with you what made them happy that day, or when they run to you to tell you they’ve lost their baby tooth and a new one is growing or come to you to confide and ask you to help them save a stray cat at the end of the day. I wake up for those moments.

Most of them have gained the confidence in starting and engaging in simple English conversations. The school initially only wanted us to focus on teaching conversation and vocabulary words. However, we felt that these are not enough because students can indeed respond to questions, express their thoughts and feelings in the most basic ways but sadly, the current educational system’s choice of assessment is mainly in written form and they mostly fail because they are very weak in reading, comprehension and writing.


In 2015, we began incorporating phonics in our curriculum. I have modified the curriculum to follow the requirement of the Thai Ministry of Education, and at the same time also incorporated Cambridge Primary English as a Second Language Curriculum Framework which was developed from the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This is to have a point of reference as to where our students are in terms of their language skills. Within 2 years of working on the students’ reading skills, we have seen improvement as most classes in the primary level have acquired the skill of simple blending of 2-5 letter words. 

It is still a long way to go but it is definitely a progress especially that RPG 36 has also opened the English for Integrated Studies (EIS) programme where other subjects are taught in English language. Since the EIS programme’s inception, our teachers have also been teaching Science and Math for Grade 1-3 classes. Some of our primary and secondary students who had to relocate for various reasons have also been accepted in private schools and well-known universities where a good level of English is required. Although we are sad that we’re missing them in school, we are happy to know that they have found better opportunities elsewhere. This year, we are working with the Youth Career Initiative (YCI) and local hotels to help the Year 6, secondary level students to learn skills in the tourism industry as an alternative for them to secure jobs in the future.

Working with Thai schools is not without challenges but more than the obstacles that we have been facing, it is inspiring to meet so many local and foreign people from all walks of life wanting to make it better for the children. No matter how different our perspectives, our strategies, our ways are, we all have the same goal – to help improve the chances for all of these children through education.  We have also initiated teacher training and sharing sessions with the Thai teachers on classroom management and teaching strategies. They too are an essential part of the team. Some days, it gets really difficult but there’s nothing a team of dedicated staff and teachers will not be able to overcome for the children. If it’s easy, we won’t be here.

With all of these small steps, moving forward we have a vision of making the parents and the local community more involved as well in the progress of the children. The 3 key factors affecting children’s overall development are family, school and community. It may be a long shot but it is worth trying…we are getting there. Our Foundation does not receive funding from the Thai government, it is through our own projects, fundraising events and generous support of amazing people that we are able to continue what we are doing.




…And that has made all the difference.”

Sincerely,
Jerraleen J. Balais





Friday, May 26, 2017

Reaching out to the Present Generation

“I don’t want to become a teacher.” I can still remember my snobby face while that statement bumps the lobes in my head. It was 10 years ago though. A lot has changed since then. Going back, it's my definite answer to the No. 1 question I was frequently asked before entering college life. 

I want a change that’s why. I’ve been spending all my years in school and I won’t give teaching a go as a profession either. That was my thought back then. I’ve chosen to take up a Nursing course instead.

Ironically, if words can be eaten, I ate it all up. It is because I am now a teacher and I love being called one. A living proof that the only thing that’s constant in this world is change. A turning point that leads to an exhilarating road trip! Let me grab the steering wheel for you. Don’t forget to buckle up! Bumpy road ahead.

Teaching brought me to different heights in my life. It’s definitely where I find my purpose. It was a great opportunity to impart what I’ve learned not just as an educator but as a person living and facing the realities of this world. My love for education brought me to Thailand, “The Land of Smiles”.

  
   
I’ve been teaching here for more than two years now. I can still remember my first day of teaching, I felt an ambivalence with that circumstance I am about to face. The norms and culture somehow match the place where I grew up. It’s not too hard to adjust except in learning their language. To mention, it’s the outset of a life living far from home. Sleepless nights, feeling homesick and living alone. Yet, the motivation that I’m doing it not just for myself but for the ones I loved gave me the courage to get back on the track.

I’ve taught secondary students in a province in South Thailand, then I’ve had a summer job as an assistant teacher in Chonburi, searching brought me to a Kindergarten teaching position in Rayong province and I’m now here in Phuket as an ESL teacher for students who have had a special place in my heart.


Working at Phuket Has Been Good To Us (PHBGTU) Foundation taught me more about selflessness. It’s going beyond the goal of sharing knowledge and pursuing the illumination of academics in light of the subjects we’re teaching our students. It’s deeper and that’s what I love the most in teaching here. I’ve learned not just to be a teacher, but to be a sister or sometimes a mother to the students who long for this kind of care and love. I’m amazed of how most of our students undauntedly face living in the school and not being with their family most of the time. At a very young age, they’ve known how to live independently and have surpassed circumstances that were not meant yet for them to experience. They’re like seedlings growing in a plot full of thorns and rocks. I admire them and will be forever grateful for having the opportunity to teach and care for them.

      

Time will come that this experience will just be a fragment of a memory. Yet, it’s something worth remembering. PHBGTU is a remarkable organisation which helps young individuals to realize their dreams. Working here is like being with your family. It feels like you’re home. I would want to grab this opportunity to encourage people to reach out to the lives of the youth today. It’s not too late to share, care and love them. It is because at the end of the day, as an educator, what matters most is not the number of rewards you get but the lives you’ve helped nourished to grow. It’s transformation indeed!

      

Now, let’s all move on to our next destination. Ready? Buckle up! Enjoy the ride!