Thailand: Refugee youth explore their artistic side

15 November 2019|Elphie Galland

Miniature flowers made of clay by the students of the Urban refugee Project in Bangkok (JRS Asia Pacific)

Bangkok, 15 November 2019 – On this sunny day, the students of the Jesuit Refugee Service’s Urban Education Project (UEP) in Bangkok sit in the school’s courtyard. They are focused on their hands. Upon closer inspection, it’s apparent that they are handling very small items. Since the beginning of the year, they have been studying with P’Chan, a craft teacher who specializes in miniatures made of clay.

UEP provides access to education for youth urban refugees and asylum seekers in Bangkok through a 5-month sequence of courses of Thai and English languages. It also offers vocational skill training in computers, sewing, and hairdressing. The 2019 cohort had 60 refugees from diverse countries. In addition to courses, the UEP organizes community activities such as peer support activities. These activities strengthen the relationship between Thai and refugee youth communities in Bangkok.

P’Chan is a craft art teacher who works in a learning centre in Bangkok. The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Director of the Urban Education Project, Luukmii contacted her in October 2018 and explained the Project to the craft teacher. P’Chan immediately found it interesting and wanted to participate in the project, even though it meant an hour-long commute from the other side of town where she lives. Involvement in the Project offered her the chance to teach a diverse international class of students for the first time. P’Chan was eager to experience that.

“I did not expect the students to be so keen to learn! As a result, I want to accompany them along their learning paths as much as I can. In order for them to learn as much as possible, I encourage them to take projects home as well as to work on them in class”.

At first, P’Chan did not know much about the students’ backgrounds. She only knew that they were foreigners. “Once I arrived at the school, I learned about the students’ stories and the fact that they were refugees. I felt a lot of sympathy for them and their situations.”

P’Chan already had taught international pupils in the past, but the students that she teaches at UEP are much more diverse. “I learn a lot from them and they learn from me. It’s truly a communication and cultural exchange. I’m also really impressed by the learners because they try to speak Thai”, she added.

Paul*, 18 years old, is one of P’Chan’s students. He came from Pakistan to Thailand, seven months ago, by himself. He had difficulty finding money in Bangkok and heard about JRS a few months ago, through a friend. He joined the JRS education programme quickly. “For me, education is really important. The clay activity is very good for my mindset as well as for concentration. I like this activity and do it at home as well to relax.” After graduating from UEP, Paul would like to study theology and Bible study.

Christel* and Fatima*, both 18, are from Pakistan and Iraq. Christel is in Bangkok with her mother and has been acquainted with JRS for 4 years. Fatima came with her two brothers and aunt and got involved with JRS 3 years ago. “Since we arrived in Thailand, we could not attend Thai schools, so we turned to the NGOs and to JRS more specifically”, they said.

For Christel, going to school changed her everyday life. “Now, I wake up at 6am instead of 2pm. I have made new friends and learned new things. I love coming here every day!”. Fatima adds, “I would say the same as Christel, but I would add a very important part… I also learned Thai!”

If you want to support refugee education in Asia Pacific, please donate here.

*Names have been changed to protect identity

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