Saturday, July 18, 2009
This is part II of my "What is Success?" piece. I don't really have a good introduction for this one as I did for the last. I tried a number of times to get this thing off the ground and failed every time. Finally, while waiting for a bus at a small tea shop, I scribbled these thoughts down on pieces of paper used to wrap up meat and poultry. I ended up missing my bus but at least I finally got these thoughts out of my head.
Meetings were set up in March. The idea was talked about openly as early as February. Get started early in order to stave off the impending doom of self-defeat and failure. This has become the mantra. Surprisingly, it worked. With subtly whispers of an idea at first, I began to plant the seeds of my purposed project back in late February and by March it seemed as thou the wheels of progress were slowly beginning to turn. This had to be done in haste as time was against us… right from the beginning. The school year was ending and if my project wasn’t thrown into some sort of supersonic planning and preparation stage before every one left to go on vacation, I knew the whole thing would be a waste. A turd slowly circling the drain, down the pipes she goes.
What began as casual and then serious discussions (do they understand what the hell I’m talking about?) about my project soon progressed to meetings with the directors of both schools I currently find myself occupying. I explained the basic idea and following a number of grunts and nods, both directors appeared to give me their approval. This was wonderful though annoying as I knew this meeting would need to be repeated again and as it turned out, again and again and again. This would be the first of many snags, tears, and general fuck ups to occur throughout the planning stages of my projects. To understand the nature of this particular snag, you must first understand the nature of my project.
Being a TCCO volunteer, I’m expected both by Peace Corps and by my Thai counterparts to participate in and host English camps. Participate, this part I’ve done. Host, not as of yet, but this problem would soon be resolved. The basic idea of my project was simple but some how I always manage to over complicate the sucker each and every time I attempt to explain it. If, after finishing this I realize I’ve managed to mangle the thing again, then I’ll just draw a picture. Cartoons and stick figures. You’ll get the idea.
So the idea was simple. A typical English camp is hosted by one school with surrounding schools participating. My camp would change this formula some by having each of the participating schools host one day of the camp. This would at first seem impossible if one imagines each school in the district hosting one day of a continuing English camp. The thing would never end. Trainers would go insane from lack of sleep and the near constant use of low level pigeon English while the students would likely turn on us at some point due to our lack of new games and activities. At some point we would run out of ideas and would begin to recycle. The students would soon pick up on this and our authority would wane resulting in near certain mutiny and the children running off into the hills and forests to live a most tribal lifestyle. Never to speak English again. No, such an outcome couldn’t be allowed. What the hell was I talking about? Is it time for a pictures yet?
To avoid such Armageddon, this camp would be a local’s only party. Only the schools from my community were to be invited. The schedule was to work like this… School A would host the first camp with schools B, C, and D attending. School B would then host the next camp with schools A, C, and D attending. And so on and so forth. The 6th graders from each school would attend every camp and so every student would get the chance to play host at least once. The camps would be tied together with the central theme of practicing and focusing on the four basic skills of English; One camp for reading, one camp for writing, one for speaking, and another for listening. And just to make sure the trainers wouldn’t be over stressed or worked due to four straight days of English camps plus changing venues every night just to set up again the next day, the camps were to be planned for every weekend of a month yet to be determined. At the time, I was thinking May. This meant the first Saturday or Sunday would be reserved for the first camp to be hosted by school A. The second Saturday or Sunday would be school B’s chance to shine. You get the idea. Or at least that was the idea.
This was all done in the name of community collaboration. A belief and sense that something was amiss within my community and that this project might be a way to help. While I live in Ban Triam village and teach at Ban Triam and neighboring Ban Bang Wa Schools, my community is actually much larger. Being 15k north of the town of Khuraburi and 10k south of the even smaller town of Suksamran, my community consists of a cluster of four to five villages between these two hamlets along highway 4, the artery of the south. Ban Triam lies smack in the middle and because it is one of the larger villages and possesses a wide-open football field at the school, it often hosts all community events, festivals, and celebrations. This is both logical and sensible, a rarity in Thailand. Perhaps because of this, an underlying sense of strife has emerged among the other community leaders of the neighboring villages. Village envy if you will. My purposed English camp was an attempt to ease the tension, to allow each village and school to not only participate but also claim ownership in the camp. It made sense at the time at least.
And so back to the turd. During my many casual, and then serious, conversations with co-teachers at both Ban Triam and Ban Bang Wa Schools, I made sure the point was driven home that this was to be a community based English camp with input and participation from the neighboring villages essential for success. My hope was to set up a meeting with the directors and English teachers from Ban Huaysap, Ban Suan Mai, and my won schools of Ban Triam and Ban Bang Wa. This way my idea could be purposed and explained with questions being answered all in one meeting. Logical? Yes. Hence the high probability of failure.
Meeting with my own schools director was easy and both meetings, Ban Triam and Ban Bang Wa, I reluctantly participated in. Following those meetings, I stepped up my prodding of my co-teacher, Moosa, at Ban Triam to help set up the meeting between the teachers and directors of all fours schools. By this time it was mid March. School would be out soon and wouldn’t resume again until mid May. June was the best chance now for the camps. I continued to insist that Moosa help set up the meeting and continually inquired as to his progress in that endeavor. Finally, in late May I rode my bike nearly to Suksamran to meet with the English teacher and director of Ban Huaysap School. Moosa had assured me that they had been informed of my project proposal but a meeting had not been planned yet due to scheduling conflicts. When I arrived, to my surprise they had never heard of my project. It was the same story in Ban Suan Mai.
Once I had made my proposal, both schools expressed their eagerness to participate. This lead to a meeting quickly being set up which would be held at Ban Triam School. I quickly called my co-teacher at Ban Bang Wa School to confirm the date and time and that was that. Upon returning to Ban Triam School I informed Moosa of the date and time of the meeting and thanked him for his help. Thais don’t understand sarcasm.
I should have learned an important lesson that day. I should have learned that lesson two months ago when the meeting failed to be set up and individual meetings took their place. My trust in Moosa, and Thais for that matter, and faith that what needed to be done would be done would be tested and broken time and time again. Clearly Pavlov’s dog is smarter than I because I could never quite figure out what that damn bell was for.