To go to school, Sawarin, an ethnic Karen girl from Ban Dong Mai in the mountainous Mae Hong Son province, must hike up hills and trudge through a muddy dirt road that weaves around plunging ravines. She often does it on an empty stomach.
The 8km journey is even more arduous during the monsoons. When the trip home is impossible, she and her friends must stay overnight at school, often for several days, until the sky is clear again.
Ban Dong Mai, a small primary school for the local hilltribe children, is nestled in the crook of the mountains in Mae Hong Son’s Mae La Noi district, 1,055m above sea level. The school is a home-away-from-home to 57 children, most of whom are from Karen and Lua hilltribes. Their life conditions are not much better than Sawarin’s.
The school does not just give them an education. For many of these hilltribe children, it also gives them their day’s only decent meal. Undernourishment is a big problem among hilltribe children. Due to a lack of state funds and support, Ban Dong Mai is constantly struggling to feed its children.
To ease the children’s hunger so they can study better, Ban Dong Mai’s school director Rungroj Yongyingharn, has initiated a project to provide the children with regular, nutritious school lunches.
Based on the principle of self-reliance under HM the King’s sufficiency philosophy, the project will involve the children growing their own food and fish, and learning how to preserve the produce for future use.
“The kids will have a chance to learn first-hand how to grow mushroom and other vegetables,” said the school director. These skills, including food-preservation techniques, will also be useful for them to help generate family income.
The school, however, is in need of initial funding to build a mushroom nursery and fish ponds, as well as to buy vegetable seeds and fish fry.
To cut costs, the school will also grow native plants, vegetables and fruits. “Our goal is to provide our pupils with food all year round,” he added.