“Every Karen child must weave cloth because it is an ancient way.”
It is an oral description of Teacher JJ – Phayungsak Tibkat as a teacher at Ban Pa Lao School. When mentioning the basic steps in creating products of a small community in Mae Tha District, Lamphun Province, to indicate the origin of the costumes from the hand-woven fabrics, they show off their beauty on the display table in the exhibition.
These hand-woven goods are not only beautiful, but they also won first place in the ‘Equity Partnership’s School Network Year 3’ Awards. It is a program by the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) in partnership network with the Shrewsbury International School and Sea Thailand to create a shared learning space between international school children and schools in remote areas.
This success comes from a small beginning, such as ‘Weaving group by backstrap loom’ under the supervision of Teacher JJ. The purpose is to carry on the local culture of Karen Pga K’nyau to students in Ban Pa Lao School. Backstrap loom is a traditional woven fabric in Karen Pga K’nyau style, using a loom tied to the waist. In the assembly, there will be teaching from weaving basic pattern fabrics to producing various kinds of costumes. Children in the congregation are taught to weave and earn money from the handicrafts.
“The fact that our children attend branch schools may be seen as our advantage. There is no phone signal, and the residence uses solar cells. They are thus not tech addicts. The students may now completely practice weaving”, according to Teacher JJ.
The children said that “group taught us how to weave and earn money as a scholarship. We do not ask our parents for money when we go to school.”
“The money at home is meager. Our parents will only give us 100 or 150 baht in one week, and since we also have a younger sister, two of them equal 300 baht. I want to avoid bothering him too much. I came here to practice weaving, so. We attend this gathering in order to make more money for that reason.”
The significance of backstrap loom weaving groups is discussed by “Nong Phrai” – Panita Soongphanarak and “Nong Mild” – Kultida Jailakat. They attend Ban Pa Lao School and are junior high schoolers. The members of the congregation who helped Ban Pa Lao School won the first prize this time. Both children wore white dresses but stood out from the crowd when the two dresses were hand-woven. It is a hand-woven cloth with elaborately woven regional designs that showcases the artistry of the weavers, Nong Phrai and Nong Mild.
Before getting acquainted with the Equity Partnership’s School Network project, the weaving group by backstrap loom weaves clothes in a basic manner. In other words, it is a typical bag if it is weaved into one. Alternatively, if it’s a shirt, it’s a Karen shirt, which are widely available on the market in the northern community. There may be a slight change in the pattern. Even still, the items’ worth did not significantly rise. The kids’ textiles were made and sold in the local marketplaces. More than 30 members of the congregation will accept money from Teacher JJ using this income.
We met children from St. Andrews International School who were involved in the creation of the weaving group’s backstrap loom items through our involvement in this project. In the past, the assembly continued to weave the same goods that the local peasants were accustomed to. The clothing has since evolved into more modern attire.
“This project started when we applied for the project. There was a meeting for the first time. The schools were randomized. Finally, we worked with St. Andrews International School.
“On the international school side, they will collaborate on sketches first. At first, it was a normal Yukata, but when I showed it to others, they said it was everywhere. International schools, therefore, send new designs. This time they made it into a fashion style, a tweed shape, a curved shape, a shirt on the neck, and then we came to modify the pattern to the dress.
“They help us with everything, both product, and packaging. Like the packaging, international children say that paper bags may be made to rescue the earth. We added a small gimmick. It is for children to tie a rope. You can call it the uniqueness of our products.”
Looking at the big picture, we can see the cooperation between the two schools to bring exquisite products to the market. Children in remote communities have worked hard and patiently to achieve that sophistication.
Because of its isolation, the comfort is inaccessible.
Collaboration between private schools in urban and rural schools is challenging given the pandemic era. Every meeting discussion takes place online. Although the connection between the two distant schools is now possible thanks to technological advances, it did not come with the convenience it should have.
“Behind the mountains is the school area. We already live in a traditional Karen community. The mother school is the one where the children are enrolled. Ban Pa Lao School, Pha Dan Branch is the next school up, followed by Ban Pa Lao School, Mae Sa Ngae Branch, and Ban Pa Lao School, Ban Pong Pang Branch. The Ban Pa Lao School has these three branches.
The characteristics of Ban Pa Lao School, where both teachers and students live, are described by Teacher JJ. The mother branch school is situated at the foot of the mountain in Mae Tha District. For small schools, there are basic amenities. Nong Phrai, the top weaver, lives at the third branch, which is located in a hilly location approximately 17 kilometers from the mother branch school and has no comfortable access to the internet.
“Solar cells are used at the second and third branch schools, which lack power. Access is quite challenging without technology.
“On the mountain, there are three teachers. To allow the children to watch TV, teachers must turn it on. One room is open to see two screens, which is one difficulty.TV will help kids learn. If I go to a branch school, I will switch shifts with another teacher. If it is raining, I cannot go down because the road is not concrete, it is full of water, and there are cows, buffaloes, and other wild animals roaming all over it. It is a really challenging path.”
This is Teacher JJ’s experience as a teacher who is required to show up to care for students in other branches. Children studying in a branch on a mountain like Nong Phrai must ride a motorbike about 17 kilometers along a dirt road to find opportunities to join the weaving group using a backstrap loom and earn money for themselves when technological improvement is not widely adopted.
JJ, the teacher, made a remark about how difficult it is for children to create chances for themselves. One of the educational inequalities is this. Urban and rural schools use different educational models. Children in urban areas will have access to technology or even some basic cognitive abilities. Rural youngsters could not have access to them since some poor schools have not yet received government funds.
“Maybe the government will specify that this school does not permit other schools. If this school is performing well, there could only be one other good school in the sub-district. The government will give such sort of school greater attention.”
Language is an additional challenge for teachers and students in rural schools, in addition to the lack of technology. The first time I found out that I was working with St. Andrews International School, there was not even a single Thai-speaking team member in the team. The villagers of Pa Lao were dismayed because on their side, besides the dialect and Thai language, we were not fluent in other languages. With the most accessible translation tool, Google Translate, for every activity, both teachers and students battle language obstacles.
“We put it in the translator when they speak for a long period. Perhaps there was a translation error. Like they instructed us to do this. We first didn’t comprehend. But after that, we began to acclimate. I know they didn’t place an order,” laughed Teacher JJ.
Both children illustrated how language limitations were a challenge but were overcome thanks to their willingness to try something new. “We think of ourselves that they did not order because it is a collaboration between the two schools. For example, when our opinions do not agree on the color, children from international schools want dark colors. But for weavers, the dark color is not beautiful. We will then ask if it is good to use this color instead. They advised us to try it. It involves more teamwork.”
According to Nong Phrai, while dealing with students from international schools, I would prefer if the school had better foreign language education. It helps me realize how fundamental English is to expanding my chances in life. Again,
we can see the girl’s eyes reflecting the inequality.
Opportunity is the potential that is simply waiting for the day to shine.
We may see pictures of helping to develop local communities from schools in the city when we look at the project that the two schools are working on together. The children of Ban Pa Lao School’s perseverance and excellent weaving abilities are another thing that can be seen in the beauty of the outcomes. Due to the Pga K’nyau people’s old indoctrination, the children have a background in weaving, as Teacher JJ said. The fabric pattern (patterning) must be progressively interwoven one line at a time while weaving by hand without the aid of a machine, which calls for a lot of patience. The weaving process takes at least four days.
“Perhaps the current curriculum is incompatible with the real-world applicability. Each school, including ours, will have its own regional curriculum. For instance, my school will provide a course in weaving on a backstrap loom, while some other schools will offer a separate course in weaving on a brocade loom.
“For particular courses, the Ministry of Education may create channels. However, it might not be effective everywhere; whether or not a school chooses to use it depends on the school itself. Will the principals or administrators support it? It may continue if it is supported.”
We are pleased that the officials at Ban Pa Lao School completely support initiatives that preserve the local identity. Children may gain knowledge and make extra income by weaving on a backstrap loom of Teacher JJ. After weaving the fundamentals for a while, working with students at foreign schools enables us to learn more about product design and marketing, using the current knowledge to advance further.
Examples of goods created by St. Andrews School students and produced by Ban Pa Lao School students in the weaving group using backstrap looms.
According to teacher JJ, the fundamental skills of children’s weaving are a kind of communal identity that should be supported and cultivated. This is the best kind of education for preparing kids for careers that will allow them to support themselves in society.
“I want the government to promote the design of products related to the occupation of local children, with a concentration on the employment of the students because they already have skills.
“Our expertise with regional goods is one of our strengths. The community is there to help support everything. Our children have intentions.”
Children in isolated areas have the ability to develop their personalities, but they lack the learning skills and create things that are trendy and competitive. If the congregation learns, they will learn the same things. Projects of the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) play a role in helping to develop this because some schools have the ability. In addition, some schools might not have the chance to show off their students’ abilities to the public, and public relations may not always be available to them.
“It is amazing to have more people witness our work. We were thrilled when more individuals noticed it. The two kids’ eyes lit up with happiness.
The children’s teacher added, “This project is considered a success. School may have been forgotten from the beginning after we made this product. Both at the district level and the provincial level, they came to admire and come to see our work. Many schools come to study hand-woven fabrics and come to support our products. It has given the school a reputation and pride that what we have done has been achieved. We will continue to develop our products to have new collections, and we will not stop here.”
Small hope for the little ones from remote communities in the Thai education system is to see more disadvantaged schools have the space to showcase their potential, as Ban Pa Lao School has received. It is up to society to acknowledge that each place is legitimate, has a unique character, and merits an equitable distribution of chances.