By Narintorn Kaweeket (YES 2011-12, Thailand, hosted with AFS in Macedon, NY)
Everyone can be a changemaker, but how? Going back to Thailand six years ago after a year in the U.S. was one of the biggest changes of my life. Since I returned home, I’ve been in involved in many community service projects because of a concept I learned in the U.S.: volunteerism. After having done so many community service projects, I sometimes wondered why some problems still exist and what else could be done to help address issues in those communities. Fortunately, I was selected to attend a YES alumni “Changemakers” Social Entrepreneur workshop in March where I and other YES alumni learned how to develop realistic and sustainable projects. One section that was so beneficial and exciting for me was when the participants were asked to think about and discover where their own skills and passions/interests could be used to address an issue in our community.
After coming up with an idea, we then learned about developing a project using SMART goals – goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. I also loved when we finally got to pitch our project ideas and the panelists and fellow alumni were so supportive and helpful in giving advice on ways to improve a project. And now, I have the answers to my questions and my realizable and sustainable project is getting ready to roll!
English language has been a part of the school curriculum in Thailand for some time, but surprisingly, studies have shown that many Thai people are not able to communicate well in English. Approximately only 10 percent of 67 million people communicate effectively in English. Thailand is a big tourist destination, and this also can lead to difficulties when foreigners come to visit Thailand. According to findings from previous English language projects conducted by Thai YES alumni, and research from other sources, some of the main reasons why English communication remains a problem are: lack of motivation to speak English, lessons that focus primarily on grammar instead of conversational English, and the lack of opportunities for students to use English
The project I’m developing, called Helpers for Helpers, is focused on youth and local villagers in Yao Noi island, Phung Nga province. The project aims to motivate Thai students to speak English, to provide local youth with English lessons that focus on conversational speaking skills rather than only grammar, and to expand the basic communication lessons to villagers to improve communication between foreigners and locals. I’ll be collaborating with other Thai YES alumni, AFS volunteers, classmates from my university, and English teachers from the Yao Noi school. We hope the lesson plans we develop for this project can address the issues mentioned above. We plan on developing both on-line and printed materials. The on-line version we hope will attract the attention and interest of young people, who tend to spend most of their time on-line, while the printed version for those who prefer a print version or don’t have internet access.
The skills I gained from the Changemaking workshop have been very helpful. I hope that YES will have other workshops like this one in the future, so other people and alumni can learn how to develop a sustainable project. I also found an amazing support network/team of fellow alumni!
At the workshop, we were asked why we wanted to be a changemaker, my answer is because I believe that we can do something to create a better world. All of us have received many opportunities, so maybe this is our chance to give back. To change something, you must have a clear goal(s), a good plan(s), a good team and a strong belief that you can get over any obstacles. To create a better world, you don't have to do something big, you just start from a small change in yourself, your family, or your community. Keep this phrase in mind: "little things make big things happen." Stay tuned for an update after our project!