Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Here Come De Judge
Yesterday we had a visit from Mrs. Bua, who is one of 12 judges for the province of Nakhom Province. To her left is Jes, our current Field Director, and to her right is Nell, our outgoing Field Director. Mrs Bua is a remarkable woman, 8 months pregnant, beautiful, powerful, educated, and gracious. She is married to another of the provincial judges and they live in Nakhom Phanom. She came to talk to us because she had befriended one of last year's volunteers who was jogging past their house, and who ended up working with her husband on his English. It is very common to be asked to give lessons or help people with their English. Mrs. Bua gave us an article to read from the NY Times(http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/25/world/asia/25iht-thai.html?_r=2&sq=thailand&st=cse...), and then she told us about the types of things that she deals with as a judge and cautioned us about living in this area. Because we are very close to Laos there is a good deal of drug smuggling and in particular methamphetamines which workers and drivers use to push themselves beyond their normal capacity. The punishment for dealing these can in fact be death. She also told us about the dangers of some gang activity, and the dangers for women in the villages of rape and gang rape. Because Thailand is still relatively patriarchal, the shame of the violation often prevents individuals and families from reporting these crimes. Also, she talked about the high incidence of adolescent sex and pregnancy. In Thailand, if a young woman becomes pregnant she is no longer allowed to attend school. Currently there is a movement afoot in the country to change this law. Mrs. Bua grew up in Bangkok and attended the best schools and law schools and did a three year stint in the UK after law school. She was an example of a strata of society we have not encountered here so far, and she explained that many of the problems she sees stem from the relative poverty and backwardness of the region. School is only required through the ninth grade and the drop off in attendance after that grade, particularly with boys, is substantial. This makes teaching English a very real challenge since the students see very little reason to pursue its study as they have very limited aspirations. So much of this talk was upsetting and reminded me of my teaching in Rockland, though obviously our standard of poverty and wealth is vastly separated. Mrs. Bua stressed that education truly was the key for young people here since matriculation in the better universities is wholly based on exam scores, of which English is prominent and required. It made me feel the weight of the responsibility of my present endeavor. I could potentially make a real difference in some child here's future if the World Teach program continues and flourishes. My last question to Mrs. Bua was, "Could a young woman from here, the daughter of a poor rice farmer, work hard and make it to be where you are, someday?" And she said, "Yes, this is, I think, like a diamond, a rare thing, but it can happen in Thailand." And the thought of that, after hearing so many sad stories, made me feel like crying.