Tag Archives: Chiang Rai

Jumping into the Beautiful Mess

16 Feb


IMG_1104There have been so many wonderful things that have happened in these few months, so many insights and experiences, understanding so much pain but yet hope in educators, students and community members that express a desire for a change in the way things are now. One of the big things that have shaped my past few months has been ideas surrounding the school to prison pipeline.


I had never heard of this term before but essentially, much research has shown that there is a direct pipeline that we have created in the schools here for students, especially black boys, to go to prison. In the U.S., not only can children be sent to prison, but there has been an uproar in the communities because of the unfair treatment of Blacks in schools and in the justice system with the stories of Eric Gardner and Mike Brown moving the country to march and protest in the streets.

IMG_1103My first insight to the school to prison pipeline was during a teacher training session where ex-inmates – who had recently come out of prison after serving say 15 to 20 years since they were 12 – were facilitators at a teacher training session for teacher candidates at the University of Washington. Their stories of pain and hurt in the primary and secondary schools resonated with me. They said one thing was needed – a more human, a more relationally connected classroom. In one class at UW, a professor quoted, “I can’t teach you until I know you.” Yet when asked if they felt that their teachers knew them, no one raised their hand. So many students don’t feel that their teachers know them as humans and individuals as they go through 12 years of public school. It was the moment for me where I felt connected to the deep heartache and hopes in Seattle.

It’s been difficult to move to a whole new city and try to feel connected but there are some things that keep me real. Thursdays at the Southwest Youth and Family Services is when I get to hang out and walk alongside students who have recently dropped out of traditional high schools in Seattle or the neighboring city, Highline. Thursdays at Southwest have kept me grounded and to be honest, kept me still excited about being here. It’s these teachers and students that remind me why I’m in graduate school, why I’m in education and that what I do matters. It’s been a safe place where I can just be in community, listen and build real relationships before thinking I can jump in and “create change”.


What has been wonderful about UW is that I get to think about research in a whole different light. In my Design Based Research class this quarter with Megan Bang and Phil Bell, we grapple with research actually getting involved in the beautiful mess of schools and classrooms; we talk about teachers as agents; we talk about not being afraid to get involved in the mix and to open yourself up to be changed by your own research and the interactions you have alongside those who participate in it. Research is not just the study of some phenomenon. It’s usually messy, filled with emotion but messy is good, messy is how the real world is.

I’ve learned that sometimes you need to be emotional to deal with the emotive and strong objectivity means that you talk about who you are, where you’ve come from and the lens that you are using to view the world, because who you are matters. And who I am is a collection of others because I’m only at this place in life because of other people that have pushed me and got me here. My humanity has depended on and been shaped by so many of you, just as how objectivity in research will depend on my ability to bring our voice, and the voices of those that we represent to it.


It’s been a lot of growing and grappling but I’m so glad I have other teammates to grow alongside with. In Thailand, we are expanding the Tutoría network next week to our third school.This school, Sahasat, is so close to my heart. It is the school I’ve known and grown up with the Lahu community since I was 12. Now to be able to go back and affect teaching and learning there, in the community that planted the seeds that brought me to where I am today, is an incredible honor. As Phil Bell who quoted Brian Smith said, “Here we are building the future of education the night before it’s due.” I’m en route right now to Chiang Rai and jumping straight into that beautiful mess of designing alongside teachers and students the future of education the night before it’s due. I couldn’t be more excited, nervous and hopeful to build that beauty together.


I will definitely write about that experience in the next monthly update as I’m sure the school will have incredible insights about learning that I want to share with you. Thank you all for keeping me in check and calling me out when I don’t write to you! I miss you all dearly and can’t wait to see some of you soon.

Some other fotos from STUDIO, Thailand in December and Seattle:






2014-12-13 11.30.45-3






Kao Jai – Learning for the Heart

5 Sep


It’s been wayyy too long but I write to you from Seattle where I just moved to do my PhD studies in Education. It’s been a crazy couple of months just before I left and I finally found a place to move into and so I’m slowly getting settled.


I just wanted to share one story that stood out for me during the last few months. I spent the months of July and August mostly in the schools in Thailand, to roll-out Tutoría in 2 primary and secondary schools. We began our work with FiftyFold in the province of Phitsanulok, then to familiar ground in the north in Chiang Rai. So far we’ve trained about 40 teachers and more than 300 students in Math, Thai, English, Science, History, Social studies, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. It’s been such a delight to work alongside wonderful teachers and students. One kid, Ongsin stood out.

Ongsin, a burly 16 year old at Chiang Rai Wittayakhom (CVK) was taking a bath when school started. It was pretty normal for him to come in late. His chemistry teacher was pacing the room where we were holding the Tutoría pilot, anxiously waiting for him to stride through the door. But he took his time.

When we were about 1 hour in, we saw a shadow of a towering figure outside the doors and she rushed out to pull him in. Ongsin has the sheepiest grin on his face. He sat down next to his tutor and leaned back so his could rock his chair back and forth on just its two legs. I liked him already.

The order of the day was that Ongsin would be tutored to learn about Petroleum extraction and the chemical makeup of petroleum and then have to tutor it to someone new.

So it began: His tutor asked him to read the various pages of his textbook. He scanned the pages and then gave up saying, “I don’t get it” or “Mai Kao Jai” in Thai. But his tutor persevered.

I watched the pair from afar. I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying but slowly I noticed Ongsin place his chair on all four legs, and burry his head in the book with absolute concentration, trying to read and re-read the information on petroleum oil rigs – he wanted to make sure he knew everything before he tutored someone else. They both sat down to reflect on the process and then a little anxiously, Ongsin asked his tutor to test him again and again to make sure he was ready.

His chemistry teacher noticed the pair and sauntered over to ask how he was. Ongsin has a glisten in his eyes when he looked up. “This is the first time I finally understood something. I didn’t just understand it, it pierced and went right into my heart!” He waved frantically and beat his heart as if a knife had penetrated it. He laughed.

You see, in English understand is more of a cognitive word. You understand with your brain. In Thai, understand literally means “Kao Jai” or to go into the heart – Kao – to go in and Jai – heart. So understanding is really, finding meaning that touches the heart. Ongsin brought that to life for me. It rang especially true for me this Teachers’ Day.


So as I begin my life in Seattle and PhD studies in Learning Science and Human Development, Ongsin’s story guides my thoughts. I want to study more Ongsin-like experiences – the inner workings of not just the brain, but the heart, and how to dignify people through learning and dialogue.

I’ll also be working part-time to create a tinkering studio in West Seattle and I think that’ll just be a wonderful experience and opportunity to stay grounded to the city and her people. I’m excited to grow from this.

I miss home especially much on a day like Teachers’ Day (happy Teachers’ Day everyone!!) but know I’ll be back with more insight and more ideas on how to grow, refine our work and journey together as educators in Southeast Asia.


With love,



Tutoría in Thailand!



I Believe

18 Jan

With Flim a boy from Nengsadueak

More photos here!

In December, I returned back to Singapore and then almost immediately straight on to Chiang, Rai, Thailand. I’m sure you all know that I’ve been working in Thailand for about 10 years now and after living and experiencing the power to relación tutora here in some of the toughest communities in México, I wanted to bring it back to my region.

For me, for the first time in about 10 years in Chiang Rai, I really felt we did something special in both Blessing Home and in Negseduak, something we can continue, something we can keep building up as we build ourselves up.

December 12, 2011, we began a network of tutors through a teaching method called relación tutora or check here in 1) a village hill tribe community and 2) Blessing Home, a youth hostel for mainly Lahu students who had come from various villages to the city center to study.

You see, there were so many challenges against us and at times I’d think of all the reasons why it would fail. There was no teacher in the village, and yes- it’s a village, not a school – so we would be going into people’s homes and trying to create a red de tutoría (network of tutors) there. Second, time as it always is, was against us. Many students work on Saturdays and we literally only had Sundays to count on to be sure there would be people in the village. During the week, the students would only come home at 5pm and we would be clothed in pitch darkness at 6pm as there was no electricity in the village, and no more tutoría could happen after 6pm. Almost none of us (except for 3 university students and another local Thai from Bangkok) were fluent in Thai, the team was new and this was the first time we would come together, we wanted to create a English program where students would learn to speak, listen, read and improve their vocabulary, but above all, speak. And in tutoría now, speaking a foreign language has been the most difficult to train. Furthermore, English while taught in school uses an alphabet completely different from Thai. When in Spanish it’s easy to decode words and figure out cognates of large words, it’s a completely different system in Thai. And to me the biggest challenge was for the students to see themselves as teachers, it goes so against Thai/ Asian culture where all we are taught is to absorb and we are in no place to teach. I’d thought getting over this hurdle would be the hardest. I was so worried that the kids wouldn’t want to teach, would feel too shy etc. But shame on me, and was I in for a shock because I had met on this trip some of the most creative and innovative teachers.

I just needed to believe.


We began on Sunday with a whole day with the kids. We started with an ice-breaker and then asked the kids to choose the listening activity or adjectives and Jamorn, Jap and I worked with one secondary student each. That day, we worked 3 hours in the village and had to completely modify our lessons on the spot. Some students had such a low level of English that we really had to start from scratch. We had to think of activities that would engage the students and be at a level where student could really understand and apply what they have learned. So each day, we would prepare for lessons in the morning and in the afternoon, drive up to the village by 3pm to work on painting the new sports court or build a small library and then at 5pm or 5.15pm, we would begin our lessons. What was most astonishing was that even after a long long day of school, even as the days went by, the students would still run up to the team at 5pm each day, with notebook and pen in hand, ready to begin their tutoría. In fact, as the days went on, the students took less and less time to change out of their school uniform to come and join us. I don’t even think I would change quickly to do more learning after school. Something different was in the air.


You could see a change in how they viewed learning. My absolute favorite part was our last day in the Negseduak village and at Blessing Home. That was when they tutees became the tutors. At Blessing Home the kids paired up and began tutoring each other, using the same styles, the same activities that we had used with them, and they knew it by heart. They knew the content well but I was amazed at how they could really guide their tutees, and they were even better than us, and could lead their own peers to a high level of understanding and knowledge in a much shorter time than we could. A lot of it was learning vocabulary and also using our senses and actions to experience the words, it was a whole new way of learning and teaching that the team had created. And when tested, their tutees knew the content, and knew it well.


More than new English vocabulary and speaking and listening practice in English, we created a real culture of learning. Now asking questions and encouraging curiosity became a way of life. As we walked in the village, they would point out or pull out things like leaves or flowers or the table or the chicken and ask what that is in English. The kindergardeners would tug at our shirts and show us that they knew where their head was, eyes were and all the body parts they had learned the day before. And best of all, you could see them asking each other questions. There was a new faith in their people, that everyone knew a little bit, and knew something different, and that even the kindergardeners could teach a secondary student. In the village, there was one girl, Nitaya in Primary 5 who created new activities when learning adjectives she had begun tutoring two students from K2. After she was done, another boy, Witaya who was in a grade above, from the village came up to her to ask her to teach him too. With a glisten in her eyes, she proudly took him on. Each tutor had a real experience sharing that knowledge, and tasted that they could. They were driven, so driven by the opportunity to share the knowledge with their peers. And they had confidence because we really believed they could. For me, Meizhi and Bevin were exemplars of that. There was in this village, a girl named Ah choo, an 11 year old who refused to go to school at a young age and was made to take care of the peanut harvesting in the village, she would barely read or write her own name. Driven by the sheer delight of seeing another learn, Meizhi and Bevin were so patient with Ah Choo and made sure she knew various adjectives. They had the highest belief in her and by the end of it, her face shone with satisfaction as she eagerly showed me her notebook filled with new words and new knowledge.

It’s hard to measure belief but one can feel it. I saw how that made people come alive. To be honest, the first day we arrived, we were treated as outsiders- exactly what we were. And slowly the kids started to warm up to us, and still not the families yet. Then the families started staying out with us after it was dark, and then by the end of it we were eating and sleeping with the villagers, singing and dancing together. We became family.


Now our biggest challenge is to take care of the process very very carefully. We will have to keep refining our work, the temas, keep building more temas, keep building relationships, keep changing, while keeping our principles constant and our passion to learn and work, our hunger and heart constant.

And something that tutoría is about, is that, whatever we do will never be enough. But that’s good, because it shouldn’t. That keeps pushing us to innovate, improvise and keep working, keep believing in others and in ourselves.

Back in México, I feel like there’s so much more to be done, and my burden to go back is even stronger. I keep thinking of all the places in Southeast Asia I have worked in, in the school for street children in Cambodia, in another children’s shelter, in Calcutta… they people are so hungry to learn, and I feel like finally I’ve found some answers that could make create real changes in both the students and their families through relación tutora. This is just the beginning. This is where it gets exciting.