A Lesson in Poverty

On Thursday Usana asked if I wanted to visit the homes of some of the poor students. Intrigued, more out of concerned curiosity than nosiness, I agreed.

Myself and four other teachers piled into a pick up truck and a few students were bundled onto the back. We drove deep into rural Nong Khae, where the concrete roads turned into stoney lanes and then to half beaten tracks. The odd house cropped up amoung the vast rice fields, and we stopped in front of what I thought was an unused shed. The sheets of corrugated iron roughly propped up against one another underneath a coconut tree turned out to be one of our student’s home.

An elderly man, naked save for a torn loose pair of shorts, greeted us with the warmest smile. We unloaded the student, his bike, and the bags of groceries that the teachers had bought for the family, and were invited inside. There is no water supply and no electricity. The iron sheets that make up the walls of the house mean that the only light is that which comes through the doorframe. Otherwise, they are in complete darkness.

The Thai’s are incredibly snap happy, and I am yet to come across a situation or scenario where taking a selfie is deemed inappropriate. As the teachers got out their cameras and iPhones, ready to pose with the student and his grandparents outside their home, I couldn’t bring myself to follow suit. Whilst pictures could have expressed where language fails me, getting out my flashy white camera would have felt like such an insensitive intrusion of the families poverty. Such invasion of privacy felt almost like exploitation at the expense of just so those at home could gawp at their iMacs for a few seconds before moving on.

Getting back in the pick up, Usana mentioned that the next student was poorer than the one we’d just visited. We drove further into the seemingly uninhabited wilderness, to a small village where the houses were pleasant and reasonably sized. As we pulled up, an elderly woman hobbled out of a small hut behind the cluster of houses. The hut, made of seen together palm tree and banana leaves was just a bit bigger than the double mattress inside it in area. In order to be inside the house, you had to be on the students and his grandmothers bed. The groceries we delivered had to be left outside with the rest of their limited number of possessions, inevitably to rot under the full exposure of the harsh sun.

Whilst the teachers got camera ready for their second photoshoot of the afternoon, I was frozen and dumbfounded at what I was seeing. Standing there I felt insensitively and offensively overdressed with my Le Pilage and Kurt Geiger sandals when this family couldn’t even afford to eat.

The nonchalance attitude of the teachers I was with confirmed my suspicion that many of my students, and a lot of Thais live in similar conditions to what I was seeing. As a government school that is heavily subsidised, it is impossible for Watnongtakae to help all of its poorer students. The two families we visited that afternoon are gifted so much aid from the teachers because both the students are orphans, who live with their elderly grandparents who have no means of obtaining an income.

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