In the past month, I have been observing Population and Community Development Association’s (“PDA”) poverty eradication efforts throughout rural Thailand. It was not until I viewed the Thai villages first hand and felt the pride beaming from the villagers that I truly began to understand and appreciate my organization.
Prior to my trip, I had seen my organization’s founder give innumerable presentations about integrated, sustainable, rural poverty elimination efforts. Khun Mechai Viravaidia is a very inspiring speaker, but at a certain point, I began wondering if his words were just buzzwords. Lucky for me, I went on rural village visits when I began to question the substance behind his speeches.
Last month, I saw PDA’s School Based Integrated Rural Development (“School-BIRD”) project. School-BIRD projects are a combination of three programs:
1: The Mechai Pattana School- a secondary school for village children
2: Village Development Partnership- sponsors companies helping develop rural villages
3: Toy Library- a library that lends toys to rural children in exchange for community service
All three of these projects seemed very abstract and unrelated to me, until I saw them in action. The best way I can describe it is the school serves as a centerpiece around which all three activities occur.
The Mechai Pattana School serves as a headquarters for teacher and social enterprise training, while also educating a selected group of students. Once trained and educated, students, teachers, and entrepreneurs leave from the school and return to the villages to lead classes or development projects.
Those students not directly educated by PDA learn at government schools supplemented by the Village Development Partnerships. Corporate sponsors help the schools raise income for materials, school meals, teacher training, and other needs. One school that I visited built a full “rural poverty eradication laboratory,” which is comprised of supplemental agricultural projects that surround the campus. Students, parents, teachers, and other villagers volunteer to grow crops, and raise pigs, and fish to earn money for the school.
Finally, I saw students picking out toys as a reward for planting trees and cleaning the villages. The kids, many of whom had very little, were thrilled to do community service in return to get to borrow toys.
I was amazed that three seemingly unrelated activities had complete buy in from the villagers. The villagers have seen improvements from the PDA School-BIRD mode. Sure, there are better teachers at schools with more money, but the real impact is better citizens. Youth, teachers, and villagers understand their role in the community and work for the betterment of the village, not for self.
The buzzwords became a reality.