For those of you who have been following progress, here's the latest newletter from Noh Boh village in Thailand...
Train to be a teacher at BTI and transform lives...
Graham Cook, who recently graduated with a BTI primary teaching degree, will next week travel to Thailand, to spend 6 months in the refugee camps as BTI’s on- the-ground representative. It’s not your average first time teaching position, but then Graham is not your average guy. Three years ago, Graham left a dream job in adventure tourism in order to study to become a primary teacher. “I was working in the Bay of Islands,” explains Graham. “Life was pretty easy. For me everything was free from the top of the North to the bottom of the South. It was all very easy, and it was boring, you know. I needed more.”
After some reflection, Graham realised that teaching was that ‘more’. He says, “When people asked me why I wanted to teach I would say, ‘I want to teach the children nobody else wants, you know the ones who have been left behind by the system.’ Here I am three and a half years later, and I’m going to teach children in a refugee camp who have been persecuted by a regime. I was kind of thinking small, and God sort of blew that out of the water. That’s why I teach – to give hope to children.”
Graham knows that he is going into a difficult environment, and it’s clear he has done his homework on the history of the region. “Burma is the second most corrupt country in the world…and it’s also the second poorest nation in Asia behind Afghanistan,” he explains. “There’s currently 180,000 people in the refugee camps, 44,000 children, and they have had to endure all sorts of things from systematic torture, rape, forced labour camps - any war atrocity that you can name…so it’s a pretty troubled region. They are wanting to try and raise up some teachers in these camps to help all of these people.”
Graham has worked and saved the necessary money to support himself in Thailand for the duration of his time there. After all his planning, and despite the natural nerves surrounding a plunge into the unknown, Graham is feeling ready to go. “I’m feeling excited. Excited, nervous, anxious – afraid in a good way but trusting 100% in God that he has my best interests at heart, and he has things for me to do there.”
Graham has set up a travel blog where he will post updates as often as possible. While he does not need any financial support himself, Graham is going to let us know if there are any resources that the students need, and set up a way where people can donate money towards fulfilling those needs if it is on their heart to do so.
At BTI, we are passionate about making a positive difference in the world. Our amazing lecturers, students and graduates live out of this commitment in many ways in their individual careers and personal lives - but from time to time, an opportunity comes along for BTI as a whole institute, to look beyond it’s own borders and make a difference on a bigger scale.
We were presented with such an opportunity in 2011, when Ian Atcherson from Effective Aid International approached BTI about providing a Teacher Education programme for the Karen teachers living in the Maylar Refugee Camp on the Thai-Burma border. These dedicated teachers are responsible for educating the children in the camp, but have not had the opportunity to receive any formal teacher education.
The leadership team at BTI felt positive about responding to this request. BTI Dean, Andrew Smith says, “Part of our vision here at BTI is to recognize how well-off we are here in New Zealand in so many ways, not just financially, but in terms of resources, in terms of experience, in terms of freedom. We want to find ways of taking that and offering what we can to people who are not as well-off as we are.”
In May, BTI sent recent graduate, Graham Cook to live and teach in the refugee camp, delivering a customised BTI Teacher Education programme and being BTI’s representative in the camp. Andrew Smith travelled to the refugee camp with Graham and spent a week learning more about the needs of the people and exploring how best to meet them. “We're really clear, we're not about colonizing,” explains Andrew. “We don't want to take New Zealand learning or experience and dump it on other places. That's not appropriate. So we work really hard at ensuring that whatever we do is related to the context that it's culturally appropriate. But it's a real privilege to be involved, sharing what we have been given with those in other contexts.”
While the existing teachers are welcoming the idea of professional development, it is quite a mindset change for them to be exposed to other ways of teaching. The way the project has unfolded, BTI is primarily working with a group of 20 young people who are not teachers at all, but who want to be. Andrew comments, “They're, for the most part, Christian and very keen to see how God might work through them and in them to enable them to help their people. They have an amazing vision that goes way beyond just working with individual children. Their vision is very much to see their nation changed and to look forward to hope for the possibility they might, at some point in the future, be able to go back into Burma and see the Burmese state which exists in theory become much more of reality.
Andrew has been in regular touch with Graham since returning to BTI. “He appears to be doing a fantastic job. I hear very good reports from the other staff in the school about what he's doing, really getting alongside the students, working with content that we're providing in terms of training, and facilitating their working through the material.”
Click on the image to hear more about BTI's Mission in Burma