As school director, Preeyanut Wongkaew acted as the main coordinator with ActionAid Thailand, working over the prolonged school break to identify how her students were impacted by the pandemic and who were in urgent need of support. We talked to Ms. Preeyanut, or Director Ying, on the day she and Ban Hak Han School (Wiang Sa District, Nan) teachers led a distribution of food and sanitation packages to their community’s most vulnerable families.

What is the general mood in the communities where you’re working during this pandemic? How are people feeling?

Everything has changed dramatically since the pandemic started. There is more social distance and much fewer interactions between people in our community. They’re doing everything at home and trying their best to protect themselves and take care of others.

How is the pandemic affecting your school and the children specifically?

It has a significant impact on our learning which asks a lot of our students. The process of learning is changed. The time of learning as well. Normally, the school’s already open by 16 May, but now the new school year begins on 1 July. This means that prior to July, we’re using online learning to prepare students for the new term. The first challenge is accessibility. In order to learn through Distance Learning Television (DLTV) students need to have access to a working television. What we’re seeing here is some families can’t get good reception, or their television doesn’t support the new digital top box. Some households don’t have access to electricity and some don’t own a television. 

While you have been doing this work, have you met any children who made a strong impression on you? Please tell us about them and their situation.

Dow is a Mlabri girl who has been coming to Ban Hak Han School after her mother moved here to work for an employer in the community. Her house is quite far from the school, almost on the edge of this village. There are three people in the family and they don’t have access to electricity. Now they’re suffering a severe food shortage due to the mother’s lack of income. Dow can’t access online learning because there isn’t any device at home. Besides the worry that Dow won’t be able to keep up with her classmates, her mother fears she won’t be able to financially support her daughter’s education after the pandemic. This is what the teachers and I remember vividly after visiting them at home. We had to check on each student in order to tailor “lockdown learning” to their respective needs. When visiting Dow, it wasn’t an easy journey. We may be in the same village but we’re separated by small hills and brooks. We witnessed the very difficult situation Dow’s family and her three neighbours were in and sought urgent support for them.

Photo: ActionAid Thailand

What do you find most challenging about this work?

To tell the truth, all of our students are facing the impact of the virus and we want every one of them to receive support. We don’t want to leave anyone behind. But due limited resources, we have to help those in most critical need of help first. This in itself is a challenge for us. We want all children to get support.

What is your biggest fear at the moment?

Since we don’t know when the pandemic will finally be over, items such as face masks, face shields and sanitiser gel will be essential items for a long while. The school has been fortunate to acquire them but only in a limited number. They’re even limited in the market. So we don’t think we’ll have enough for the whole school as time goes on. We’ve been given some cloth masks thanks to a local hospital, but the children’s family may not be able to help wash them properly every day so they’ll collect germs instead of reducing risks. Disposable masks may be a better choice for parents in this community so we’re trying to find support from different groups and state agencies in order to find enough masks for the children.

Meet the school leader at the frontline of our COVID-19 efforts
Photo: ActionAid Thailand

As of the date of this interview, we still need support in order to reach as many vulnerable small schools children as we can. Please consider donating today – 31 July 2020 via our website (click “donate once”) or bank transfer to: 

ActionAid International (Thailand)
Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) / Phaholyothin branch
Account number 014 306145 2