Longing to Learn

When schoolteachers stop showing up for work in a hard-to-reach village, Compassion’s local church partners intervene on children’s behalf.
Songwut, right, and a classmate study in their village's wooden schoolhouse.

Songwut’s shoulders sagged under his backpack as he approached his schoolhouse. Empty again. He’d have to join his father in the rice fields instead of learning from his teachers, who seldom showed up for work. 

This wasn’t what 9-year-old Songwut’s father wanted for his son. “My dream is for my son to go to school and learn to be a mechanic,” he says. “Of course, if he doesn’t want to do that, I understand. But a father can have dreams for his son, right?”

But economics and geography threaten his dream for Songwut to leave their village of Kotah, Thailand, to study and return to become the village’s only mechanic. As the hot season changes to monsoon season, Kotah becomes difficult to reach from outside cities — where most teachers and doctors live. The rains begin to isolate the village by washing out its one long, winding dirt road. The mud traps any vehicles that try to pass. The best way to reach Kotah during this season is on an elephant. The other way is to walk, fighting the thick foliage and venomous snakes of the Umphang jungle.

Songwut shows off some of his schoolwork.

Not all impoverished communities are as hard to reach as Songwut’s, but the lack of quality education can isolate them just as much. For many families, costs associated with school — tuition, uniforms, supplies — make education inaccessible. But graduating with job skills is crucial to helping children break the poverty cycle. 

Compassion partners with a church in Songwut’s village that wanted children to have that opportunity. Church workers contacted the government education department to report that the teachers, who were supposed to teach 20 days out of the month, were showing up for fewer than 10 days a month in some cases. The report helped a little. Some teachers began coming more often. But they’d lost their captive audience.

During the rainy season, the sole dirt road into Kotah becomes a muddy, impassable mess. The only way in or out is to ride an elephant or brave walking through the dense jungle. This villager cares for elephants and helps people who need rides.

250 million primary-school-age children worldwide cannot read, write or do basic math.

“When the teachers finally did come for a few days, the children had lost all interest in learning, and it was hard to get them back into school,” says Sayan Kangkiew, a Compassion program worker at the church.

So the church started looking for help within the village. They found two qualified teachers who live in Kotah and began paying them to teach children at the church-based Compassion center.

“The change in the children is heartening,” Sayan says of the new school system in Kotah. “We have some geniuses here! Songwut has really learned to love math. He is so fast, now he can do it faster than me.” 

With the help of the local church, Compassion and his sponsor, Songwut will have more choices for his future. “I want my son to have a different life,” says his father.

Whether or not Songwut becomes a mechanic, he has already given his family hope by learning something his father never did — to read and write.

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When schoolteachers stop showing up for work in a hard-to-reach village, Compassion’s local church partners intervene on children’s behalf.

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Longing to Learn

When schoolteachers stop showing up for work in a hard-to-reach village, Compassion’s local church partners intervene on children’s behalf.