News From Masters
Rajani Dhongchai, co-founder of the first official alternative school in Thailand, described how the institution has improved the lives of its students during a Morning Meeting presentation on Tuesday, November 14.
Ms. Dhongchai and her husband founded the Children's Village School in the 1970s. The educator is the focus of 6 Weeks to Mother’s Day, a documentary that premiered at the Doc NYC film festival in New York City on November 16. Marvin Blunte, the filmmaker, and Ladawan Sondak, the producer, accompanied Ms. Dhongchai on stage in the Claudia Boettcher Theatre on Tuesday. Ms. Sondak served as her translator.
“Nestled in a remote jungle in Thailand is a unique school that is home for 150 underprivileged and orphaned children,” states a description of 6 Weeks to Mother’s Day at the Doc NYC website. “The students of the democratic Children’s Village have as much voice as their teachers, participating in council meetings to make key decisions about their education and community, gaining empowerment in the process. As the 35th anniversary of the school approaches, the children make preparations to honor its extraordinary founder, the woman they all call Mother Aew.”
A Buddhist, Ms. Dhongchai runs her boarding school with a slight Buddhist influence and is very active in social justice issues in Thailand, according to History and Religion teacher Ellen Cowhey, who arranged Ms. Dhongchai’s visit. Tuition is free at the school.
“The children are happy and confident in living their lives,” Ms. Dhongchai said of the Children’s Village students.
Asked what the students’ aspirations are, she replied, “To go on to higher education, to make their lives better, and to be good parents in the future.”
Mr. Blunte noted that the goal of the school is not necessarily that its graduates pursue professional careers as doctors, lawyers or the like. “The goal is for them to live happy lives.”
Ms. Dhongchai and her husband, Bibhop, were “disenchanted schoolteachers in the Thai formal education system when they decided to create their own school away from the urban centers that would emphasize ‘the four basic necessities of life – individual rights, innate freedom, love and mutual understanding,’ ” according to the book The Social Movement of Spiritually Engaged Alternative Education in Thailand.