When Jenjira completed her education at the Northern School for the Blind in Chiang Mai, Thailand, her teachers wanted to give her every opportunity to succeed back home.
That opportunity came in the form of a washing machine – the seed of what would quickly grow into a self-sustaining business for the young woman and her family.
“After discussion with Jenjira, her family and her teachers, we gave her money to start a small laundry business at home,” said Siriporn Tantaopas, who oversees the Multiply-Disabled and Visually Impaired Department at the Northern School for the Blind, one of Perkins International’s partner organizations. The start-up was a welcome addition to Jenjira’s home village of SanTiSuk, a rural community that did not previously have laundry facilities. Before long, Jenjira had paid off the small loan to purchase the machine, and had set the foundation for a future of independence.
That concept of self-reliance resonates well with students who are eager to participate in society, added Tantaopas.
“The students always tell us that they are adults, and they would like to work as adults,” she said. “My students pride themselves on doing what they need to do to succeed. They are always excited to show their families their abilities.”
The Northern School for the Blind is a large program of approximately 200 students. Some of these students reside in a transitional living home where they learn tasks like housekeeping, meal planning and food preparation. They also have the opportunity to practice skills on a nearby farm in Palan Village including feeding farm animals, cutting firewood and cultivating rice and mushrooms.
Key to the students’ success at home is their teachers’ understanding of that very critical transition from school to adulthood, said Deborah Gleason, Perkins International’s coordinator for Asia/Pacific Programs.
“This is one of the most innovative programs in Asia,” she said. “The staff works very closely with every student’s home community to find out what’s needed and determine how the student can contribute when they return.”
Like Jenjira, many of the students come from rural communities located miles away. So staying connected with their villages, and taking the steps needed to ensure graduates thrive after they leave the safety net of the school, is no small matter.
“The teachers spend a great deal of time just traveling to get to students’ homes and making those connections in the community,” said Gleason. “Otherwise, the students might go home and not use any of what they learned. It’s a major commitment. But that’s what makes it so successful.”