My Pride and Joy of Being a Bilingual Teacher
A story of an Akha person who has become a crucial part in raising awareness of education in his community and providing the ethnic students in the remote school access to education, confidence, and readiness to communicate in Thai so that they can be more integrated to the public education.
Story by Chaiyod Merlae
Story of Ahka
Location: Ban Ja Tee Village, Thoet Thai, Mae Fa Luang, Chiang Rai
I am Chaiyod Murlae (Yok), a twenty-four-year-old Akha living in Ban Ja Tee village, Mae Fah Luang District, Chiang Rai, Thailand. I am working as a Bilingual Teacher (BT) at Ban Ja Tee School. Before becoming a BT, I was an ordinary ethnic boy who studied hard hoping that one day, I would become an honored civil servant. So, after graduating from high school, I applied for a provincial university, University of Phayao, Science Program in Community Health and Bachelor of Laws Program. Unfortunately, due to my financial status, I could not afford to study there. Surrendered to my fate, I quitted the university and embarked on a working life thinking to myself that life had to go on.
I experienced many kinds of work such as construction, delivering packages, and factories. Until one day, I took a break after a year of hard work. I finally came home to visit my relatives in my home village. During the time, I heard a lot about the problems at school that the young people had been facing. One major thing was that they could not communicate well in Thai, so they did not want to go to school. For this reason, I started to find my way to assist the ethnic students in my community. I decided to visit Ban Ja Tee School’s principal and a teacher whom I know since I was a student. I discussed the problems that I heard with them, then I was offered a position as a caretaker of a male dormitory.  
A year passed, one day, I heard about Good Neighbors (Thailand) Foundation’s BT recruitment at the school. Since I had already been interested in this kind of work, I was not hesitant to take this chance to work for my beloved hometown. Ever since I have been helping the students dealing with different kinds of problems. I found that one of the root cause of problem in education here is the lack of confidence in speaking Thai with teachers and the inability to understand what teachers say. Most of them are too shy to communicate as they think that they are not good at Thai. Being a BT has given me a chance to be the medium between the community and the school.  Because the community people are Lahu and Akha, most of them cannot communicate with the teachers. Even though I am an Akha, I can also speak Lahu. So, whenever problems or concerns come up, I can always discuss them with the parents as well as the community people.
One of the root cause of problem in education here is the lack of confidence in speaking Thai with teachers and the inability to understand what teachers say. Most of them are too shy to communicate as they think that they are not good at Thai.
I can see that things have changed for the better. The parents used to think that it was better for the students to study downtown because local schools were worse. Now, they have become more trusting in sending the children to Ban Ja Tee School. Compared to before when the children could not comprehend their teachers, the ethnic students have improved because of BTs’ help in interpreting during the class. And, this results in an increasing number of ethnic students applying to the school. The parents have also started to come more forward to confide whenever they need help or would like to entrust the school to the care of their children.
All explain why I am faithful and love being a BT. Being a BT can help provide the ethnic students access to education and help promote collaboration between the school and community. It, moreover, encourages the parents to be more engaged and attentive to their children’s well-being. With kind support from Good Neighbors (Thailand) Foundation, I will wholeheartedly continue doing my best as a BT to support the school, parents, and students.
Good Neighbors (Thailand) Foundation is a non-governmental organization working to advocate human rights. Bilingual teachers and capacity building is one of the project activities to support ethnic minority children’s education in Chiang Rai.
Written by
Chaiyod Merlae
An Akha bilingual teacher living in Chiang Rai and working at Ban Ja Tee School to enhance the community children’s education and contribute contextual changes to the remote schools.