“Education,” said George Washington Carver, “is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”
The freedom to think critically, explore new opportunities, and discover one’s place in the world is something the majority of people in America enjoy. For us, the question isn’t whether our child will finish their education, but rather if they’ll go to college and where.
For the children I met in the mountain villages of northern Thailand, though, education isn’t a given. Sweeping mountain views and long stretches of cornfields tucked into the valleys below make it a beautiful place to live. The fresh air and peace and quiet would be the envy of most parents. But for children who reach sixth grade, education hits a wall.
For further education, families have to relocate to a larger city. Since putting up a For Sale sign outside the family bamboo hut is hardly feasible, children often quit school, get married early (some when they are just fourteen years old), have children right away, and work the fields. Others move to the cities and end up in prostitution.
Jasper Kids Foundation, located in a nearby city, provides a home away from home for these kids. They get free schooling in town. The staff help kids with their homework; teach them life skills; teach them English, a highly sought-after skill; tell them about God; and just love on the kids.
Many children come from surrounding villages and can visit their parents when school isn’t in session. Others, like David and Jonathan, come from troubled homes within the city. David, 5, and Jonathan, 7, have different fathers. One father abandoned the family; the second committed suicide. Their mother is mentally challenged. The government officials reached out to Jasper Kids to give David and Jonathan a home.
A Different Education
The day I visited Jasper Kids home, I was invited to a pad thai dinner with thirty of the children. (Talk about the biggest wok of pad thai you’ve ever seen!).
I looked forward to sitting down to a heap of steaming pad thai and plates of sautéed morning glory greens, a Thai dish I’d come to love. Reaching the table, however, I discovered an addition to the menu—a plate of crispy-fried crickets.
It turns out that while I was touring Jasper Kids’ grounds and dorms, hanging out in the kitchen and conversing with the staff, my friend had sent the kids out to catch crickets for dinner.
At this juncture I was thinking critically (very!), not particularly eager to explore this new opportunity, and unsure how the discovery of this cuisine would fit into my world. But I forged ahead and took a bite. Not bad. In fact, quite good. A little like a crispy-fried chicken tender minus the antenna.
We tend to place a great deal of emphasis on certificates and degrees. But sometimes life, and travel in particular, presents us with the opportunity for education that can’t be achieved through books. It throws open the door to new discoveries, a fresh way of thinking, hands-on learning, or in my case, the chance to experience a new type of cuisine.
I am at Noot and JJ’s house tonight in Chiang Mai. No crickets yet. They were both former students of mine and as I listened to their story I couldn’t believe the difference they have made in the lives of so many.