Make a Difference Experience

Cornish College Year 9 students travel to Thailand as part of the MADE program

The Year 9 Make A Difference Experience (MADE) at Cornish College is part of a program that encompasses all of Year 9. Now in its third year, we take all Year 9 students out of the classroom to Thailand for 17 days. MADE is their focus for two weeks of the third-term holidays and the first week of Term 4. Across the year, the learning in the classroom is connected to the experience.

The class arrives in Bangkok to experience a large Asian city with its culture, food, climate and more. The class then travels west to the regional city of Kanchanaburi where students experience some of Australia’s connection with Thailand.

In English classes, students have read and studied The Line, a novel telling the story of Arch Flanagan, an Australian soldier during the Second World War, and the infamous Thai-Burma Railway. The connections and understandings are very powerful when, having read about one man’s experiences there, students actually walk through Hellfire Pass, outside Kanchanaburi. To stand where Arch Flanagan stood and hear students talk about ‘This is where Arch worked during the War” is a most moving experience. To visit the war cemetery and pause for a moment of reflection at the gravesite of a soldier whom they have identified and researched before leaving Australia makes the experience more meaningful — these were real people.
Travelling northwest brings the class to Mae Sot on the border between Thailand and Myanmar. This is not the tourist Thailand. Here the class experiences the refugee situation first hand. Connections to Asia were made in the subject of Global Sustainability, so that when students step into Thailand they have an understanding of the geography, the current politics, how the economy works and the rich history.

Through the study of indigenous peoples, students better understand the plight of the Karen people of Myanmar when they see the refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, some as large as 50,000 people. There is also a context for the broader discussions in Australia regarding refugees and their treatment. Visiting a medical clinic in Mae Sot, staffed by volunteers, introduces some students to another aspect of volunteering.

Further north, the class spends five days in a village living and working with the local community. Over the past two years, Cornish College has worked in Meh Oog Kei, Sokhraekla and Mae Salid Noi to contribute to the community through building a drying room for the wet season, building a community kitchen and hall, or renovating the school. Students get to know the children of the village and understand village life. On the surface, the children seem to have very little, but the Cornish College students soon realise that they have what is most important — they have community and they are happy. It puts things into perspective for our consumer-driven society.

Before arriving in Thailand, students have been involved in fundraising the money for the projects that are determined by the village community. The class travels to the northern cities of Mae Sariang and Chiang Mai to further experience the culture of Thailand and understand that Australians and Thai people have similar values and it is what we have in common that can be stronger than our differences. Students spend three days at the Elephant Conservation Centre in Chiang Mai working with the elephants and contributing to elephant conservation before returning to Bangkok. The final days in Bangkok are spent exploring the Chao Praya River.

After returning to Australia, students present their learning and understandings to their parents and the Cornish community through an exhibition held in the second-last week of the year. Students understand that they can make a difference in the lives of others and also that this experience has made a difference to their own lives.

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