Slaughterhouse School, Bangkok
Behind a high chain link fence is an open-aired and almost wall-less building beneath a dark and dirty fibreglass roof, where early each morning 105 three-to-six-year-olds arrive to learn Thai, how to count, personal hygiene, and animal, fruit and vegetable names in English, and more.
This is the Mercy Centre Preschool, in the Poonsab, the oldest quarter of Bangkok’s oldest and sprawling slum.
The preschool is known as ‘The Slaughterhouse School’, given the slaughterhouse – open-aired and almost wall-less building beneath a low fibreglass roof, at the mirror end of the wide alley that runs between the two buildings – is the structural twin of the preschool.
Most of the preschool children’s parents work at the slaughterhouse, or at the nearby port authority, or as cleaners in the wealthy high rises in the near distance, or in the sex trade. Teenage pregnancy and drug abuse is common among the parents; and many of the preschool children are looked after by their grandparents, some of whom are only in their 40s.
The girls and boys at the school are as cheeky and noisy (and, equally, attentive when the teachers call them to lesson or activity), beaming, bright-eyed and scarpering about as any other children. They each have self-appointed nicknames like Peanut, Pizza and Seven-Eleven.
One in five children arrive at the school malnourished. All of them are given rice, milk, fruit, and vegetables twice daily, take an afternoon nap, and diligently learn the Thai alphabet (44 consonants and 14 vowels, forming words that can have as many as five different pronunciations and meanings).
“If you know how to write in the formal way,” the head teacher says, “everybody will know you have been to school, and it will help you get a job. If not, you don’t have a hope of finding work.”
The oldest children (those in their third year at the preschool, and perhaps six-or seven-years old) go on to elementary school following a graduation ceremony, complete with robes and certificates. For most of these children, it will be the only time they experience graduation.
INTO Giving – which really means you, your colleagues, mates and students at your centre or office – is supporting the preschool this year with a donation of £5,000 that will go miles and miles towards giving these children the hope of a better life by helping to fund the teachers and providing the classrooms with basic materials like paper and pencils.