Michael “Beaux” Mudd, 128 TCCS
It’s Christmas time in the village.
Preparations are in full effect at Ban Samyod for this year’s Christmas celebration. Students are creating Christmas cards, wrapping fake presents, cutting paper snow flakes, and a first grader is singing Jingle Bells (her version anyway) as I write this. It really doesn’t matter that none of the students actually celebrate Christmas or any of the other holidays many celebrate this time of year, because they simply enjoy coloring pictures of the jolly fat man and stating emphatically that I am indeed that same person. They enjoy thinking about Christmas trees, candy canes, snow, and just being kids.
The kids aren’t comparing me to Santa merely because I’m a big fellow that happens to have a beard; last year I dressed up as Santa at the end of our celebration party, albeit in a red Santa hat, black shirt, and black pants due the recent passing of the King. I recall from that day the foolish decision to toss handfuls of snacks and candy from the massive (also black) bag and watching in horror as students crawled and climbed over each other like something out of a black Friday scene. Daily now the students will look at me and mention to their friends and in particular the new students that I will be Santa again. I playfully joke with them that I have no idea what they are talking about and we all smile.
An event in Thailand would not be complete without a singing competition, and Samyod’s celebration will not disappoint. This year’s entertainment at the event will come from my favorite class, which happens to be my third graders. My counterpart found other songs such as jingle bell rock (Which I would have enjoyed doing) but because of limited time and primarily the fact that we learned jingle bells last year, that will be our song. As one that doesn’t particularly like to sing in public, I’ve found this to be so much fun, as the students love the song and singing in general. Over the next two weeks we will be practicing to perfect the lyrics and adding hand movements for the song to make it as enjoyable (and silly) for the kids as possible.
Despite the inevitable headaches that the adults can bring to this event, it’s more than worth it seeing the joy in the kids’ faces as they practice singing. For me, I truly want the students to enjoy the activities we do leading up to the party. I see the school and students being open to Christmas as an opportunity to welcome that willingness and help cultivate it so they will continue to enjoy learning about new ideas and cultures as they grow up and become adults. Christmas has always been a fun time for me and I hope to make it a time my students enjoy and look back on with fondness.
As Peace Corps volunteers, we came to Thailand with the hopes that we would empower the youth in rural Thailand; giving them the tools to succeed in the future. I know I for one have struggled with if I’ve made an impact and don’t even know exactly what that means some of the time. Within our Christmas party, there will be two fourth graders that will DJ the entire event; one will read a script that is in English and the other will translate in Thai. I believe this is a glimpse of the above statement actually happening. While my counterpart and myself wrote the script, the students will have to practice, comprehend the words, present the speech in front of the entire school, and did I mention they’re in fourth grade?! They’ll be nervous as can be expected, but they didn’t even think twice about doing it. Why? Because we started from day one and tried to make speaking English in front of people no big deal. We tried to make it ok to make a mistake in front of your friends, as long as you tried.
I really enjoy watching the effort the students here put into coloring and the pride they show in bringing me their finished products. I enjoy encouraging them through a holiday such as Christmas, to be open to trying to understand the world outside of their village, even if just a little. Coming from a small community myself, I understand the power of encouragement when it comes to learning about more than just your little corner of the world. I also look forward to playing that jolly old fat man, all the while trying to not throw the candy in bunches again, if for no other reason than to hopefully hear a student mutter, “He’s not fat, he’s just big”, and I’ll know my service is complete.