Have you ever heard of a place in Thailand where English lessons in conversation, reading, writing and grammar are offered free of charge for Thai children and adults? Who do you think owns this center? Is it a Thai? an American? a British person perhaps?
Well, the owners are Edison Apostol and Lota Apostol from the Philippines. They are foreign English teachers in the Chulalongkorn University English Teachers Project. They have been in Thailand for eight years now. Edison was a Chemistry graduate. He became a teacher after seeing someone else teach in the Philippines at The Manila Sanitarium and Hospital. He earned 21 units in education and got his teaching license shortly afterwards. Lota was a Bachelor of Science graduate in education with a major in English.
They have been running the center for half a decade now. When asked how they started the center, they said that it was Lota's dream ever since they were married in the Philippines 15 years ago. She didn't know that this dream would one day be realized here in Thailand. If you happen to pass by Tiwanon Road Soi 34 in Pak Kret, Nonthaburi, the center can be found there.
When the center was first established, communicating with students was the major problem. In fact, Edison and Lota had to resort to sign and body language to make the students understand. Providing facilities for the center was fotunately not a burden though. Fans, tables, books and various other neccesities were kindly donated by the parents. Storytelling, especially Bible stories, and question and answer sessions are just a few of the strategies they use at the cente. So far with these strategies, students have become confident in speaking. In fact many students in the center have served as translators fo their parents.
Getting students to come to the center is easy because it is near a public high school and students passing by get to know that the center exists. Once a student enrolls, he/ she usually brings along a classmate or a curious friend. An average of 25 students come every weekend to learn English. The biggest number of students has been 40. The students are aged five and above and they are the children of drivers, office workers, businessmen, and even a retired general. Sustaining the students' interest in learning at the center is not difficult because students have self- motivation. However, the center gives free T-shirts, free bags and other goodies as rewards for learning. Edison, Lota, and two other volunteers are the main teachers at present.
The couple's earnings from their daytime job in Nonthaburi government schools are more than enough to make ends meet and to support their son's high school studies. They live a contented life most likely because they reap the rewards of offering their expertise for free.
Running the center gives them the fulfillment of being able to do good, to help others, to give blessings to people, to make life worth living, and to make a difference in this world. Some of their former students have eventually gone on to study abroad and become top in their English classes. One former student, now at Silpakorn University in Phetchaburi, is number one in her class. Many of their students get good grades in English and have acquired confidence to speak. As one friend said - the students in this center are immersed in a learning atmosphere where students interact in a natural and a non-threatening environment.
Several parents sincerely hope that the center will not close so that it can continue teaching English this way. Students feel the same way - and that's why they never get tired of coming to the center.
Edison and Lota ahave often been overwhelmed by Thai generosity. Their landlord permits the center to operate in his apartment and extends help by allowing the use of the vacant lot nearby for the center's activities. The parents of the students are very supportive of their children too. They give great importance to the learning of a second language. This is beneficial for theThai students now that the country is preparing for the 2015 ASEAN Community. As a gesture of appreciation, the parents often treat the teachers by taking them on day trips or inviting them to special family functions and parties..
On February 12, which was Edison's birthday, another English center was opened in Pathumthani. This came is in response to requests from students who became familiar or aware of the original center.
So if we want to experience a more rewarding life - just like the two philanthropists in this story, we too can follow in their footsteps. Giving without counting the cost is indeed the noblest work we can do for the children of our friends in a country that has become our second home.