A collaboration between National University of Singapore Pro Bono Group, Prince of Songkla University and Thammasat University
Supported by the Community Engagement Fund and National Youth Council Youth Expedition Fund
On the 2nd to 10th of January 2015, a team of 18 NUS Law students, alongside two NUS Lecturers -Ms. Sheila N. Hayre from NUS Law and Ms Rungnapa Kitiarsa from the NUS Centre of Language Studies (known affectionally as Ajarn Tukta) – embarked on a 9-day trip to two vastly different regions in Thailand (Hat Yai and Bangkok) to learn and promote the pro bono culture and spirit.
ABOUT THAI-ED WITH LOVE 2016
Thai-ed with Love 2016, now in its second instalment, is an overseas Pro Bono project organised by the NUS Pro Bono Group in collaboration with Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai and Thammasat University in Bangkok. Students from Chulalongkorn University were also invited to join us during the Bangkok leg of the trip. Over the span of 9 days, over 100 participants from 4 different institutions and professors from the various universities joined us. In order to promote the objectives of the trip – to promote pro bono culture and facilitate exchanges between participants about various pro bono projects – we adopted a Thinking-Learning-Reflecting- Acting (TLRA) pedagogy. Students were encouraged to think about the social issues that they were interested in as well as the issues that were relevant to their communities. Next, each school presented the different types of projects that they were engaged in so they everyone could learn from each others’ experiences and see how pro bono work was done in a different environment. We also had field trips to potential beneficiaries and communities to learn more about the social issues first-hand. Everyone was constantly made to reflect on the daily programmes and made to share what they have learnt as we wanted students to take away something more than just enjoying the programmes. From here, we hope that each student had taken away something from the project and would act on what they have learnt to initiate their own projects in their communities. We hope that the students from the different universities will be made aware about the various problems within their society, learn about these problems through real-life experiences, then reflect on how they can act upon these knowledge to help the people. The trip was split into two segments – the Hat Yai leg and the Bangkok leg. With two vastly different locations and different backdrops, we hope that participants can get an insight to the different problems that these societies face and understand that there is no one-size-fit-all solution to any problem.
HAT YAI LEG: PRINCE OF SONGKLA UNIVERSITY (PSU)
The activities at the Hat Yai leg of Thai-ed with Love were centred on three core questions: (a) what is pro bono; (b) why is pro bono important / necessary and (c) how can pro bono work be done. These questions, which were the foci of the activities, were meant to create a foundation for all the participations in their learning process.
Our programmes kicked off with an ice-breaking game called Name Tag Switch. The participants had to introduce themselves to each other and had to include what kind of social issues interested them. Everyone then had to switch their name tags and take on the role of the person with whom they swapped their name tag! Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely and also got to know more about the different kinds of issues that everyone was interested in. We realised that many of the NUS students were interested in migrant workers issues while the PSU students were interested in issues pertaining to human rights.
After a short session of Goal Setting for the subsequent days of the programmes, NUS Pro Bono Group held a sharing session of the types of pro bono activities that we conducted back home in Singapore. The PSU students were particularly attentive as they were interested in forming their own pro bono club.
One of the most popular programmes that we conducted was Been There, Done That. All the participants were made to take a stand on certain statements that were read out relating to social issues and to explain why they enjoyed or would not have enjoyed doing the activity described in the statement. The students were very interested to hear some of the anecdotes and experiences that their peers had gone through and many were inspired by the stories of why their peers tirelessly engaged in pro bono activities. We’d even learnt from some of them the initiatives that their university has, or the advocacy work that they’ve done outside! Despite the language barrier, everyone had a meaningful time learning from each other what they’ve done, and to hear views about various social issues in the different countries.
The first day of programmes concluded with Poverty Banquet. An idea that PBG has used before (which has proven to be rather effective), participants were made to play the game while adopting the role of a certain class in society (“putting them into the shoes of others”) so that they will understand the problems faced by the different groups of people. Participants definitely had fun, but amidst the fun, they learnt about the problems plaguing the underprivileged in their societies – how they are exploited by unscrupulous employers, how they can only find low-paying jobs etc and why they should start to be concerned about the people in their communities living in such conditions.
After learning about what pro bono is all about, and understanding why pro bono work is important, we did a field trip to Samila Beach to learn more about one of their projects, Beach4Life. The students from the Prince of Songkla University working on this project explained to us the problems that the beach was facing. As a result of the installation of power plants, breakwaters and sea walls, the coast was being eroded and the shoreline was had receded significantly. This had significant impact on the communities living near the shore and also impacted the tourism industry. The PSU students worked with the various stakeholders in an attempt to get the government to stop creating man-made structures on the beach as these were the major perpetrators for the erosion. The students shared about how they assembled all the evidence and even went to Court to explain to the Judge about the problem! It was truly very inspiring for all the participants!
Following the site visit, we went to Songkla Forum, which is an organisation that aims to make youths from the area more cognisant of the problems in the community. Beach4Life was one of the projects administered by Songkhla Forum. Advocates from Beach4Life and Songkla Forum shared with the participants their experiences and their motivations for commencing the project. It was a great opportunity for everyone to learn – one of the Profs from Prince of Songkla also shared his experiences as well!
On our last day at Hat Yai, the students put up a Cultural Performance from the Prince of Songkla University – we were touched by their gestures and particularly amused when they attempted to teach some of the participants from NUS how to dance! (They are definitely a lot more talented than the participants from NUS!)
The Client Interview programme was next – in a simulated environment, the participants attempted to interview clients from different backgrounds. Through this activity, we hope that the participants will be able to understand how to use their knowledge and skills towards pro bono work, and through the simulations, we hope that they can get a controlled taste of how some pro bono projects are conducted.
Participants were also given an opportunity to think about some of the projects that they wish to do, and how they would go about doing it in the segment – How to do pro bono work. This was adapted from a programme conducted by students from the University of Queensland, Australia at the BABSEA Conference, which was held in Myanmar in 2015.
Other than passion and enthusiasm, participants need to weigh the resources that they have – time, money, manpower and professional assistance – to determine whether the project is feasible or not. This often-overlooked part aims to give participants a more realistic view of the constraints of pro bono work and what they can and should do to overcome the challenges they have. Many a times, projects have to come to a halt because of several constraints that are faced by students, and this could have been resolved should they think about the potential problems they may face in the course of their work.
Our stay in PSU was truly amazing, with many thanks to the hospitality from the Faculty and the support of the Dean of the Law Faculty. With the conclusion of the activities in Hat Yai, we made preparations to leave what had become our home for the past 4 days, and set off towards Bangkok.
BANGKOK LEG: THAMMASAT UNIVERSITY
The first day of Bangkok started after a long 14-hour bus ride from Hat Yai to Bangkok – it’s over 1000 kilometres! However, what greeted us was a full day of exciting activities. We had the opportunity to visit two non-governmental organisations – theMercy Relief Centre and Duang Prateep Foundation and to learn about the good work they have been doing at the Khlong Toei slums. One of the activist at Duang Prateep Foundation has been working with the people in the slums for over 25 years and by luck we met the founder of the Foundation!
Some of their staff members also brought us around Khlong Toei slums, and it was an eye-opening experience for some of the participants. A lot of the participants had never dared to set foot into a slum because of their preconceived notions of what a slum would be like. They thought it would be extremely filthy and frequented by delinquents and gangs. However, the staff explained to everyone that many of these notions are a result of sensationalisation by the media and that the problems in the slums are often blown out of proportion. This experience has definitely eliminated some of the psychological barriers of the participants, which may potentially hinder them from wanting to do any pro bono work in the slums. Ironically, it’s the people living in the slums who face a lot of legal problems – from forceful evictions to unfair treatment – and law students are in a good position to educate them on their rights from what we’ve learnt in school!
The participants also got to learn from the legal representative of Mercy Relief Centre on how to apply their legal skills should they want to do work in non-governmental organisations. The work that Mercy Relief does is remarkable – one of the group they help is street children. They interview these children and understand more about the problems they face, and take action whenever necessary!
Participants from Thammasat University and Chulalongkorn University then joined us for another three days of activities. Planned in collaboration with Thammasat University Pro Bono Society, this was an opportunity for the Thammasat University participants who joined us last year to plan the activities! They can put what they’ve learnt and gathered from last year’s trip! One of the main activities planned was the visits to three different beneficiaries – each site provided a different experience for the participants. One of the sites was the Saphan-Mai Community. The participants were brought around a slum. Dissimilar to Khlong Toei, the government has launched a program to upgrade the slums. However, they technically remain illegal residents and can be evicted at the will of the government. This is where the students can come in to educate the locals on the legal implications.
Another activity planned was the Social Issues Conference. 2 speakers were invited – one was a student from the Thammasat Pro Bono Society; the other was a Judge (Mr Watchara Neitivanich) that was involved in Intellectual Property law! The participants were then given an opportunity to engage these speakers in a robust debate – asking them about the scope of their work and how they have started pro bono work and what motivates them.
After more than one year of preparation, Thai-ed with Love 2016 has come to an end. Thai-ed with Love has come a long way, even receiving recognition at the 11th NUS Student Achievement Awards for Projects (New Initiative). From the Reflections Journal this year, we have seen a lot of thinking and reflections and we are optimistic that the participants will make positive changes to their community. In fact, you can read about the experience from one of the Prince of Songkla University participant at this link:https://mieeeeeeeeeeee.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/skip-thelessons- for-a-weekwhat-ive-got/. Thai-ed with Love 2016 is a step forward towards fruition of a cogent pro bono scene in Thailand, and a small step towards promoting pro bono regionally. Prince of Songkla University has already pledged monies and students for next year’s project, and all of us are definitely excited about what is to come. We hope that a collaborative, sustainable pro bono conversation will continue, which will eventually lead to the growth of pro bono work across the region.
Shawn Teo | Project Director, Thai-ed with Love 2016 | Vice President, NUS Pro Bono Group
Wesley Aw | Vice Project Director, Thai-ed with Love 2016