Sowing the seeds of education to serve ethnic minorities in Thailand

The threat of rain did not dampen the clear joy of the first students of Xavier Learning Community. It was the official opening and blessing of their school, the Bishop of Chiang Mai was presiding at the Mass and more than 300 people had made their way to this rural part of northern Thailand just for this occasion.

Xavier Learning Community (XLC) officially opened on August 19 with a Mass presided by Bishop Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana of the Diocese of Chiang Mai. Its 44 students were everywhere at the event despite officially being on holiday. They were obviously happy to help as needed – ushers, tour guides, photographers, servers, entertainers, etc. Their excitement and happiness was almost palpable for XLC offers them an alternative, safe future.

“We are here because of a need for good education. We want to achieve our full potential, not just for ourselves but others as well. We want to break down barriers, dispel prejudices and remove all forms of discrimination. Together we will build a society where people live in peace, without blame, hate or condescension,” wrote Adiruj Mherkher and Suwani Bunyuenkun, who have been assigned to handle student communications at XLC.

Aged 19 to 24, the students had begun their studies unofficially two months earlier with a summer course held from May 2 to August 3 to build their computer and English language skills. The integrated course was necessary in order for them to manage the coursework for the English programme in XLC.

XLC is located in Tambon ThakhaoPlueak, Amphoe Maechan, 8 km from the Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. It is an area with acute socio political challenges. It is home to many indigenous communities in Thailand with their rich traditions and cultures and where there are limited basic services, low levels of education and limited higher education opportunities.

“Many tribal youth in the north of Thailand do not have opportunities in studying and developing their abilities because of limited financial resources and social inequality,” said Fr Sugiyo Pitoyo SJ, Superior of the Thailand Jesuit Region. “XLC opens a chance for them to develop themselves in the Jesuit way known as ‘caring for the whole person’ whether in learning or developing their abilities or emphasising their virtues. They are also able to foster their life skills and learn much from many and various sources,” he added.

Fr Pitoyo said that considerable effort was made to ensure that the first students would be from the communities that the Jesuits in Thailand seek to serve with their education project. They asked the bishops of the northern dioceses, Catholic institutions and youth centres working closely with ethnic minorities, and local schools to recommend students.

We are here because of a need for good education. We want to achieve our full potential, not just for ourselves but others as well.

XLC began its academic year on September 11 in a single building blessed by Bishop Vira that houses classrooms, the small Jesuit community and the student dormitories in three floors. This is a temporary situation as construction has already begun on what will be the official school buildings.

The students can actually watch their future college being built, for XLC is but the first phase of what will one day be Xavier College.

For the next few years, the education project will operate as Xavier Learning Centre, offering an English summer course with a certificate from Sanata Dharma University in Indonesia and a four-year degree English language programme through the distance learning programme of Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

According to Fr Pitoyo, the plan is to take in 35 to 40 new students each year until it reaches 140 to 160 students in 2020, its fourth year of operation. In their fourth year of studies, the students will be able to choose one of three tracks – English for Eco-tourism and Hospitality Management, English for Sustainable Business Management and English for Teaching. These three tracks will be the majors offered by the future Xavier College.

“The Xavier Learning Community is like a small seed sown by the Jesuits that has grown with the support and help of many people,” said Fr Pitoyo. “We hope that we will continue to receive the support and prayers of everyone.”

View more photos of the event below:

The Xavier Learning Community building

Blessing and inauguration of Xavier Learning Community

Thailand Jesuit Region Superior Fr Sugiyo Pitoyo SJ and Bishop Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana lead the blessing and inauguration of the new school

Bishop Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana celebrates the Mass

XLC students actively participate despite being officially on a holiday

Heads of Jesuit colleges and universities in Asia Pacific concelebrate the Mass

Bishop Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana cuts the ribbon on what will
one day be Xavier College

Exhibit during the opening of Xavier Learning Community

XLC students entertain guests with a traditional dance

XLC students perform a traditional dance

Thailand Regional Superior Fr Sugiyo Pitoyo SJ addresses
guests at XLC's inauguration

Big smiles for the inauguration

Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Asia Pacific delegates with Bishop Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana

AJCU delegates and Bishop Arpondratana joined by XLC students