By Pratch Rujivanarom
A teacher uses performance art to help students
SITUATED in the heart of Bangkok, the Klong Toei slum has always been a “black hole” of social ineptitude fuelled by drugs, poverty and broken families. However, a remarkable teacher from nearby Sunruam Namjai School has been using performance art to keep her students away from drugs by boosting their self-esteem and fostering the familial love that was lacking in their hopeless lives.
Natchata Thamthanakom realised that extreme poverty and the lack of familial support was a recipe for disaster in the slum.
“When I first came to the school 31 years ago, I was stunned by the environment and the slum nearby. Poor and shattered families lived together in the crowded, unpleasant place that was ravaged by drug problems. Within a few days of my arrival, my pocket was picked by one of my student,” Natchata recalls. “I finally found out who picked my pocket but rather than punish him, I realised how desperate these children were and knew they needed help to improve their lives. This is why I try to bring what I teach to save these children from going down the wrong path and let them recognise how important they are and how far they can develop themselves,” she explained.
Natchata, who is a winner of the Kunakorn prize, explained that many slum children get involved with drugs and drug dealing because they are poor and most of them are raised by their relatives rather than their own parents. The financial situation and lack of care and happiness in the family drive them toward a destructive existence because they can make quick, easy money from drugs and they feel a sort of camaraderie with the criminal element.
As a performance art teacher, she has been using the lessons that she teaches to give each student the ability to showcase their talent on stage to let them know how much they are appreciated and accepted.
“I usually arrange the performance art class after school to let the students practise Thai dance. I allow them to sing or do other kinds of performances that they prefer in order to give them the chance to use the time after school usefully. I also often register my students for contests so they can show off their abilities and be proud of themselves,” she said.
But providing a space for the students to improve their abilities and develop their personalities is not what sets Natchata apart from other teachers, it is her willingness to love and care for her students. “I always hug my students as it is the best way to show them that they have someone who loves them and cares for them because most slum children do not live with their parents and they lack the love that only a family can give,” she said.
Even though drug problems still exist in the slum community, she said her performance art classes have brought purpose to the lives of many of her students. She revealed that some of her former students from the slum have become talented musicians and artists on the international stage.
“One of my students was recently employed as an opera singer in Belgium after earning a degree there. I was very glad to hear that news. These are the benefits of being a teacher, to see my students grow well and be successful in their lives,” she said with a proud smile.
“The most important thing to be a teacher is to enjoy performing your duty. Teaching is not just a routine job; it always presents challenges that need to be tackled. We have to love the job, which is just as much about taking care of the children as it is about teaching them,” she added.
Yuthana Amrarong, chairman of Kidbuaksip Company and also one of Natchata’s former students, said it was Natchata’s kindness and teaching skills that enabled him to become a Thai dance teacher and establish his own company.
“She not only taught me Thai dance, but she also advised me on everything. By having an opportunity to study with her, she offered a chance for this slum boy to perform Thai dance in front of a foreign audience at the Fourth Culture Exchange Fair between Bangkok and Yayoshi, Japan. I’m very glad and proud of myself. That was the turning point of my life,” Yuthana said.