Building A School On Koh Tao
Our school is on a remote island in the south of Thailand called Koh Tao. The school is home to a huge mix of cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. The majority of the students at the school are Burmese migrant children that live in shacks that are hidden in villages scattered around the island.
In 2014, my husband Lukas and I made a decision that would change the way we saw life forever. We left our lives as nightclub managers in Melbourne, Australia and began a new life on the small island of Koh Tao (Turtle Island).
Our new home on the island backed onto a large Burmese migrant village. Children in the village had nothing to do and would often end up playing on our balcony and eventually inside the house with our son’s toys. Many parents were sending their children away to school because no educational opportunity existed for them in Burmese or English. It became clear that this was also the case for many Thai families too. Many children were being sent to the mainland without their parents. Desperate to educate their children, the families of Koh Tao were breaking up in search of better opportunities and a chance at a brighter future.
To make matters worse, school’s in Burma are very under resourced and under funded. The conditions often lacking in adequate sanitation, and it is often considered risky in some areas to send your child to school.
So we purchased an international curriculum with our life savings and hired a teacher, using a friend’s balcony as a classroom. We began to hold fundraisers, used income from expatriate students and a big Go Fund Me campaign that was supported by a celebrity. Suddenly we had filled a building, then two buildings, then a daycare and now we are sitting at 80 students. We rent buildings scattered all over a neighbourhood called Jitsin. We don’t fit well but we make it work and our kids are doing incredibly well, including our expatriate students, who go home to Europe, Australia and other western countries fitting back into mainstream schools.
What makes us unique is that we are using several curriculums and styles of teaching. The learning experience goes beyond just math and language. The children are being raised within the school to become good learners in life and to think for themselves, how to find answers and form their own opinions. In some countries this is all a given, but in Burma and Thailand it is not the way education is taught. As a result the children will culturally follow their families into poverty, lacking the skills to seek more or perhaps not know how to aspire for more even when they have the education to do so. It is a grassroots issue that can be easily resolved with a strong foundation of learning experiences and a positive educational culture instilled within the community. We aspire to one day have a campus for our school and to be a sustainable blueprint for many schools to come.
Breaking the cycle of poverty is as simple as offering an opportunity to learn how to learn.
Born in Melbourne, Australia Claire founded Koh Tao International Primary in 2014 with husband Alexander Lundberg. Completing an Advanced Diploma of Legal Practice at RMIT University in 2002, Claire ended up founding an acting school The Actors Nest with friend & actor Paul O’brien in 2010 while managing her family business, the iconic St Kilda nightclub Robarta in Melbourne. During her 20’s Claire travelled all over South East Asia spending a lot of time in the rural areas of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Lao. Claire spent a year living in Bangkok, Thailand and her favourite holiday spot was the island of Koh Tao.
In 2009, Claire travelled to Samoa for a holiday and met a young pregnant teenager who went into pre-mature labor only a few days later. Claire cared for the young mother and her very small infant, treating the mother for infection and teaching the mother to cup feed her baby that had no sucking reflex. The baby was named after Claire not long after birth in recognition of the love she had shown for the baby. This was without doubt the beginning of the School Founder’s love for charity work.