It is for good reasons that teacher Sopha Petkaeo, who pioneered teaching batik at Chaloem Phra Kiat Somdet Phra Sri Nakharin School, Nakhon Si Thammarat province is proud. The creations emerging from the school’s batik learning centre were selected as souvenirs for tourism in the east coast of southern Thailand. However, the teacher is most proud of the bond between the teacher and students to develop from this learning centre. As such, she coins the batik pieces crafted from the centre as “fabric of goodness.”
“The (batik) project creates love and harmony, fostering love towards work and among friends and teachers. Every group of students who graduated will come back to visit the school and convene at the learning centre every year. When they’re here, they get to see both the teachers and the work,” teacher Sopha said with a happy expression on her face.
Teacher Sopha started teaching batik at Chaloem Phra Kiat Somdet Phra Sri Nakharin School since 2003. At the time, the school had just made batik an elective subject in its curriculum in compliance with the One District One Dream School programme. The goal is to develop the school as a learning centre for youths.
Referring to the past, the teacher commented, “The children were very interested. When we opened for application, 50-60 children came but we could only accept 20 because of limited budget.”
During that time, World Vision Foundation of Thailand’s (WVFT) Sa Pleang project had started its development work in Chaloem Phra Kiat district and was sponsoring a number of children at Chaloem Phra Kiat School. WVFT foresaw that making batik could become a livelihood skill which can sustain the children well in the future. It therefore provided training on making batik for 30 students in grade 7 to 8 as well as supplied materials for use at school.
“It was during term break in 2005 when we had theory and practical training for 7 full days. After the training, the children could straight away make handkerchiefs and scarves and took them home to show to their parents. Some children have special artistic skills. When they draw on paper, their talent is not so obvious so the parents couldn’t see it. But when they draw pictures on a fabric, it’s more obvious,” teacher Sopha said.
Consequently Chaloem Phra Kiat School’s batik-making activity continued to flourish until it attracted the attention of local organisations.
“If we didn’t have WVFT at that time, many organisations wouldn’t have seen us. Afterwards, the sub-district and provincial administrative organisations stepped in to support the school to start the batik community project. The project travels to various communities to teach villagers to make batik, which is a big project,” said teacher Sopha.
Having received training in batik, ‘Bank’, a sponsored child in Sa Plaeng project built on his skills by disseminating his knowledge through the batik community project. Furthermore, it enabled him to earn extra income.
“I actually started to make batik in grade 8 because I wanted to earn my own money and relieve my parents’ burdens. When I was in Grade 10, I started to make them on bigger pieces of fabric,” Bank recalled.
Since then, Bank has been teacher Sopha’s number 1 assistant in creating batik for Chaloem Phra Kiat School’s learning centre. He is now in his final year studying at Ramkhamhaeng University’s Faculty of Law and has to spend most of his time in Bangkok. Nevertheless, the distance does not obstruct his work.
“I asked the teacher for a set of materials to use in Bangkok. When there is work, the teacher will phone me to say that she wants this particular pattern. I’d do the design and send it back to her,” Bank explained. The teacher would subsequently clean the batik fabric through boiling and washing processes prior to selling them.
Teacher Sopha looked at her protégé with joy and added, “He works his way through school without troubling his family. During term break he would come back to teach younger students.” Then she turned towards the young woman who was advising students on batik-making processes. She said, “That’s teacher Orn who was trained in the same group as Bank. She’d also come to help teach.”
Over the last decade, hundreds of young batik makers were borne from Chaloem Phra Kiat’s learning centre and Teacher Sopha’s teaching.
Sporting a smile, the teacher said, “I let grade 7 students learn the basics. But when they move up to Grade 9, students who show special interest must be able to create batik pieces for exhibition. Many children have a starting point here and have gone on to adapt their knowledge. Some became teachers and others artisans.”