Moo Baan Dek raises kids to be powers for good in the world


Sarah Faber, Social Media Manager

Rajani Dhongchai, affectionately known as Mae Aew, and her husband, Piphop Dhongchai, started Moo Baan Dek, an alternative education school for underprivileged children, around the time when Thailand was adopting democracy as its government. Rajani Aew had taught in public schools but didn’t really like it, and was inspired by A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School to do something more for students. Since its conception, their philosophy has been simple–raise children with values of freedom, empowerment, equality, and compassion, and they will become functioning members of a democracy and happier human beings.

Children come to Moo Baan Dek by way of state social workers or charity organizations. Around 150 students live at the site, many of them have been abused, abandoned, and orphaned.

Every day starts at 6:00 a.m. with work in the farms and cleaning chores, followed by breakfast, a morning bath, yoga, and prayer/meditation. The children then sing the Thai national anthem, and have a morning class that they can choose to attend or not. If they choose not to attend, students will “learn by doing”. Documentary film-maker Marvin Blunte told a story of one child who followed him around while he was filming 6 Weeks to Mother’s Day, for the purpose of studying Blunte and his work. The student was not punished, and the teacher explained to him that this was a normal thing for the children to do.

After morning classes and lunch, the children choose a workshop to attend in the afternoon. Choices include weaving, ceramics, music, batik, and electronics. After workshops is a rest period, dinner, and bedtime around 9:30 p.m.

Every Friday, there is a meeting with the entire community. While executive at Masters lasts about 40 minutes, at Moo Baan meetings last for around three to four hours at a time. Every single member of the community is present and has an equal voice. In a room with hard benches, a temperature of at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above, 200 individuals gather; they debate issues and pass policies for the school. This method teaches students that their voice matters, and shows them the power they have as members of a democratic community, Rajani explained. The emphasis put on self-worth and the value of one’s voice is one of the methods Moo Baan employs to have children grow up to break the cycle of abuse that they have endured.

The commitment to understanding your voice transfers far beyond the classroom.

“When I was there, they were protesting against a pipeline,” explains Upper School World Religions teacher Ellen Cowhey, who spent a little over two and a half years teaching English at Moo Baan.

“It was going from Burma into Thailand to carry gas, but on the Burma side, they were using the hill tribe people as slaves to do this labor. It was also very impactful on the environment– it was messing with the wild elephants in the path, and creating big roads into ancient teakwood forests that allowed illegal loggers access to cut down trees. We went in, and we were camping in the woods, sitting in front of big bulldozers, bathing in streams. There were little children and adults, and it was like, ‘This is how you learn about democracy.’”

Happiness is emphasized most at Moo Baan Dek. Though choosing their own path and having ownership of their education, children are able to be happy and fulfilled. Instead of trying to shape kids to be great doctors and lawyers,  Rajani explained at morning meeting, teachers aim to shape kids to be powers for good in the world.