Despite the mass exodus of teachers, there are those who refuse to leave
"Ask me if teaching is a risky job in the deep South? My answer is "Yes!" So are the jobs of being a solider or a policeman who has to take a risk almost on daily basis. But many of these people have not asked to be transferred to safer places because they believe in certain ideology. And our ideology is teaching because we are professional teachers,"
so said Mr Panja Chaisorn, a teacher at Ban Bang Manao school in Tambon Kaluwor Nua, Muang district of Narathiwat.
The above answer is sufficient to explain why Mr Panja has refused to ask for a transfer out of the violence-prone region despite the fact that teachers have lately become a favourite of violent attacks by suspected insurgents.
A total of 157 teachers or educators have been killed by suspected insurgents in the past nine years since a new wave of violence started back in January 2004. Of these, four teachers were shot dead and another seriously wounded within just a period of 19 days between November and December this year.
A native of southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Mr Panja was first posted to Ban Re-ngae school in Tambon Padungmart, Janae district of Narathiwat, about ten years ago. During the course of his teaching career, he found his lover – a kindergarten teacher – got married and decided to settle down in Narathiwat.
Panja said he understood why many teachers sought to get transferred back to their native towns under the “Return Home” programme. "This does not mean the departing teachers have no ideology. They may have wanted to return home to take care of their ageing parents," said the teacher who, although is entitled to return home in Nakhon Si Thammarat, has refused to do so.
Panja’s daily routine as a teacher is to arrive at school before eight o’clock in the morning. He has to travel about six kilometers from home to school every week days without being escorted by security details.
"The route that I have been traveling everyday is quite busy with many people traveling all the time. So there is no problem about security. And most teachers travel together in groups," said Panja.
The teacher said that he didn’t mind if he was not given a security escort. Most female teachers, he added, prefer to travel without being escorted because they feel that it would be safer to travel unescorted.
However, Panja said that he had to be always on the alert even in the school and would not venture out to risky areas or get out of home at night.
By living a humble and simple life and with people in the same community watching over the shoulder of one another, the dedicated teacher believes that he will be able to take care of his family and live a happy and safe life in the restive region.
Another Thai Buddhist teacher who has chosen to live a life in Narathiwat despite the deadly threats from hardcore militants is Mr Vicharn Athikkapan, former director of Ban Manangkayee school in Muang district of Narathiwat and the former president of Federation of Southern Teachers.
The veteran teacher with 38 years of experience in teaching admitted that he managed to survive unscathed amidst the deadly threats “simply because the militants did not shoot me.
"They can shoot me anytime they want and, in such a case, I will be dead. We can’t be on the alert for 24 hours a day. Even if there are soldiers guarding the school during the weekdays. What about the weekends when we want to go out for some private business. Those who have wanted to attack us have the advantage," said Vicharn.
The retired teacher doubted that it would be possible for security forces to provide around-the-clock protection to school teachers.
"It is easier said than done because there won’t be enough policemen and soldiers to protect every teacher and every school," he said, adding that what needs to be done which can save the lives of teachers is for all the education offices in the region to stop holding teachers’ meetings beyond the hours when security is not provided and ban all activities outside school compound.
He also suggested that punitive actions be taken against members of the security forces if they failed in their job or protecting teachers.
Caption : Mr Vicharn Athikkapan, former director of Ban Manangkayee school in Muang district of Narathiwat and the former president of Federation of Southern Teachers.