We are currently in an extremely interesting time for the Northern Programme just as November to February is every year!: We are coming to the end of the academic year for secondary schools, vocational colleges and some further education institutions. This means first of all that we have, but for a few difficult cases, completely finished the interviews and distribution of funds to all our existing scholarship students. The end of an academic year always means that there will be plenty of SLSF scholarship students graduating from their existing courses and from SLSF support. It is always sad to say farewell to individual students after many years of supporting them, getting to know them and seeing through their trials and tribulations. But it is also immensely fulfilling to see them graduate with useful qualifications which will hopefully take them on to successful careers which will be constructive and productive for them, their families (existing and future!) and the wider communities.
If the departure of so many existing SLSF students for pastures new were not enough, this time of year is also when all our efforts to recruit new students start to reach their climax! Throughout the year we try to gradually build up recruitment efforts for the following year, using partner organizations and academic institutions with which we have worked so successfully for many years but also always looking to establish relationships with new ones where we can. This hopefully means that we are constantly expanding the reputation and recognition of the programme’s existence and benefits throughout schools in northern provinces, and Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai provinces in particular. This in turn should allow us to find and take on more deserving students from wider and wider sources. This means a lot of travel for the team as we visit schools; encourage students to apply if they have the needs we are looking to address and the qualities we are looking to support; encourage students to think as broadly as possible about the options available to them; encourage students to recognize that many more options may now be available to them than they or their families used to think possible; educate them about the success stories we have seen ourselves through the programme; educate them as to the ways and means of achieving their dreams in terms of procuring the necessary financial support, getting through the application procedures etc; and encourage teachers to keep delivering all these positive messages to students.
By February we are well into conducting interviews for new scholarship students leaving secondary schools and/or vocational colleges and looking for SLSF support to study to higher levels. Indeed, as I write this, I am sitting in Mae Sariang in southern Mae Hong Son province in the middle of a 7 day trip to visit secondary schools and conduct interviews of scores of new applicants! It is as ever a fascinating exercise as we get to meet a whole new generation of aspiring students each time. And each time it is notable to see that throughout the vast array of challenges facing these students, there is always progress in the right direction – students with more and more confidence with respect to their options and aspirations. They, like us, are aware of the many success stories, of the individuals who have broken through the vast barriers presented by the adversities they face, whether from poverty, prejudice, the legal system, bureaucracy, corruption or otherwise. And through pure resourcefulness and determination have achieved dreams that might well have seemed totally unachievable to them and their families only a few years before – whether of becoming teachers, public health officers, nurses, mechanics, electricians, government officials, doctors, soldiers, policemen, politicians, accountants, businessmen/women or many other careers and professions besides. With each success comes a greater and greater confidence in the following generation to follow in their footsteps. Long may it continue!
We of course cannot help all the students we would like to help…and there are always many difficult choices to make. But we do our utmost to choose the most deserving students, both in terms of financial and other needs and in terms of ability and personal motivation to make the most of the opportunity presented by an SLSF scholarship. It is an intense time indeed!