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Education with faith helps to fight trafficking

Marvel and Joel Vander Kooi talk about the School of Promise they run in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Jan. 3 at The Jamestown Sun. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Educating children from vulnerable families helps prevent the tragedy of human trafficking, said Marvel Glinz Vander Kooi, a former Jamestown resident who operates the School of Promise with her husband, Joel, in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Poor families, many of them legal immigrants who don't speak the Thai language and fear they have no protection, are desperate, Joel said. Thai families are also at risk when a family member has an addiction to drugs or gambling or if another instability exists, he said.

"Nefarious people promise the families jobs for their children and then sell them into prostitution, forced labor and even organ harvesting," Joel said. "You can't even imagine all of the things that people are thinking up to use these people."

Marvel is the daughter of David and Barb Glinz, and grew up in the Jamestown area. She and Joel met at Augustana University, married, and joined the Peace Corps together to serve in Thailand in 2000.

The two lived in Colorado until Joel earned his law degree, and Marvel taught until the couple decided to start a school in Thailand in 2008. Two years later the School of Promise opened with 12 students in grades 1-6.

"Early on it was family and friends in this area where I grew up that kept the school going," Marvel said. "That's how the school started and that was how we supported ourselves for a long time."

The idea was to create a prestigious school to attract tuition-paying affluent families to operate the school while giving scholarships to educate and support kids from families in crisis, regardless of economic or ethnic background, Joel said.

The couple formed Hope International Schools as a parent organization to eventually create more independent Christian schools. Agencies and churches partner to provide student sponsorships, teachers and materials.

The School of Promise has around 100 students in grades 1-8 today and plans to add grade nine in 2019. Altogether the school has taught around 250 students since it opened.

There are around 17 teachers, they said. Most are Thai nationals to teach the core curriculum with nine volunteer English language missionary teachers.

The curriculum has a global focus, Joel said. The use of laptops and other technology is also ahead of many schools, he said.

Around 70 percent of the curriculum is taught in Thai. The remaining courses in English include English, art, physical education, music and computer education.

The children benefit from native English-speaking faculty who give the kids real world conversational skills, Marvel said. A trilingual student will better succeed in the lucrative tourism industry, she said.

"Our students have to speak with foreigners and so that gives them a huge advantage," Marvel said.

A special needs teacher is for kids who can function but need help with things such as dyslexia, Joel said. In most schools you either make it or you can't, he said.

The school adopted the individualized education plan to fit the Thai culture and language, he said. The Thai public school system approved the school to teach a Christian curriculum while still using the official textbooks, he said.

"The main focus is to share the good news of God's love in a community that doesn't' have that," Joel said.

Some of the kids stay with families of other students or teachers and two students live with the Vander Koois. The couple also have a daughter, Kirsten, 14, a son, Hezekiah, 11, and another daughter they are adopting, Daisy, 13.

Boys and girls who have gone on to other schools are consistently at or near the top of their class, the couple said. The schools are often surprised when they find out the students come from uneducated households, she said.

"We have a lot of success stories of kids who continue with their education," Marvel said.

Marvel said she expects to complete her master's degree in education in March. This is the first step in helping to license the school to go to grade 12, she said.

For more information, visit web.nazarene.org/goto/vanderkooi.

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