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Taking inspiration from a big personality
When Kru Jet appeared as the guest on Thailand’s award-winning talk show, Johjai, his caption read Kru Doi – Phu Sia Sala, which translates as Mountain Teacher – a Man of Sacrifice. Anyone who knows his story can testify that he is both of these things.
Jet Bunpeng, better known as Kru Jet or Teacher Jet, used to work as a football coach for elite Thai players until he decided he would rather be working to support a different group of people. He is one of many Karen people living in Thailand and he quit his job to start a home caring for Karen children showing promise in sports. He did this the way that any unconventional person would do: he pimped out his old motorbike with cultural artifacts, as well as a buffalo skull, stuck a Karen flag in the back and drove it around the Thai border looking for willing children showing such potential.
The Karen are one of the more famous of the many hill tribes that make up a large proportion of northern Thailand’s population. As traditional subsistence farmers that tend to live in remote areas, they do not always have the same opportunities as their ethnic Thai counterparts and Kru Jet has found an admirable way to use his skill set to help level the playing field. As well as sports coaching, he teaches his eager students a variety of life skills. There is an immense sense of pride in the group when it comes to their heritage and they help to keep Karen traditional alive by learning to play folksongs. By receiving a more holistic education than is available by simply attending the local school, Kru Jet’s children are well set up for a life that, realistically speaking, is not going to be supported by a flourishing football career for many of them. This could well be the case for some of them, though; as Kru Jet will proudly tell you, one of his boys was selected to play for Bayern Munich’s youth team after a competition in Bangkok but was unfortunately unable to go because officially he is a stateless person.
The students from I-Shou learned about the causes and effects of statelessness, which is a big issue for many of Thailand’s hill tribe population, as well as some background knowledge about the Karen by visiting our Hill Tribe Room and putting together presentations based on the information found there. Equipped with a better idea of the people they were going to be helping, they made the long drive to Ban Bo Kaew, where Kru Jet and his troop are based during term time. VSP are currently helping to fund and build a new dormitory and sheltered communal area as currently the centre has only two habitable buildings – one for the girls and one for the boys.