Peter Pichet Saengthien, SJ
The Society of Jesus issued documents on making campuses “green” and emerging from this is an opportunity to make the first Jesuit campus in Thailand “green” at the onset. The committee of the Jesuit Education Project is studying the possibility of starting an academic institution to serve the poor, especially the indigenous communities in the northern mountains of Thailand.
The bishop of the Diocese of Chiang Mai, which covers the northernmost provinces of Thailand, recommended an 8.3-hectare (21-acre) piece of land that the Society acquired, located approximately 20 kilometers from the Golden Triangle, where Thailand meets Myanmar and Laos and bordering a small river less than 10 kilometers from the major rivers of Kok and Mekong.
The land is flat and low but most of the students will come from the mountainous areas of Chiang Rai and neighboring provinces. Most of our neighbors will be lowland rice farmers of northern Thai (Lanna) and Buddhist background.
The school land is located in Chiang Saen district of Chiang Rai, one of the four poorest provinces in Thailand, according to the 2014 UNDP Human Development Report. The area also borders Bokeo, one of the poorest provinces of Laos, and in Myanmar, the area borders the home state of several indigenous communities.
The Jesuit tertiary-level school will offer a liberal arts education in college and will admit around 30 students annually for the first four years. Initially the college will serve as a residential learning center and will not grant its own degree. Instead, students will enroll at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University for their bachelor’s degrees. Eventually, the Jesuit college will become a degree-offering institution on its own.
Our lay collaborators are helping us design this institution to be a boarding college with an emphasis on wholistic formation in residential life. Liberal arts education will be taught together with life skills. To be true to our charism, we will include environmental concern both in the classroom and in personal lives.
Even in these planning stages, environmental concerns can be part of our curriculum design and architecture. How could we form young men and women to care for people as well as the rest of Creation? How could they make a contribution to the communities where they study and later to their own people as well? How could the academic and the technical get a balance during their training? How could we use various means to make our college inculturated, simple, efficient, and sustainable rather than only cheaper to build and grandiose to look at?
Meanwhile, government infrastructure projects are ongoing in the area such as a new four-lane highway linking the sub-district center to the new river port of Chiang Saen. The highway also passes through the southern end of the village and might link them directly to the province capital of Chiang Rai in a few years. There is also a ferry port planned at the northern end of the village. Several investors bought rice fields from the villagers in the past few months and a colorful new store now stands next to the highway.
Perhaps it might be helpful if we listen to people’s social and environmental concerns on these new development projects even before the school construction begins, so that we can be prepared and can respond effectively.
Peter Pichet Saengthien, SJ is a Jesuit from Thailand with a scientific background but no particular training in ecology. He was assigned in 2013 to teach at Saengtham College and to work with the committee of the Jesuit Education Project. Saengtham College, sponsored by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Thailand, trains seminarians, religious, and future catechists.
Peter teaches three subjects: Ethics, in the Philosophy Department; Moral Perspectives of Life and Death, in the Moral Theology Department; and Biological Science. From the beginning, his Jesuit superior, who is also the department chair, suggested that materials in environmental ethics be added in each of his classes. In biology, it was straightforward because ecology is a standard chapter in freshman biology and requires the emphasis on human involvement. Earlier syllabi of the other two classes were adapted to include lessons in environmental ethics. Given the chance to teach again, Peter plans to expand environmental concern in all these three classes. For further information, Peter may be reached through his email ppssj1(at)yahoo.com.