How an Australia Post grant is helping teach Thai kids about bicycle safety

The Illawarra Thai School was awarded an Australia Post People of Post Grant this year. It’s using the grant money to run bicycle safety classes for children in the region’s local Thai-Australian community. 

The coastal region of Illawarra in New South Wales is home to a large Thai-Australian community. 

As first-generation Australians, all the children have fully embraced the Aussie way of life but often struggle to connect with family in Thailand because of language and cultural barriers.  

The Illawarra Thai School is the only Thai Language school in the Illawarra region and its mission is to help deepen the children’s understanding of their Thai heritage. 

Formerly known as the Buddharrungsee Thai Community Language School, the school opened its doors 12 years ago and is run solely by volunteers that include seven committee members. One of them is Thidarat Thongdang, its Principal and President.

“We’re a small school,” she says, “We have two language classes for about 28 children. One class is for five to 12-year-olds and the other is for 13 to 17-year-olds.”

“Aside from language classes, we also run cultural, music and classical dance classes. All classes are run by Thai teachers, who are also volunteers, and some of whom travel from Sydney to teach in our school.” 

“These classes help preserve and promote Thai culture while also encouraging children to broaden their horizons.”

The school also gives the local community a taste of Thai culture at various community events, including the Spring into Corrimal festival street parade and performing at the Thai Songkran festival at Darling Harbour in Sydney.

A gathering space for Thai parents

Recently, the Illawara Thai School has begun serving a different need as a connection space for the children’s parents. 

“Some of them have arrived in Australia not knowing anyone else other than their spouse,” Thidarat says. “They’ve not connected with other Thais and feel lost in a foreign country.” 

“So every Saturday while their children are in class, they spend two hours hanging out with each other and learning how someone else has adapted to life here.” 

The parents now turn up with homecooked meals to share while they trade tips and stories ranging from directions to the nearest Thai temple to securing local employment.

Forging new friendships over a common language and culture has eased their loneliness and boosted their confidence. 

“It’s really beautiful to see,” Thidarat says. “I try to organise activities for this group too. For example, I’ve linked up with the Royal Thai Consulate office and it has sent a mobile consulate office to the school so parents can easily renew passports or apply for their children’s Thai ID.” 

Riding on the Australia Post grant 

In March 2023, the Postal Manager at Kiama Post Office, Grant King, nominated the Illawarra Thai School for an Australia Post People of Post Grant in recognition of the positive impact it has on his two children. 

He says, “In the past five years, my son and daughter have learnt the Thai language, how to play Thai musical instruments, Thai dancing and the Thai national anthem. All this has helped them better communicate with and understand family in Thailand.”

Two months later, the school got word that it was one of 438 not-for-profit organisations to each receive a $1,000 community grant from Australia Post this year. 

Thidarat says the school is using the grant money to run summer classes on bicycle safety in the Thai language. 

“The children are learning how to identify bicycle parts and how to practise safety when riding a bicycle,” she explains. “We’ll also invite guest speakers to talk about bicycle safety and may even produce a booklet with this bicycle safety information.”

“The way we see it, we’re not just educating the children but also their parents who were probably not educated on bicycle safety in Thailand. And we want to produce programs and resources with a long lifespan, not one-offs.” 

“This is why the Australia Post grant is so important to us. For a volunteer-run organisation, this kind of support helps us do so much more to keep our community engaged and connected.” 

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