This Thailand Report covers the third and final leg of my February 2014 SE Asia trip. In the event you might have missed the earlier reports, you can see the Cambodia segment by clicking here, and you can see the Myanmar segment by clicking here.
Leaving Myanmar, I headed straight for Pattaya, Thailand where I had meetings at the Fountain of Life Women’s Center to follow up on the work Peter Scontrino and I had done last November. It was gratifying to hear how well things are progressing. And, we’ve now been asked to do two more training sessions for this center and its sister organization, the Fountain of Life Children’s Center. In May, I’m scheduled to do two and a half days of coaching in managing small group task force meetings. And, in the last week of October Peter and I are scheduled to conduct a weeklong Supervisory Skills workshop. While in Pattaya, with a little free time, I was able to visit The Sanctuary of Truth, a marvelously interesting place with a gigantic wooden structure depicting ancient Buddhist and Hindu themes. Nearly 350 feet tall and covering almost an acre of ground this is a stunningly impressive building.
Here are a couple of pictures of the main temple. In the photo on the right you can see the large carving that is out on the rightmost point of the main temple.
In addition, there is a very active wood carving center there making some absolutely stunning statues, panels, doors, columns, and related building features. Here are a couple of views of the many master carvers at work.
From Pattaya I traveled to Nong Khai, a city in the northeast portion of Thailand to work with the Good Shepherd Sisters and lead a 3-1/2 day Strategic Planning meeting.
Unlike other locations where I stay at a hotel or a guesthouse, when with the Sisters in Nong Khai they are kind enough to put me up in one of their guest rooms right there at their convent. Here is the greeting I received on the door as I went to enter my room, and later when I arrived at the large meeting room.
Monday afternoon all 30 participants showed up on time and we began the meeting.
I had previously asked that each of the participants bring to the meeting one object that to them was significantly meaningful with respect to their time with and work there with the Sisters.
Here you can see the table full of interesting objects the participants brought to the meeting.
So, after the opening ceremonies we heard the powerful, touching stories from each of these 30 individuals telling about the items they brought. I’ve done this exercise several times before, but always in America. Never before have I seen on the tables, for example, a bag of water, a lotus flower leaf, a length of sugar cane, a bag of chili peppers, a bag of rice, a black cat, some yarn, a savings bank, and the like. The stories that came forth to tell about these items were moving to say the least. From these stories we transitioned into a thoughtful discussion about the values that connected these 30 people together and to the center where they work.
We then progressed to work on Vision, Mission, Strategic Goals, Success Measures, Value Propositions, Annual Plans, and Action Planning. This was particularly challenging in light of the wide diversity of services and products they are involved with. Just imagine: Sewing, teaching agriculture to farmers, HIV/AIDS outreach education, sponsoring children’s education in 152 different villages, actually caring for HIV/AIDS patients, providing cows to farming families and teaching them effective care practices, growing rice, preserving traditional Issan weaving and pottery skills, and a whole bunch of other service activities. We even had four representatives (parents of sponsored children) from remote villages attending.
My concern, of course, was whether we could find a way to create unity for the whole group … and … get specific enough that each of the functional groups could develop action plans and commitments to move ahead productively — and do that in two languages.
Back at our home in Seattle, Pat Taylor has been supporting a project in the States called Days For Girls. That fine organization is all about providing washable, reusable, convenient feminine hygiene supplies for women and girls in the developing world. After introducing the product samples to this group, they've decided to proceed with production and distribution to the communities they serve.
We did it! After 3-1/2 days I could hardly get them to adjourn the meeting. I have to admit, that I felt I was in the right place … at the right time … doing the right work … helping the right people … and making a difference in the world and in the lives of many wonderful people.
Here’s what they had to say at the end of the meeting. Notice the three dots that are completely to the right of the paper!
I scheduled an extra day in Nong Khai so that, having not been there before, I could travel across the Mekong River on the Friendship Bridge into Vientiane, Laos. I was fortunate to be accompanied that day by Jun and Party, two of the key staff members of the Village Sponsorship Program. So, Friday morning, off we went.
Vientiane is a mid-sized city with a reported population of about 500,000 offering an interesting blend of French, Laotian, and Buddhist cultures. Here are a few views of some of the places we visited.
Perhaps we’ll manage to bring the TWCCTW group to Nong Khai and Vientiane one of these days pretty soon.
Leaving Nong Khai with only a brief overnight stop in Bangkok, I traveled on to Chiang Rai in the far northern part of Thailand. There, I met up with Carol Acosta, current president of the Maechan Rotary Club and a group of six Rotarians from Australia there on a Fellowship Trip. This was a most interesting two-day experience. I got to visit several of the Rotary projects there and to be the speaker at their Monday evening Rotary meeting. Even though I was a Rotarian in Downtown Seattle for more that 25 years it has been quite a while since I’ve been to a meeting. Sure was nice to reconnect with Rotary values of “Service Above Self”. Here are a couple of views of the Water Purification project that was dedicated during our visit.
The dedication ceremony in the village was quite an extravaganza. The traditional hill-tribe costumes were stunningly beautiful.
Here are two views of some marvelous work a Thai fellow called George Punyaprateep is doing with aqua-ponics, fish farming, and related organic, holistic agriculture practices in support of a local school.
On my last day in Chiang Rai I once again rented a motorbike and visited the Good Shepherd Sisters Girls Boarding School in the town of Phan. For two years now we’ve been struggling with the question of why, with the absolutely great educational opportunity they are offering to hill-tribe girls, are they not full. Why the empty 15 beds? We got lots of valuable feedback from the girls when they all completed a survey for us.
Last November, using the information gained from the survey, we worked that issue extensively … and came up with an action plan for addressing the concern. Well — I can now report that as of the beginning of the new school term in April they will have 20 new students, with more to come. Not only will they be full, but in all likelihood they will now have their first ever waiting list in the history of the school. Wahoo!!
Later that day I stopped off to visit Jit at Baan Saan Rak. And, having talked with the Australian group about BSR the previous day, they decided they wanted to visit personally. They showed up shortly after I did. One of the Australians asked Jit what was on her wish list. She hemmed and hawed a bit, but then said something about needing to get her refrigerator fixed because it was old and not working properly. Easy, peasy. The hat got passed. 15,000 Baht (~US$500) showed up in about one minute. Problem solved. Blew Jit away.
Leaving Chiang Rai the following morning I bussed to Chiang Mai, about three hours distant. There, I met once again with the Good Shepherd Sisters and their newly acquired Wildflower Foundation, just a short distance out from the town center.
We have some big issues there, not the least of which is just getting a grasp on all that needs to be done in order to improve the facilities, build to scale, and develop a sustainable funding base. Last time we met we determined as a result of a daylong Future Search that our number one need was to get a master plan developed for the 2-1/2 acre property so we could focus the development efforts on a proper long-term goal for all the infrastructure and related land and building uses.
To our great fortune, the Sisters have been able to engage the services of a young Thai architect (Net) with a degree in “Community Architecture”. WOW!! What a bright young fellow. While I was there he presented his preliminary assessment of the property, including water management (a big deal), the electrical power systems, and land and building use alternatives. Brilliant, practical ideas and designs. And, he’s doing all this pro-bono for now.
Here's a look at his preminiary plan and a picture of Net along with the two sisters -- Siriporn (left) and Supapawn.
We gave him some feedback and further suggestions that will send him back to the “drawing board” for a bit more work but I’d say that he’s 80+% on the mark already. HUGE progress. Sure does feel good to be a part of all this.
To relieve some of the immediate financial pressure at Wildflower, we’ve funded their staff for another quarter.
I’ll be back there on May 10th when we’ll continue to work towards sustainability for Wildflower. Along with me will be not only the Sisters (Supapawn and Siriporn), but also Net (the architect), George Punyaprateep (mentioned above in the Mae Chan comments), Jid (the chair of their “board”), and my Ashland, OR colleague Roi Crouch, an extensively experienced consultant to non-profit organizations. I’m hoping that this talented group will be able to find a pragmatic way forward for the Sisters in this challenging situation they’ve inherited.
After Chiang Mai, I traveled back for a couple of days in Bangkok. There, I connected with Scott Friedman (my TWCCTW partner) and met with Lizamma Thomas, Regional Chief of Human Resources for UNICEF, headquartered in Bangkok. I was also able to spend some time with Dwight Turner, a kindred spirit from America who is living in Thailand and managing his own non-profit called “In Search of Sanuk”. (Sanuk means “fun” in Thai.) Dwight is a good man doing some great work helping impoverished kids get an education.
Also in Bangkok I was able to meet with Treasure Shine’s sister, Nina, who is now serving as the Executive Director of the non-profit Treasure founded five years ago, the Mee Eain Shin Foundation (MDF). Located in the Rangsit Market area in the northern part of Bangkok MDF serves the local population of Myanmar refugees and migrant workers in that impoverished neighborhood by providing school for 50 children as well as adult education and community health care. We’re providing MDF with funding for the annual rent for their building and for teacher salaries.
Well ... that pretty well sums up a long, productive, and enjoyable
trip. I'll next be returning to SE Asia on April 22nd. More to follow in the weeks ahead.
Life is good ... at least for some of us it is. Others need a bit of help -- and together we can provide them with exactly that