My November 2013 Thailand Trip
December 10, 2013
This most recent trip to SE Asia was a very busy and productive one, with the full three weeks spent in various locations in Thailand.

I was particularly pleased to be joined for the first week of the trip by a long-time friend and colleague, Peter Scontrino. Together, we began working with the Fountain of Life Women’s Center and the Fountain of Life Children’s Center located in Pattaya. We spent two full days with their staff of 28, followed by another day with the Sisters and a couple of other key leaders.

Those three days, coupled with four previous days of working together last spring resulted in a very clear focus on a Three-Year Strategic Plan for both centers. They did a great job articulating their mission statement:

With love and compassion, and without discrimination, we serve women and children in need so they can become confident, self-sufficient members of their communities.

Isn’t that cool? We went on to describe what success looks like for each of the Centers and clearly defined how that success can be measured and reported. With that as a focus point, eight Strategic Goals were defined. That, of course, led to the development of numerous Action Plans, complete with Task Force charters, staffing, and timelines for completion.

Following Pattaya, Peter and I moved on to Bangkok. Our first afternoon was spent with a group of 14 members of their Fatima Center sewing group for which I had previously done some team building training. It was most gratifying to hear their feedback about all the benefits from that day together and the gains they are experiencing.

I spent the following day missing Peter who was preparing to return to the States – and conducting a second all-day workshop in Team Building for another group of 15 women from the same sewing center. Given how well these sessions are being received, most likely we’ll be doing several more in the months ahead.

From Bangkok it was on to Phuket (a first visit for me) where I met Sr. Lakana and learned about her good work serving the impoverished Burmese community of migrant workers engaged in the fishing and fish-drying business. She provides education, including Thai and English language classes, for about 100 kids each day. And, amazingly, they are just putting the finishing touches on a new, three-story school building that will raise their capacity to 150 kids.
They still need some help getting this beautiful facility ready for occupancy so I was able to make a grant to cover the costs of tables and benches for the classrooms along with desks and cabinets for the teachers. From Phuket I traveled to Chiang Rai in northern Thailand. There we spent an entire day exploring the reasons why this wonderful Center, offering a high quality education to hill tribe girls, was not full to capacity with a waiting list. To gain a deeper understanding about what the issues might be we conducted a confidential survey of the girls currently living there. Forty-one of the current 45 residents were able to participate. To give you a flavor of what we learned, here are a few questions and the composite responses – on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the highest.

I am treated with dignity and respect by the Sisters               5.0
I am getting a good education here                                           4.9
I would recommend this place to other girls in my village     4.8
I trust the Sisters to take good care of me                               4.8
I can get additional help with my studies if I ask for it           4.8

From these incredibly high scores (among the highest I’ve ever seen) along with the narrative comments offered by the girls, coupled with what they had to say in group meetings, it became abundantly clear that a need for changes in the Center or the educational process was not the issue. Further conversation gave us confidence that the reason the Center is not full is that not enough potential students and their parents know about it.

Armed with this data, an Action Plan was adopted by the Sisters, the staff, and the students. Central to the plan is for small teams (perhaps one staff or Sister along with two students) to make regular visits to local villages to create the conversations that will increase awareness of the unique educational opportunity being offered by the Center.

In parallel with those village visits, a series of monthly Open House events will also be held, thereby giving potential students and their family members an opportunity to get a first-hand look at the opportunities available to the girls.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing what comes from this newly energized outreach program.

While there in Chiang Rai, we also created a Scholarship Fund so that one deserving girl will be able to attend university beginning in the spring of 2014.

Naturally, any visit to Chiang Rai would not be complete if I didn’t stop off to see how Jit and her 21 kids at the Baan Saan Rak orphanage are faring. I continue to admire the commitment this dedicated woman has to providing education and life-skills training for these children who would otherwise be exposed to poverty, abuse, and possibly trafficking.

From Chiang Rai it was only a short bus ride to Chiang Mai where I spent all day with the Sisters in their newly acquired Wildflower Foundation women’s shelter. Given the challenges they currently face, we gathered together four of the Sisters, the staff, and half a dozen of the women living there to conduct a future search.

That turned out to be a worthwhile session. The group showed plenty of creativity and vision.

And from that work, four major priorities came forth:

  • Prepare a Facility Master Plan
  • Prepare a Facility Master Plan
  • Begin a focused program of External Communications
  • Strengthen their Funding Base


Funding is a critical issue here. As a stopgap measure we were able to make a small grant to cover staff salaries for a few months. I will be back in Chiang Mai in February to see how they are doing with this ambitions plan.

My last stop this trip was in Nong Khai, located just across the Mekong River from Vientiane, Laos. In a previous visit here I had done a couple of days of team building training for the 60 workers in their Regina Center. A day of follow-up meetings revealed that a lingering critical issue centered around the supervisory skills of their leaders. So, we spent about ½ day with the group of 13 supervisors exploring some basic requirements for effective supervision. While they seemed appreciative of the coaching, it was clearly evident that they need more training in that respect – as do the supervisors in several other Good Shepherd Sisters locations. Peter and I will address that need with a more extensive Supervisory Training workshop later in 2014.

My other purpose during this visit was to see first-hand how the Sisters operate their Sponsorship Program for 550 kids living out in the widely dispersed villages of northeast Thailand. So, we spent the entire day in the field visiting villages, homes, parents, children, and village committees that administer the day-to-day aspects of the program. I was truly impressed by the way the Sisters and their staff have approached this work. It is not a “one size fits all” approach by any stretch of the imagination. While annual cost per student sponsored averages about $400, that money is used in a variety of ways. Sometimes it is for school fees. Sometimes it is for transportation to school. Sometimes it is for school uniforms and supplies. Sometimes it is to assist the family so that the child is free from work and can attend school.

No one gets assistance unless vetted personally by the Sisters and the program staff of three. In every single place we visited, the staff knew the “story” and engaged in conversations that made that evident. (No doubt that this is a result of their spending three days each week out in the field.) This is such a well-organized and managed program that it is no wonder that they have a long waiting list for sponsorships.

These images will give you a pretty good idea of what the village conditions are and will also give you a look at some of the kids from those villages at the school they are attending.

Fortunately, we had a little grant money left and were able to sponsor 10 girls for the remaining six months of this school year, and to cover the program operating expenses for a few months as well. Later that evening at dinner the conversation turned to the Sisters’ desire to get more clear on the long-term direction of their various service efforts in Nong Khai. We explored a couple of alternatives and decided on a three-day Strategic Planning Session during my return trip in February. That should be an interesting time working with these wonderful people dedicated to the education and well-being of children and women.
Here’s Sister Mary (94 years young) and her two nieces visiting from Ireland having dinner along with the Thai Sisters

Well, that sums up a full, busy three weeks in Thailand. And, there is a lot more to come in the year ahead.

In late January and early February I will be working in Cambodia and Myanmar along with the Together We Can Change The World group (TWCCTW) to visit, and fund, several projects (all focused on the education and well-being of children and women) in those locations. Later that month, I’ll be following up on several of the projects listed above to check on progress and offer further coaching.

Then in late April, I’ll be attending the HR Summit (3,500 attendees) in Singapore where, along with my TWCCTW partner, Scott Friedman, I’ll have an opportunity to speak to that group. This TWCCTW group does some meaningful fundraising so after Singapore, we’ll take the TWCCTW group to tour – and fund – several more projects, most likely in Siem Reap and northern Thailand.

Finally, in June I will return to Bali to once again coach the management team of the Widhya Asih Foundation (about 30 people) through their annual Strategic Planning process. After that it’ll be more time in the various SE Asia locations checking out new project possibilities and coaching the existing ones.

Life is good. More to follow