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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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