January 2015 TWCCTW Trip
February 27, 2015

I’ve just recently returned from our January 2015 Together We Can Change The World (TWCCTW) trip to Thailand and Laos — a time that was busy, interesting, and productive. Here are some of the highlights.

We began in Bangkok where my partner Scott Friedman and I were the featured speakers at the Bankapi Rotary club luncheon meeting. Judging from the questions we got afterwards I’d say that our talk about the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility programs was well received.

The following day TWCCTW partnered with Bangkapi Rotary in an evening fundraiser at the new Marriott Hotel at Thong Lo. Scott emceed while four of our TWCCTW travelers each presented a segment on various aspects of leadership. Again, very well received by the crowd numbering more than 150. And, most important of all, we raised over $1,000 — all of which was donated to one of the places we support – the Mee Eashin Development Foundation in Rangsit, just north of Bangkok. (More about MDF shortly.)

Here’s fellow traveler Paul Larsen in action talking about the importance of a Global Footprint.

The following day our group visited the Good Shepherd Sisters at their Bangkok location. In this impressive facility nearly 100 children from the nearby slums are attending preschool, about a dozen at-risk women and their babies are provided a safe place go give birth and establish their lives as young mothers, and 65 at-risk young women are provided housing, education, and life-sustaining job skills training. In addition, 200 Pakistani refugees are now being taught a variety of subjects, including Thai and English, to help them integrate into Thai society. In their extensive sewing center the Sisters employ 140 women with living wage jobs. All in all an impressive job these Sisters are doing to assist those in need.
Here’s some photos from that delightful day.

On Friday we traveled south to Pattaya to visit the Fountain of Life Women’s Center– where 400 local women are provided with training in self-sufficiency and job skills, and the nearby Fountain of Life Children’s Center where nearly 200 children are prepared to successfully begin their education at government schools. Another most impressive visit.

Here we are serving as “practice dummies” in a couple of their classes

Then, on Saturday we ventured north out of Bangkok to visit the previously mentioned Mee Eashin Development Foundation (MDF). Here, our friend Treasure Shine runs a school for more than 60 children of the Burmese migrants living and working in the Rangsit Market community. Amazingly, Treasure has worked with the education officials in Myanmar to obtain accreditation for her school so that when these children return to their homeland in Myanmar they will receive full credit for their schooling up to that point.

Nicely integrated into the local community, Treasure also manages to provide coaching, counseling, and basic health services to the parents of “her children” and other adults in the neighborhood.

Venturing on to Vientiane, Laos, we were fortunate to have an extensive briefing by Michael Toyryla Chef, Political/Economic Section with the U. S. Embassy there. Most informative. He also recommended that we meet Rick Reece, Founder and Director of a local NGO* called Village Focus International (VFI). The following day our group hosted a lunch with Rick and his assistant, Kongseng where we learned about their work assisting Laotian victims of human trafficking — both women and men — a serious problem in that part of Laos and Thailand.

We invited Kongseng to join us the following day as we crossed the Mekong River via the Friendship Bridge and relocated to Nong Khai, Thailand so we could visit the Good Shepherd Sisters and see first hand the work they are doing in that area. Not surprising at all, the Sisters in Nong Khai are highly concerned about the issues of human trafficking in the region, so we’re hoping that the introductions we made will result in some productive cross-border cooperation to help those Laotian women and men safely return to their homeland.

Our day with the Sisters in Nong Khai was a very busy one. We began with a visit with Sr. Mary, now 95 years young and still active in their work. This is one amazing woman.
These dedicated Sisters are working for the benefit of the people living in 179 villages in the area of Eastern Thailand known as Isaan. More specifically, the Sisters in Nong Khai – along with their able and loyal staff members – provide living wage jobs to more than 60 women in two sewing centers and in another center where they preserve traditional Isaan weaving skills.
Through their very creative Sponsorship Program, Sr. Sutisa and her able staff of three (Wiemon, Jum, and Party) are insuring that more than 550 village children are able to remain in their homes with their families and continue their education in local schools. This is a most impressive program particularly in the way they have it integrated within the local village culture and leadership traditions.
Through their Village Outreach Program the Sisters assist villagers with counseling and coaching about improved agricultural techniques, raising cows – and even providing families with their own cows – and other successful and productive agricultural practices.

The Sisters also directly address the issues of HIV/AIDS in these local villages. In addition to coaching, counseling, and education, the Sisters under the fine leadership of Sister Pranee, operate two impressive facilities called Hands of Hope. At their Friendship Center 35 women living with HIV are able to belong to a loving, accepting community and have gainful employment making a wide variety of beautiful, artistic, hand crafted items. Take a look at their on-line store.

We were warmly welcomed

At their Garden of Friendship the Sisters operate a 14-bed healthcare center providing short and long term care to those that have developed AIDS. In addition, this beautiful facility is also used for raising fish, cultivating rice, growing a variety of other crops, raising fruit trees, and housing their international volunteers.

We did manage to fit in a bit of sightseeing while we were in this eastern part of Thailand. The Red Lotus Fields were impressive to say the least. Just imagine – over 5,000 acres of lotus flowers in full bloom. And, we were also able to visit the Sculpture Gardens, another impressive display of Thai creativity and artistic expression. We even arranged to have dinner one evening while cruising on the Mekong River at sunset.

All in all, this was a most satisfying trip. In total, we visited seven organizations serving the needs of impoverished women and children. In addition to the hundreds of toys, books, and related supplies we carried with us, we were also able to make cash grants totaling over $10,000 – all of it for “general operating expenses”, an essential need for these organizations but a category of giving often resisted by donors.

Already we’re looking forward to our next TWCCTW trip beginning on May 24th as we depart Singapore for Siem Reap, Cambodia.

After saying goodbye to all the fine folks on this TWCCTW trip I ventured off by myself to do some SE Asia Foundation work. That portion of the trip will be covered in my next report.

Life is good – at least for some of us it is.

Others need a bit of help – and together – we can provide exactly that

* Non-Governmental Organization