A man with a vision

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A man with a vision for Thailand’s future is Mechai Viravaidya. He was the honored guest speaker at the Sunday, June 10 meeting of the Pattaya City Expats Club.  He is the well known founder of the non-profit organization Population and Community Development Association (PDA). He has spoken to the Club previously about the PDA’s efforts to help Thai villagers out of poverty through a program of teaching them to help themselves. Master of Ceremonies Richard Silverberg called on member Stuart Saunders, who helped form the Club’s Friends of PDA Group, to introduce Khun Mechai.

Mechai began by noting that being the son of a Scots mother and Thai father, he received his education outside of Thailand. Upon his return to Thailand, he realized that something needed to be done in the area of family planning. In 1974 to address this concern, his organization promoted innovative programs and approaches to desensitize contraceptive use and to make them available throughout Thailand. When HIV/AIDS reared its head, the PDA used similar principles to ensure that everyone was aware of the dangers and knew about its prevention.

Mechai Viravaidya, founder of the Population Development Association, addresses Pattaya City Expats Club about the PDAs’ latest ventures; the Bamboo School in Buriram, and the extension of the Bamboo School, the Mechai Pattana School for grade 10 students, here in Pattaya.Mechai Viravaidya, founder of the Population Development Association, addresses Pattaya City Expats Club about the PDAs’ latest ventures; the Bamboo School in Buriram, and the extension of the Bamboo School, the Mechai Pattana School for grade 10 students, here in Pattaya.

Following these programs, he has focused on rural development initiatives to empower the poor to eradicate poverty. This program focuses on five vital components of development: community empowerment, income generation, health, education, and environmental promotion. In 2010, the program expanded from Thailand into Cambodia with assistance from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

He now devotes much of his efforts toward youth philanthropy and education through his Mechai Viravaidya Foundation. One of these efforts is the establishment of the Mechai Pattana School to ensure that children grow up to be good citizens, have business savvy, and recognize the joy of doing public good. He described his “school like no other” that was set up in Buriram. In 2008, the Bamboo School was established to be a lifelong learning center for students as well as other citizens and a hub for social and economic advancement.

Mechai showed pictures and described how the school was constructed with bamboo, thus giving it its name.  He also explained how the school operated and pointed out that the students do not pay tuition; rather they and their parents devote time and effort to community service. Another innovation is that the students actively participate in the administration and operation of the school.

Board Member Richard Smith advises members of the meeting of computer & iPad & iPhone users special interest group, on the 27th of June.Board Member Richard Smith advises members of the meeting of computer & iPad & iPhone users special interest group, on the 27th of June.

Although the Thai government has doubled its funding of education, he pointed out that Thai students are still well below average in learning. Only Indonesia ranks lower among Asian countries.

Mechai said that Thai education has generally concentrated on literacy and numerical skills, with little emphasis on new ideas and creativity. The Bamboo School works to change this situation for poor, rural students. The school strives towards getting its pupils to perform at their full potential by focusing on developing the complete individual. The lessons at the school are concentrated on enabling students to analyze and create.

The Bamboo School also serves as a life-long learning center for the entire community; where everyone is welcome to use the school to improve their agricultural, business, and general vocational skills. It is also a hub for economic and social advancement. To illustrate, Mechai described several ways to economically grow crops that provide a higher return on the investment than rice farming and by using innovative ways, can be done without the need for a substantial amount of land. Additionally, the Bamboo School is also a teacher training facility, where teachers from rural areas come to improve their teaching skills.

Mechai concluded by describing their new Mechai Pattana School and Life Long Learning Center campus here in Pattaya.  Currently, year 10 students from the Bamboo School attend the Pattaya campus to broaden their learning experience.  He encouraged Pattaya’s expats to help the school, especially if they have a skill that will be beneficial to the students.

Mechai then answered many questions from the audience. The Club has posted more information about the school in the General Interest section of its website.

Mechai on the right, poses with staff Nut, Michael, and Tristan (left) of the Mechai Pattana School. Mechai on the right, poses with staff Nut, Michael, and Tristan (left) of the Mechai Pattana School.

Richard then updated everyone on upcoming events and called on Roy Albiston to conduct the always interesting and lively Open Forum where questioned are asked and answered about expat living in Thailand; Pattaya in particular.

The Pattaya City Expats Club meets every Sunday at the Amari Orchid’s Tavern by the Sea Restaurant. Read more about the Club’s activities on their website at www.pattayacityexpatsclub.com.