Forgotten Heroes Do Exist: A Journey in Omgoi

It all started when I overheard my father telling my mother about a medical trip that he would not be able to attend due to a conference. It would have faded into memory if I had not overheard the key word: “Omgoi”.

Omgoi? Here was a word that brought to mind crisp, cool air and morning dew, hill tribe villages, red dirt and the mighty crow of the rooster at the break of dawn. Albeit a largely undocumented province, past 2Develop trips with NIST to Maeramit village had landed this rural landscape a place in my heart. “Omgoi?” I remarked, “Sign me up!”

After some research, I discovered that the Princess Mother’s Medical Volunteer/ มูลนิธิแพทย์อาสาสมเด็จพระศรีนครินทราบรมราชชนนี (PMMV/พอสว) was established in 1964. The green-pocketed project’s main objective is to provide primary healthcare services in rural areas with scarce accessibility to healthcare facilities through mobile medical units, which includes doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists.

Ironically, I was neither qualified as a doctor, nurse, dentist nor pharmacist. I wasn’t a professor or part of the media team, either. In fact, I had not even obtained my high school diploma. Nonetheless, I was proud to brandish officially the title of “Contributing Volunteer”, and unofficially “Youngest And Least Medically-Qualified”.

Anxiety should have been inevitable. After all, I was going alone: no parents, no siblings, no friends. However, I found myself less apprehensive and more eager to make new friends and meet new people. Nothing on this adventure failed to exhilarate me: right from the very first step onto the small military plane, to the last four-wheel vertical drop down a mountainous precipice.

The first day was the easiest day – a few hours spent in a four-wheel drive void of any on-foot adventure. Several days and several kilometers of rigorous hiking later, we would lament it as “the day that brought us false hope”. There was a positive correlation between the number of days we had been there, the distance of the hike to the next village, and the mental motivation required to reach the new destination.

Every hour and every drop of sweat shed was worth it; for every village, children would line up outside the community center and offer each of us an individual chirrup of “Sawasdee ka” to the calls of “Mor ma laew (the doctor is here)”. I can still recall the moment I reached Mae Hong Tai fatigued and limping, yet somehow rejuvenated by the pride of being part of the PMMV.

True, I could not help out the nurses in communicating with the Karen villagers, I could not help the doctors, for my knowledge of diagnoses was limited, and I could not help the dentists, who extricated decayed tooth after tooth and mopped up seeping blood. However, I was not useless. I found my home in the pharmacy unit.

I helped out at anything I could: from packaging pills, writing dosage labels to handing over appropriate medicines at appropriate times – seemingly menial tasks, but there’s only so much an unqualified volunteer can do. After a while, P’Jack – the Omgoi Hospital pharmacist – put me in charge of the children’s medicine. P’Kee – another pharmacist – taught me the names and classifications of each strangely labeled bottle. Dicloxa, Amoxy, Salbutamol, CPM…by the end of the trip, I had mastered what seemed like an entirely new language.

In the second village, I witnessed a lymph node surgery. The man, probably in his mid-50s, was lying supine on an impromptu operating table made of wooden desks crammed together and draped in a single sheet of plastic. Surgical lighting consisted of two cellphone flashlights held by one doctor, while the other doctor wielded a scalpel. The metallic stench of blood hung heavy in the air. In that moment, I thought of the sleek, high-tech operating rooms back in Bangkok. The operation’s magnitude was overwhelming: the risk of complications and the complete absence of emergency aid. After all, there was no ambulance waiting around the corner. My newfound respect for those doctors flourished.

Forgotten heroes do exist. Like the doctors, dentists, pharmacists and nurses, the four-wheel drivers were also volunteers. They became our sole reliance in delivering medical supplies, food and our baggage. I did not realize their significance until I took the drive to the final village. In contrast to the smooth, tarmacked main roads, the potholed, winding dirt paths we took were made worse by overnight rainfall – at one point, a landslide had impeded upon sections of the road, making it necessary to forge a new path in an elaborate scheme of excavating, roping and heaving. Every few seconds, a different voice would be heard from the walkie-talkie: “Slippery path up ahead!” “Push on the count of three.” “Fourth car, are you okay there?” Their teamwork was impeccable and we would be nothing without them.

It’s peculiar to imagine how a last-minute decision that I volunteered for three days in advance, has the gravity to remain with me for the rest of my life. Likewise, it’s also peculiar to envision how a three-hour mobile clinic in a remote village has the potential to heal a villager for the rest of their life. Not only did I gain new knowledge in medicine; I also became the newest generation of a fifty-year legacy, established under the compassion of the Princess Mother.

Sure, the relentless travel occasionally put me on the verge of giving up: my body ached, the shower was numbing and there was still a hike and a village to go. It’s torture. But then I think of all the villagers, most of who will live their lives without setting foot beyond their settlement, let alone a hospital. I think of the medical care we delivered, and the lives we improved.

I realize, finally, that the motivation to tread onwards is not in my head. It’s in my heart.

Taking Child Labour out of Supply Chains

The International Labour Organization (ILO), supported by the Delegation of the European Union to Thailand and in collaboration with NIST, marked the 2016 World Day against Child Labour with a live talk, calling on young people to be aware of child labour in global supply chains.

The live talk on “Ending Child Labour and Unacceptable Forms of Work in Global Supply Chains by Ambassador Jesús Miguel Sanz, Head of the European Union Delegation to Thailand” was held here at NIST on 9 June, ahead of the World Day against Child Labour (12 June).

“We need to know, and we are entitled to know, what we consume, what we buy, what we eat, what we wear. Awareness. Be aware is the key word,” said Ambassador Sanz at the event, streamed live to online audiences.

With 168 million children still in work, the awareness-raising campaign engaged young people as responsible consumers in line with this year’s World Day against Child Labour’s focus on children in supply chains.

“It (the awareness) might end up changing a consumption pattern, favouring certain brands and rejecting others. And hopefully increasing the level of compassion that we have towards those in need,” said Ambassador Sanz.

According to the ILO’s latest figures for child labour, the ILO Global Estimates on Child Labour 2000-2012, Asia and the Pacific remains the region with the largest number of child labourers – about 78 million, which is just under 10 per cent of the child population aged 5-17 years, or 1 in 10 children.

“You have won the lottery. Your parents put you in a school like this. A lot of children around the world did not win the lottery and they are subjected to child labour. So, it’s a very real issue, a very relevant issue,” said James MacDonald, Head of NIST International School Thailand, in the opening remarks.

More than one hundred students from NIST and Mechai Bamboo School attended the live talk, followed by a Q&A session, where students asked: “Is it practically possible to avoid products that are made by child labour?

Simrin Singh, the ILO Senior Child Labour Specialist answered: “What you can do is to be aware. Awareness goes so far in bringing about the change you need to bring, on changing the situation, [diminishing] the need for child labour”.

Following the event, youth were called upon to raise awareness about the issue and share their ideas for combatting child labour through participation in the ILO project’s vox pop campaign – #youthrespond.

“You can be the first generation where the issue of child labour around the world can disappear. Can this be true? Can you be a factor to that?” Maurizio Bussi, Director of the ILO Country Office for Thailand, Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic, challenged the audience.

Beyond Giving: The NIST Microcredit Bank

Poverty and the cycle it perpetuates through generations represent an age-old problem that many view as a constant in life. A group of students and teachers at NIST don’t believe that a solution is so unfathomable, and they are tackling the issue head-on through the NIST Microcredit Bank (NMB). Created as a student-run service group with the aim of supporting all members of the NIST community, the NMB offers debt relief, business loans and scholarships for the children of the school’s support staff.

Based on the work of Mohammed Yunus, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microfinance, the NMB initially focused on providing small business loans with very little interest to support staff at NIST who sought to open their own businesses. This focus gradually shifted to providing education-based debt relief through scholarships for the children of those staff members, aligning to NIST’s belief in the transformative power of learning, and contemporary research in sustainable economic and social development through education as opposed to simple philanthropy.

Though basic schooling for all children in Thailand is free in principle, extraneous costs even in small public schools put it out of reach of thousands of families, particularly those with multiple children. In the words of the microcredit bank members, “It is unacceptable to be students of an academic institution that permits those who support our education to struggle to afford an education for their own”. They view caring for all members of the NIST community as a fundamental responsibility, one that will ultimately allow families to be enriched through education.

2016 is the fourth year that the NMB has provided scholarships to children of support staff, and also represents the largest number granted thus far: 33 in total. The benefits of these scholarships greatly help to alleviate the burden of the costs associated with schooling in Thailand, enabling families to afford the best education they can provide without the financial sacrifice that usually comes with it.

Driven by the success of their work, the NMB continually seeks to raise funds through various school events and regularly receives donations from NIST staff, the NIST Parent-Teacher Association (NIPTA), parent groups, student-run groups and the student body itself. More importantly, the students recognize that monetary donations ultimately have a limited scope. The group meets weekly to find ways to connect and bring the focus back to the community and their role in its continued growth.

Looking to the future, the microcredit bank is continually looking to improve and identify ways to further engage staff, students and parents. In the meantime they aim to enrich the lives and livelihoods of all members of the NIST community through their unique work, which represents a first among international schools in Thailand. Head of School James MacDonald captured this passion best as he spoke to this year’s scholarship recipients: “Even though you may attend other schools, NIST is also your school, and you are an important part of the community here”.

NIST & Danes Worldwide Explore New Language Programme

By its nature international education fosters the development of language and cultural exchange. In Thailand, NIST has taken a lead in this vital area through the World Languages Programme. Our school is now seeking to enrich language and cultural exchange further by expanding these opportunities to the greater community. On 31 March 2016 NIST, Danes Worldwide and the Ambassador of Denmark signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the intent of exploring a Danish language programme that would be open to all Danish expatriates in Thailand.

Danes Worldwide, established in 1919, has spent nearly a hundred years supporting its citizens living abroad through education and public engagement. In the 1980s and 1990s it began expanding its programmes, launching the annual Danish Summer School in various locations worldwide and also offering online language lessons. By striving to support its global community, particularly through language and education, Danes Worldwide has enriched their shared cultural heritage.

This ideal is shared by our school, which promotes community and growth as two of our core values. As expressed by Deputy Head of School Brett Penny, “Language serves as the foundation for every international school”. NIST believes that language represents more than simple communication; it is a means to bridge cultures and foster peace through dialogue and shared understanding in line with the International Baccalaureate’s aspiration to “build a better world”. Through the World Language Programme at the school, students can learn over 15 languages, either as a mother tongue, or as second or third languages.

Recognizing the significance of these shared values, Head of School James MacDonald; Deputy Head Brett Penny; His Excellency Mikael Winter, Ambassador of the Royal Danish Embassy in Bangkok; and Anne Marie Dalgaard, Secretary General of Danes Worldwide met at the school to sign the Memorandum of Understanding. Following the signing, the ambassador, secretary general and other guests met several of NIST’s young Danish speakers and toured the school’s World Languages Centre, which was purpose-built for collaborative, engaged learning.

In addition to providing the Danes in Bangkok with the opportunity to learn their mother tongue, this partnership opens the door to exploring similar programmes for other cultural groups. As recognized by NIST and Danes Worldwide, the challenges facing nations around the globe require not only the ability to communicate with others, but also mutual respect and understanding. By offering Danes in Thailand with the ability to connect to their language away from home, both organizations will take the first step toward building a center for cultural exchange and dialogue in the region.

World-Renowned Buddhist Monk Speaks at NIST

​While Thailand and much of Asia share a rich Buddhist tradition, its philosophy and perspectives have only made stronger inroads in the West over the last century. One of the driving forces behind its growth is Ajahn Brahmavamso Mahathera, better known as Ajahn Brahm, a British monk whose journey led him from the study of theoretical physics to the establishment of the first dedicated Buddhist monastery in the Southern Hemisphere. On 17 February his travels brought him to ​NIST, where he spoke to students, parents and staff on the importance of mindfulness and service. Interspersed with humor and personal anecdotes, his talks served as a reminder of the universal importance of empathy and reflection.

Born in London in 1951, Peter Betts was a bright student who earned a scholarship to Cambridge, where he studied theoretical physics. With a passion for understanding the universe and our place in it, he followed his formal education with an unusual choice: traveling to Thailand to study Buddhism. Ordained as Ajahm Brahm, he quickly became recognized for his sharp mind and was invited to to Australia to teach. Within a few years he had co-founded Bodhinyana Monastery, now the largest Buddhist community in Australia. Over the past three decades Ajahm Brahm has spoken to crowds around the globe, and in 2004 received the John Curtin Medal, granted by Curtin University to those who demonstrate “vision, leadership and community service”.

During his visit to NIST, he drew upon his wide range of experiences in speaking to students, emphasizing how service plays a crucial role in bettering society. On an individual level he described how mindfulness, an awareness of one’s thoughts on a moment-by-moment basis, can help us become more balanced and reflective. During a smaller session with environmental science students, he focused on their question of the value of nature from a religious perspective. NIST parents also had the opportunity to engage with Ajahm Brahm in an evening session, where he touched on his personal experiences and answered questions from the audience.

Like most other not-for-profit schools in Thailand, NIST does not adhere to any one creed or philosophy. However, our community respects the many rich traditions our shared cultures have passed down for generations, and also recognizes the value they offer. In a world that increasingly faces conflict within cultures, being compassionate toward others and reflecting on choices are critical for students as they move on to universities and careers. Only through mindful awareness and a willingness to grow will they be capable of meeting the many challenges of the 21st century.

For more information about Ajahm Brahm’s work, visit ​www.ajahnbrahm.org. To learn more about how mindfulness benefits students, visit mindfulnessinschools.org.

NIST Officially Launches Partnership with Chelsea FC

On Friday, 20 November NIST and the ​Chelsea Football Club Foundation officially marked the opening of Chelsea FC Soccer School Bangkok. The soccer school aims to offer opportunities for all young players, male and female, from ages 4 to 16 years old to connect through a very unique and authentic Chelsea FC Foundation programme.

Chelsea FC Foundation International Development Manager Ian Woodroffe remarked, “Since the Chelsea FC ‘Here to Play, Here to Stay’ first team tour to Thailand in 2011, it has been our mission to develop the right partnerships that positively support the community soccer school programmes, thus helping Chelsea FC leave a legacy beyond the first team tour games. In 2013 and more recently 2015 we played in an exhibition game versus the Thai All-Stars as part of the post-season tour after winning the 2014-2015 premier league title.

The partnership with NIST is extremely positive and a very unique, new model as we now venture into a new phase of football development. To many, the NIST relationship could be perceived as exclusive. However, this is far from the truth. The strength of the relationship between the Chelsea FC Foundation and NIST stems from their shared values. Both organizations are not-for-profits that seek to enrich youth by inspiring and encouraging them to pursue individual excellence and improve their performance through participation in this beautiful game.”

James MacDonald, Head of School at NIST, stated that “NIST believes in supporting and enriching not only our students, but also the greater community. As a leading IB school, we strive to nurture learners who are balanced and principled. This parallels Chelsea FC’s philosophy, which includes a belief in fair play and respect for others. Through this partnership, we can enrich the opportunities for all youth in Bangkok through our own programmes and those at other schools.”

As the regional office for the Chelsea FC Soccer School Bangkok, NIST offers a central base and office with access to their FIFA-certified artificial pitch at set times throughout the week. Additionally, programmes will be offered at external schools, some of which are already in action at locations across Bangkok. Beyond the coaching sessions at these schools, other programmes on offer at NIST include holiday courses, weekend coaching clinics, player development programmes and specialised activities.

Woodroffe also provided a preview of the soccer school’s future: “We will also be offering many opportunities to play fixtures and structured competitions, both in Thailand and with our other soccer school partners in Asia during 2016. High points to watch out for will be the regional football festival hosted at NIST during August 2016 and a UK coaching visit, where we aim to take a group of players to our training facility in Surrey for a true blue experience.

We hope the the wider community will also appreciate that by placing two of our own Chelsea FC Foundation coaching staff from the UK in Bangkok to run and develop the programme, this will take will take it to another level. We pride ourselves on being unique, as well as training our Thai coaches the Chelsea FC way, making us very confident this will impact the football community positively.”

Dreams We Believe In: Biking for Baan Gerda

Our student-run service group Dreams We Believe In (DWBI) is proud to introduce a new service activity: Biking for Baan Gerda.

This weekly fundraising activity provides fun and exciting biking opportunity through suburban Bangkok, and at the same time supports the children living with HIV at Baan Gerda in Lopburi. All proceeds go to the children living at Baan Gerda, and all participants get a certificate of appreciation for their donation. Through this tour, you will be able to experience the every-day life of Thais in suburban Bangkok. Are you up for something different? This will be a memorable experience for sure.

NIST Student with a Child from Baan Gerda

We cycle on the elevated pathways of Phra Khanong klong system. This part of the tour will make you feel as you are back in the 19th century. Many temples and buildings here were built in the 1850s, and the residents still live a very traditional life. What makes this area especially interesting is that Buddhists and Muslims live side by side. You will see both temples and mosques along the klong.

We also visit the home of Thailand’s most famous ghost, Mae Nak. The shrine of Mae Nak at Wat Mahabut makes for one of the most interesting and unique places you can visit in Bangkok. Mae Nak lived in the 19th century, but she is very much alive in the minds and hearts of Thais even today.

We then stop for a picnic in one of Bangkok’s biggest and most beautiful parks, unknown to most tourists. Rama 9 Park is a large quiet space with a distinctly local flavor in northeastern Bangkok. It has themed gardens surrounding a central lake. This is a place where suburban Bangkokians come for family picnics, exercise, jogging, Tai Chi, and dates in the paddleboats.

We cycle around the picturesque Lake Nong Bon, which covers 250 acres. Lake Nong Bon hosts a wide range of water sports, including windsurfing, sailing and kayaking. This is one of Bangkok’s most stunning areas, showcasing the natural beauty of the surrounding area.

The tours take 4-6 hours and run on Saturday and Sunday mornings. For more information visit the Dreams We Believe In site.

NIST High School Counsellor Joachim Ekstrom


The Dreams We Believe In service group was initiated in 2009 by Ishita Trivedi, Pearl Jain, Anchal Mirchandani and Sakina Kapasi (Class of 2011) as a CAS service project. The project has been running for 6 years now, and students have launched various successful fundraisers and organized many activities for children living with HIV. Prior to the 2014-15 academic year, DWBI worked with the Mercy Centre, and recently shifted to begin supporting Baan Gerda, a children’s charity in Lopburi providing care for orphans living with HIV.