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”.

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.

CIS Recognizes NIST Graduate with International Student Award

International-Student-Award-Winner-Chakrapoj-Bos-ChitwannapaThe Council of International Schools, one of the three organizations through which NIST International School is accredited, recognizes a small number of students worldwide each year with the International Student Award. Acknowledging the contributions of those who have “demonstrated a clear commitment to sustained interaction with students of the other nationalities, languages or ethnic backgrounds in a spirit of international understanding and cooperation”, the award encourages students to reach out to others in their communities, identify issues, and initiate creative, sustainable solutions. This year Chakrapoj (Bos) Chitwannapa, a member of the Class of 2014, became one of only a small number of students worldwide to receive the award.

As described on the CIS award page, “Bos travelled to Maeramit Village in Om Goi District as part of a CAS trip where he participated in the preliminary stage of community development. This has helped him gain first-hand experience in learning about development and applying development tools in a rural village environment. Bos did some excellent work facilitating the needs analysis process, and the school was impressed with the leadership he has shown. Bos will continue to work on the project with other NIST students and teachers, as well as with other schools, so as to help form a development project that will benefit the village in a sustainable and beneficial way.”

Congratulations, Bos, and we wish you luck as you leave NIST and begin a new journey in university!