Where are you from?
I am originally from Hong Kong and my parents are from Hong Kong but they both came to work here in Chiang Mai. I moved to Thailand when I was 2 months old and for the first 5 years of my life, I honestly thought I was Thai. I grew up in Chiang Mai and went to Grace International school, graduated from there and went to a University in Hong Kong. Now, I have been back in Chiang Mai for about 2 years.
Why come back to Chiang Mai?
When I graduated University in 2018, I had no intention of coming back to Chiang Mai. I got an offer from for an international school in Hong Kong but because of some personal reasons and not agreeing with how the school was being run at the time, I ended up declining their offer. I had a friend here in Chiang Mai, Bethany who was my High School classmate and she asked if I would visit her. I kind of joked with her; I will come visit you if you can get me an interview tomorrow, because she knew I was job hunting. She got me an interview the next day! I came to the school, talked with our now superintendent and at that point I really liked the vision and mission of the school. I decided to take the leap of faith and move back to Chiang Mai.
Interact Club – Are you the founder?
Yes and how the Interact Club came to be, is because our Junior class came to me last year and said they are interested in doing some sort of community service, they heard its really good for a University application. They asked me if there is anything that you can recommend we do here at school. That got me thinking because when I was in High School we did a lot of community outreach, community service sort of stuff. There was nothing here for it because we were such a new school. I went to the principal and pitched to her this plan where we could do this once a month club and it just so happened everything fell into place. The principal met this guy Mike when playing pool and he happened to be the youth director of rotary international here in Chiang Mai. So everything aligned, he got us kicked started into the process. It went from me planning to helping out once a month to becoming a full time second job. Now, I run the Interact club here at school and we go to a * local foster home 2 times a month. We have meetings every Thursday during the students lunch hour. We also have trips that we take to our partner orphanage in Chiang Rai, which is about 3 hours away from Chiang Mai; we go there twice a year. We donate supplies there and also our time to play with the kids.
What started off being an extra boost for University applications snowballed into something much greater than any of us could ever imagined. That’s the thing with community service is that once you start, get a taste of how good it feels to help other people, not even with a lot of money or a lot of time but even giving one hour every two weeks, like what the students are doing now. Having relationships with kids that do not have parents, you get to see them growing and how happy they are to see you, its sort of like a drug and you can’t get enough of it. I feel like that is how the students have taken to the Interact club. It went from a 10-person club to 27 within a year, word gets around. I’m proud of the students, they have come really far.
The Interact Clubs Support of Orphan Children
We first heard about the village Baan Pak Dek Phraporn in Chiang Rai through our school nurse whose husband is a missionary and pastor in Chiang Mai. He has been working with them for the past 2-3 years. At first I was a bit hesitant to take on a second project, in addition to the foster home that we visit twice a month here in CM, just because we were so new, we didn’t have many resources but soon as I read the project proposal I knew we couldn’t say no.
We recently went for a visit to the Chiang Rai orphanage in November 2019 and we are going again this May. When we first went back in May 2019 the orphanage was in bad shape and it had been like that for the past 7 years. The kids were living in tin shacks that were all rusted; they had second hand mattresses that were all on the floor and no shelving. When it rained the roof would leak, rust and it was a dangerous situation for them to be in.
What the Interact club has started doing is collecting a lot of donations of second hand clothing and shoes from our school community. Everyone was so sweet and generous; we were able to bring up 3 truckloads of supplies for the kids including rice, sugar, cooking oil, the basic necessities. In addition to the supplies our goal was to raise money for the orphanage to start their building project. With all the donors and with the help of 2-3 big donors, they now have completed a boys and girls dormitory along with a multi function hall. This past trip when we went it was very different from our first but different in a good way.
Connie’s home is a government licensed foster home started by Mr. and Misses Cummings for babies that are sick. Ms. Connie and her team nurse the babies back to health. One of the unique things about Connie’s home is the babies grow up speaking English. Why they raise the babies to speak English is because they are taken in with the intention to be adopted by international families. The children go to a local Thai school but at Connie’s home they speak English a 100 percent of the time. They are bi lingual by the age of 3. Support for Connie’s Home
* The Interact Club helps Connie’s Home twice a month.
Future Goals of the Interact Club
I would love to see Interact become a student led club. They do need the guidance of a teacher and supporting advisors, which we do have several awesome teachers that help out with the club. Obviously they always need chaperones when they go on trips. It would be amazing if they were to become more self-directed. Now that they have gotten the hang of it, maybe some of them would be willing to take on more responsibilities. For planning, buying supplies and executing different activities because those are important life skills to have when they become older. I also really would like Interact Club to become something that younger kids at the school and even kids in the greater Chiang Mai community look up to and say I want to do that when I am older. I want to make a difference in my community, I want to help other people, I want to be selfless and give more of myself, beyond just what I want. That’s the future direction I would like the club to go with.
Shelagh’s Future in Community Service
Community service education is something that I would want to do in the future no matter where I am. I loved community service growing up but what I love even more is watching my students falling in love with helping others. I’ve thought about whether I want to transfer full time into working for an NGO but I love teaching too much. My future goal is to do what I am doing now which is teach full time and also start up a club similar to the Interact club. Try to spread the love of community service to wherever I go in the future.
How can people support the Interact Club?
We are always looking for sponsors and if you have the desire to give we are happy to put you in touch with one of our two charities. Either Connie’s Home or Baan Pak Dek Phraporn. With the way that Thai orphanages work they are not getting any funding from the government directly so they need all the help they can get. Get in Touch – Interact Club
From Shelagh – Here are some links to charities that I think are doing awesome things in Northern Thailand and one international one that I personally donate to on a monthly basis as well:
- The HUG Project (Anti Human-Trafficking)
- Bliss Clean + Care Company (Vocational Training + Empowerment for Under-Resourced Women)
- Beam Education Foundation (Education/Vocational Training)
- Free Burma Rangers (Refugee Relief + Human Rights Activist)
- Compassion International (Child Sponsorship)
Shelagh’s Dream Project
I am super passionate about empowering young people to make a change in the world. If there were unlimited resources, I would love to be able to employ older children who have come out of refugee camps or from very poor areas around the world. Because I really believe that in order for a cycle of poverty to be broken something has to be the catalyst for change and the tool for that is education. If I started a NGO, it would be a center where these children that have a passion to go back into their community to help can receive a free quality education. Whether that’s at a separate learning center or that’s through sponsorships at international schools.
Here is a link to EarthRights International, an NGO that has a school in Chiang Mai similar to Shelagh’s dream project.