The Birth of Change
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” - Helen Keller
Many of us believe helping and encouraging others are acts of kindness that mean something substantial today more than ever. Over the years the Playing for Change Foundation has consistently been all about breaking down barriers and paving the way for others. Although I remain stranded in Northeastern Thailand, I’m pleased to report on a vital initiative we have taken on during an unanticipated quarantine. This marvelous intention is only possible because of a grant provided by the Asha Foundation for Humanity, a long-time PFCF partner.
What an impression Playing for Change is making around the world at this defining moment! I continue to be profoundly moved by our global team’s heartfelt effort to make a real difference in the lives of young people during this most extraordinary time. To me, a beautiful unexpected story such as this demonstrates the true essence of the Playing for Change Foundation - initiating actions through music, dance, art and education to relieve suffering and benefit others.
In the Nonghan district about 35 km outside of Udon Thani lies Ban Kung village. Around 1000 Isaan native people live in the community. Unfortunately, most children of poor families must leave school at a very early age. They work in the fields or look for better paying jobs hundreds of kilometers away from home. Their choices are extremely limited.
Thailand is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of highly profitable sexual exploitation and forced labor. There have even been instances of mafia-controlled minibuses driving into neighboring villages here, posing as official transport and abducting children.
Meet Mai Wilachai. She volunteers nearly all her spare time to help protect and educate deserving children and adults in need. She’s a hard worker that comes from a long linage of rice farmers. Mai takes care of six family members. Her English is self-taught entirely from watching YouTube educational and music videos including Playing for Change. She is driven to help give these kids a chance in life.
Earlier this year, right before the pandemic was fully known, Mai visited and gained knowledge from Gigi’s Khlong Toey music program in Bangkok, as well as traveled to all five music programs in Kathmandu and remote Nepal. She quickly bonded with PFCF team members Thea Karki, Tuhin Asad, Ishor Bajracharya, Shyam Basnet and befriended the determined women of the Mother’s Society. Inspired by her life-changing experience, she vowed to bring these valuable lessons home to the Isaan people.
For many years, Mai has been a tireless advocate for the village children. All free lessons given up till now were provided literally under a mango tree - adjacent to the rice fields. They previously had no shelter for learning. The weather is often uncertain and can be severe. Most kids also have surprisingly little support from the family. Too many have not had enough to eat. As often as she is able, Mai provides a snack or lunch.
Her desire is to share what knowledge she has. Mai admits she is a novice with some things, yet exhibits a deep passion to inspire others to learn. Basic English instruction is taught, as well as traditional Thai and Isaan dance, art programs, yoga, aerobics, and introductory Muey Thai for self-defense. Mai is engaged in their well-being and the kids love her for it.
The Asha Foundation for Humanity provided the necessary support to design and construct a traditional Sala Thai, also known as a Pavilion. The Sala Thai design is a major part of the country's cultural legacy. It reflects both the challenges of living in Thailand's extreme climate as well as, historically, the importance of architecture to the Thai people's sense of community and religious belief. And in today’s world, it’s basically a virus safe open classroom environment. Ongoing arts and educational programs were further developed and the Bang Kung Learning Center was established.
The project took 14 weeks to complete over this past summer - through incredible heat waves and monsoon downpours. And yes - the work was rigorous and challenges came often, yet it’s been one the biggest joys of my life to participate in this righteous cause. Mai, her family and the villagers are all very proud of their most beautiful Sala Thai and with continued support, what it could mean for their children.
This extraordinary gift to the community is dedicated to the vision, achievements and character of Norman Lear. The open house dedication was held August 30th, 2020 at the newly inaugurated Ban Kung Learning Center - Learn What You Love.
Since BKLC has no music program as of yet, the collective vision is for an instructor from the Khlong Toey music program to live stream an introductory music education course directly to Mai’s students. A vital initiative such as this creates an opportunity to extend the reach of our existing talented teachers to benefit even more deserving children.
Due to the dedicated PFCF spirit, and the generous support of Maurie, Vivien, Marc and Daniel of the Asha Foundation, this compassionate act truly enlivens all involved. We rise by lifting others. Together we are capable of amazing change! Stay tuned for more life-affirming stories to come. Stay safe.
Onward and upward,
The Playing For Change Foundation is a global nonprofit organization founded in 2007 offering creative opportunities for marginalized and at risk youth, specifically in the developing
world. We believe in music as an instrument of change and extend our work to humanitarian support, community development, renewable energies, sports education and formal evening classes.