10 years ago, Swiss native and Child’s Dream co-founder Daniel Siegfried decided to take a trip to northern Thailand to volunteer for two weeks at a hill tribe school. Daniel had recently become one of the youngest Senior Director’s in the history of UBS bank at only 25 years old. He was living most Swiss banker’s dream. However, he was deeply affected by the poverty he saw and most of all the limited opportunities for education.
When he returned, he spoke to fellow banker Mark Jenni about his experiences and convinced Marc to return to Thailand with him to once again volunteer. Within a week after returning from that second trip, both had resigned from the senior positions at the bank and set out to create The Child’s Dream Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on providing education for the children of the Thailand. Those first few years were spent driving an old Volkswagen van through the treacherous SE Asia roads visiting schools and community leaders to help build educational facilities.
As the years have gone on, the organization as expanded beyond Thailand to sponsor and implement projects in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. The type of assistance has expanded as well by constructing boarding houses, sponsoring university scholarships, and providing much needed healthcare for the children of the Myanmar refugee camps just to name a few. It is a surprisingly mature organization considering it’s age, it is well managed, well-funded, and making a significant impact on the region.
In future posts, I will expand on how I decided to volunteer with Child’s Dream, what my role entails, and describe in detail the work that the organization is doing. I will start though by telling about my first week and one great party!
The Deep End
Coincidentally, my very first day with Child’s Dream landed exactly on the 10 year anniversary of the founding of the organization. The entire team had spent the previous week celebrating the occasion on the Thai Island of Koh Chang. When I arrived on Monday morning, everyone was in quite a panic. With the previous week off, they now had 4 business days to get everything ready for the 300+ donors and guests who would come to the 10 year anniversary celebration on Friday.
I was quickly introduced to everyone in the office and immediately given the task to create the pamphlet that would be handed out at the event. At least I knew they wouldn’t be afraid to give me tasks. I spent the next few days trying to understand what was actually going to happen at the event and did my best to put everything together. The excitement was actually quite fun with everyone scurrying around and getting ready. By Thursday afternoon music was blasting throughout the office and people were putting the finishing decoration up with a beer in their hand.
The day of the party began very early with the giving of sacrifices to the Spirit house. Spirit Houses are a key component to Thai spirituality and especially so on important occasions. The Thai employees left an entire raw chicken, rice, cigarettes, flowers, and burning incense at the altar of the spirit house.
At 8am sharp, three Buddhist monks arrived to lead a blessing of the Child’s Dream staff and office. The Buddhist staff members prepared the gifts for the monks and everyone else gathered around the Buddha statue. The monks began by chanting for about 30 minutes before inviting everyone else to join in the prayer. It was a very powerful ceremony and my mind always seems lighter and to almost float during the rhythmic Buddhist chants. Once the prayers had finished, the monks called Daniel and Marc up to give them a formal blessing of good luck.
After a brief team lunch around noon we did the final prep before guests arrived. We actually finished early so had time to take a lot of pictures and relax and chat for a while in the sun.
Meet and Greet
At around 4pm, guests began to arrive many coming directly from the airport. Dozens of the guests were flying in from places all around the globe such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Switzerland, London Japan and on and on. One of the main success factors for Child’s Dream has always been the founder’s connection to the banking industry and thus a large network of very well off people. These connections have contributed millions of dollars over the years and been the financial backbone to the organization. Having all these very powerful and successful business people in attendance also peaked my interest and made the small talk during the meet and greet a little higher stakes.
Somehow, on the day of the event I was told/asked by the COO Manuela that I would be in charge of all PR for the event. Reps from the 3-4 Chiang Mai newspapers were going to be there as well as many photographers. Considering I am one of just a few native English speakers in the office, it made sense. So for the first 2-3 hours I showed these people around and answered whatever questions I could (considering I had started 4 days before) It was actually really cool though meeting some of the ‘beat’ writers from the Chiang Mai press and I found out later that you end up seeing these people everywhere around town.
By far the coolest moment of the meet and greet was when I witnessed a university student who had been granted a scholarship by Child’s Dream, meet her donor. The donor was a high powered banker from Singapore who was suddenly pulled from a conversation and introduced to this young Asian woman. The young woman was clearly nervous to meet him but he broke the ice by saying “How is the studying going?” The woman was from a refugee camp along the Myanmar border and because of this man’s donation, was granted a scholarship to go to University in Bangkok. She is studying to be a nurse. Very cool…
After everyone had arrived and a lot of socializing, Marc and Daniel got up and gave a quick speech, introduced the staff, and thanked everyone for coming. They then introduced a group of university scholarship students who entertained the crowd with cultural acts including a sword dance and a local Thai dance.
After the performances, Sarah arrived from school and I introduced her to everyone. The breakout sessions started next in which each of the focus groups gave presentations and hosted Q&A sessions. Considering I just started, Sarah and I decided to attend the screening of the Child’s Dream documentary a Swiss TV channel had done. It described how Marc and Daniel started the organization and was actually really well done.
After the sessions were all over, it was time to drink and eat. There were kegs of Chang beer and an unbelievable spread of food. One of the best local Hotel/Restaurants catered the event and provided tons of Thai dishes, Indian Appetizers, and awesome deserts. They had it set up in buffet style so we obviously went back up like three times. We sat at the table with one of the local writers for CityLife magazine who happened to be from Kansas, and after living in Thailand for 20 years, told Sarah and me some great stories.
The night wrapped up with a huge celebratory birthday cake and the tradition of lighting off Chinese lanterns for good luck. The guests gathered together and lit off 10 huge lanterns for 10 more years of success. The party was a ton of fun and I can’t imagine a better way to start my time with the organization. The Child’s Dream staff is a lot of fun and they are really committed to the work they do. I am excited to see what the months ahead will bring.