Expat Life in Thailand sat down with the legendary Thai Ajarn Khun Lakhana Didyasarin B.S, M.A. (Ed) USA., Founder and Chairman of The American School of Bangkok.
Known to her hundreds of staff as Ajarn, The Boss, Director she is the most delightful host.
An English gentleman should never disclose a lady’s age but this powerhouse of Thai education has not lost one bit of her sparkle at 72 years of age. You can see that when she was younger she was a beautiful lady and she still turns heads now. As we spoke the sparkle in her eyes never faded and you can tell that this is a lady that has not lost her lust for life and helping Thailand get the education that it so badly needs to compete on the world stage.
When I arrived at the Green Valley campus on Bangna Trad Rd just South of IKEA she was stood holding an umbrella overseeing a large team of her staff fertilising the large roundabout just inside the main gate of the international school.
I saw the brand new 7 storey dormitory building off to the left behind the golf course recently completed in March 2020 and now home to 70 new boarding students to the school. Boarding is the future for Bangkok schools as the traffic is in gridlock. Parents do not want their children stuck in a minibus choked in traffic so flexible boarding is I believe the answer: Long term, weekly, part time and or flexi boarding. I get the feeling that other dormitories will follow at ASB. I pulled up, opened the window, her pretty smile met me and I offered her a lift to her home in the grounds of the 30 plus rai campus.
“No” she replied “I have my golf cart” and gestured to the head of boarding waiting nearby with her golf cart. This is a fiercely independent lady that needs little help from anyone. She knows what she is doing and how to do it with aplomb.
I pulled over walked back and watched Ajarn Lakhana offer words of support and encouragement to her work party of Thai staff, teachers and a few enthusiastic students. They were working hard as the Boss looked on and offered her guidance.
Being an excellent hostess she broke away from her duties and walked me through the grounds around the lake to tell me about the plants and flowers. This is a proud lady and rightly so, she obviously knows every inch of the campus. She has achieved a great deal but she shows no signs of slowing up. I saw the new Mindfulness Centre (‘The Glasshouse’) by the side of the lake – a huge glass fronted single storey building so that the students can look out over the water whilst in meditation.
I followed the Boss’s golf cart and we parked at the rear of her lovely house overlooking the lake. Her staff appeared and guided me into her home. I walked in the back door to a large open plan room beautifully decorated. One wall was filled with pictures of her 8 grandchildren ranging for 14 to 1.5 years of age. Lovely Thai children, all smiling, happy and content and you could see that she dotes on each and every one of them.
Khun Lakhana beckoned me in to the large dining room with 16 high backed chairs covered in material with purple flowers on them around the long dining table. The swimming pool was bubbling away outside and you could see that this was where she watched her grandchildren at play. After she had fussed over me, asking me what she could get for me – tea, coffee, water, cheesecake,…
We sat facing each other at one end of the large dining table. I was quickly made comfortable by the Boss’s team and the door was shut and we were alone. She had prepared a number of documents for me and handed them over. Her bright blue eyes glistened as she spoke to me.
I thanked her for preparing the material but asked if she would recount what she told me when we last met on site at her Sukhumvit 49/3 campus about her grandfather and how he had started her off on her ‘calling’ in life as an educator.
She said that her grandfather Khun Dut Didyasarin was born on the same day, same month and same year as King Rama 6 and that as such the King had conferred on him the requirement to start a school. He chose to open the school in Hat Yai in Songkhla in the very South of Thailand in 19…
Some years later her father Khun Pradit and her mother Khun Lamduan took over the running of the school and then some years later her older sister Khun …. took over from her parents. She was meanwhile sent overseas to study in the USA.
She was impressed in the American way of teaching and learning with the primary focus on the interests of the students. It differed to what she had known and how she has been taught in Thailand. Western education was student centric – a system that encourages children to be reflective, outspoken and confident in expressing their thoughts. It taught the children to “think outside the box” and ask the question “why” – which was totally alien to the Thai system where it would be seen wrong and impudent to question the teachers. As we all know the Thai education system is based on the rote system and the Ajarn must not be questioned…
She initially attended Oklahoma University then completed her Masters in Education at the University of Nebraska and worked in the US as a teacher for a further 11 years honing her skills. This made her understand the necessity of speaking English in today’s world and so when she returned to Thailand she sought out and purchased land on Sukhumvit 49/3 in 1983 and launched the first international kindergarten and the fifth international school in Thailand – The American International School of Thailand.
Thirty eight years later this dynamo of Thai education has still not stopped building the education empire that her grandfather bestowed upon her many years before but she built her own business. It was not handed down through the generations. Now ASB has the two main campuses on Sukhumvit 49/3 and at Green Valley Bangna Trad Rd. Km15 overseeing and providing education for over 900 students between the ages of 2 and 18 and from … nationalities.
When I previously visited her at the Sukhumvit campus she proudly showed me the new (6) storey classroom building with the library on the ground floor. Two of her grandchildren and various other pupils approached her lovingly and hugged her. This lady is a magnet. The new multi purpose astroturf sports ground and told me that they were going to screen off Samitivej Hospital that is next door. She then gave me a sneak preview of the pilings being laid for the new 8 storey sports hall, … metre swimming pool, fitness studio and workout rooms, the rooftop tennis courts. We had already met at the new administration building by the back entrance and I marvelled at the stacking car park system that stacked 6/8 cars on top of each other. So alien in a school environment yet painfully practical.
She has three beautiful daughters – Khun Gift, Khun Pam and Khun Lady in that order.
Khun Nisanart Dharmakeisirattana (Gift) the oldest is … and as the director of Green Valley she is a mindfulness expert. She has three children – …, …., … but she is a pretty, petite young lady – it is hard to believe that she has three children.
Khun Lita Tavedikul (Pam) runs World Star Academy which is an international performing arts school based in Bangkok that offers programmes in singing, dancing, acting, and numerous other fields of the performance arts. Its founder and director at … years old is already a veteran of the entertainment industry with over twenty five years experience as a performer, recording artist, voice instructor, TV host, producer and businesswoman. Khun Pam has two children – … and …
Khun Lady Didyasarin Tavedikul (Lady) a foamier Miss Thailand finalist at … the youngest of the three sisters oversees Sukhumvit 49/3 campus and runs D-PREP – a nursery grade 12, IB system international school. She too has three children and the youngest grandchild …. at just one and a half years old.
I knew that Khun Lakhana ran a number of charity projects the main one being The Sukhumvit Fair which has now been going for 21 years since 1999.
I asked her to explain what her mission was there and she explained …
Whenever there is a disaster in Thailand Khun Lakhana musters her troops and off they go to lend a hand wherever and whatever they can do. The tsunami in 2007 (?).
She transported her crew to and they …
Last year when the Wild Boars got stuck in the caves at Tham Luang near Chiang Rai in June 2018 Khun Lakhana and her trusty crew leapt into action and she created a mobile kitchen cooking ‘farang’ food for the many international rescuers from around the world at base camp.
This is a lady that leads by example, never shy of rolling up her sleeves and getting stuck in. Others meekly follow her example and this is what creates a leader. In the past the Sukhumvit Fair has supported UNICEF; tsunami relief foundations; the Chai Pattana Foundation; the Foundation of Thai Elephant Conservation; the Home for the Blind with Multiple Disabilities at Ram-intra; provincial schools under the AMCHAM Adopt-a-School programmes; the Prostheses Foundation of HRH the Princess Mother; the Green World Foundation; local slums in Bangkok; the medical treatment of patients suffering from leukaemia, the refurbishment of housing in Surin… the list goes on and on.
I have a feeling that this lady has not finished the job she believes that she was put on this earth to achieve – I have a new respect for American School Bangkok (ASB).