Imagine you didn’t have shoes to wear to school, or your family didn’t have enough food to give you more than one small meal per day, or you didn’t have soap to wash your hands. For many kids in small hill tribe villages in the North of Thailand, they don’t need to imagine these scenarios, it’s just what they call normal. But thanks to the Tree of Life Foundation, this is becoming less of a reality for more and more kids every year.
Darrell and Randy Lovernich first came to Thailand more than 15 years ago and absolutely fell in love with the country and the people. Rather than just touristing through for a couple days and enjoying the bubble of luxurious resorts and private beaches, they spent time getting to know people, families and communities. They decided to buy property in the Land of Smiles and make it a home away from home.
As they got to know more people and visit more areas in Thailand, they noticed that there were communities that lacked fundamental necessities for life: food, water, suitable shelter, basic sanitation, education… Both professionally successful and young retirees, they are not shy to the idea of taking action when action needs to be taken. They began looking into the steps to form a legal foundation so that they could spend their time doing what they could to help out in their adoptive home.
For those unfamiliar with setting up a foundation in Thailand, it’s a gruelling, two-year minimum process. There aren’t many foundations and to survive the gauntlet of paperwork, financial checks, credibility checks, etc. to just get the title of “Foundation”, only the strong survive. But Darrell and Randy were determined to do it right and set up something that would be sustainable in the long term. They credit the tireless work of their lawyer Supaporn Sara Persson and her legal team for making the Tree come to Life.
The Tree of Life Foundation has several main objectives:
- Provide textbooks, teachers’ manuals, casual reading books and dictionaries to impoverished children in remote rural areas without sufficient funding
- Create scholarships for impoverished students to enhance educational opportunity
- Provide basic necessities such as toiletries, clothing, food, kitchen equipment, medical supplies
- Build libraries in remote rural areas Improve school sanitary conditions for the children in the remote rural schools
- Support HIV infected children.
Right now, the foundation focuses on two schools in the Mae Rim/Maetaeng District about three hours North of Chiang Mai. Darrell and Randy believe strongly in sustainability and that focusing on a couple schools and really doing it properly is better than spreading themselves too thin over many schools. The foundation supports 68 students at Ban Na Gu School and Ban Mae Maem school. So far, the Tree of Life Foundation has donated 1,400 new books, classroom supplies, boots, clothing, towels, blankets, pillows, hair clippers, 300kg of rice, fish sauce, cooking oil, sugar, noodles, sardines, snacks, and even some footballs for fun! They also worked with Marriott to refit the kitchen at one of the schools so that they can prepare meals cleanly and safely for the students.
They are constantly doing creative fundraisers to raise money and awareness for their efforts. 100% of all money raised goes to the foundation; the operating expenses are a running gift from Randy and Darrell and until the fundraising is sufficient, they are self-funding everything. They are truly working out of the kindness of their hearts. You may have seen Randy dressed up as Santa at the US Ambassador’s Holiday Party or at one of the big Bangkok hotels over the holiday season. All money from the events was donated to the foundation.
Moving forward, Darrell and Randy have big plans for The Tree of Life. The have already started the ball rolling on a couple major projects at each school in addition to their regular supplement of food and supplies. At Ban Na Gu, they plan to help bolster one of the school buildings to prevent it from collapse. They are also working on bringing water filtration systems to the school and doing a major renovation of the bathrooms so that the kids have a sanitary, functional space. At Ban Mae Maem, they are working specifically on bringing healthier food options to the kids. Again, partnering with Marriott, they brought boxed lunches to the kids which much to their delight, included an apple.
Randy and Darrell are no strangers at the schools, they are planning to head back up North in February to deliver the next round of supplies and to continue working on the larger infrastructure projects.
If you’d like more information about how you can help the Tree of Life Foundation or you would like to support them financially or with supplies, visit their website at www.tree-of-life-thailand.com or email them at [email protected].
Best of luck to this foundation as it continues to make real impact on the daily lives of these children.