Readers' Submissions

Sawadee’s Project

  • Written by Mike
  • August 22nd, 2011
  • 11 min read


I read “And Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out” by Sawadee 2000 with a keen interest since I am the “donor” he wrote about in his submission. I remember when the issues of his employment arose as he informed me that his contract was not going to be renewed, but that he had secured employment at a different school. However, I was not aware of the details of how this actually came down until his recent submission. I had read Stickman's account when he included a portion of this story in his weekly “ When Somchai Pulls the Trigger”. I knew exactly who he was when I read this piece. I sent an email of support to dear Sawadee but was not fully aware of the details until he wrote about his ordeal.

I am not a wealthy man by any means but rather comfortable with a simple lifestyle that I prefer. My Thai wife and I share a small, well appointed home in the Mid-west USA and we drive an 11-year old car that is much the same as new. We have everything we need and want. I supplement my pensions by trading stocks and foreign currency. I also work for my son in his business when he has a pressing need. Hence, I have more money than I need. For about the last ten years or so I have been making donations that range from low to high four figures every year thinking that at least some of my good fortune should be shared. This is not as easy as one may think, as I insist that every penny go directly to those that would benefit without administrative costs deducted from the total. For example, I donate regularly to a hospital foundation that spends 100% of my donation on the project I select, with the hospital picking up all the administrative costs.

Although I have never met Sawadee2000 in person, I got to know him last winter when I was involved in a currency trading program that required me to be mindful of the Internet trading involved. I was stuck close to my computer for long periods waiting for the trading signals to pop up that would call me to action. To pass the time waiting for the trading triggers I perused Stickman Readers Submissions for reading material. I think that it would be quite fair to say that some of the submissions are not what I would call particularly interesting, at least to me. This is where I discovered Sawadee2000. I really enjoyed his stories. Honestly, anyone that can write a story about getting a washing machine repaired, and make it interesting to read, is quite the wordsmith! Having discovered an author I enjoyed I searched the submissions for every Sawadee2000 article I could find. I believe that I have read everything he has written for Stickman. I felt like I got to know this man through his writings that covered his life in New England, USA, his lovely wife and son, his not so lovely ex-wife, and his life in Thailand. However, what really impressed me were his stories about teaching English to very young children. I had figured out from reading his accounts that he must be close to my age (63) and I shuddered a bit to think about me being tasked to teach such young children. While I do like young children I simply could not teach small children every day. I have about three years of teaching experience at an American university so I understand something of the learning process. His approach to teaching is very creative and innovative. To add to his credentials he is the real item having been educated in the US to be a teacher. When I read about Stickman readers donating books to be read to these little students I made a mental note that I would likely participate.

I contacted Sawadee when Stickman posted a request for book donations. At first I thought I would pick up a few used books and send them off but then I had second thoughts. I re-read his posts on teaching his young students and I was convinced that donating these books was a very worthwhile project. Anything worthwhile I have ever done was not half-arsed. For me, this had to be worthwhile. I joined a children's book club and told Sawadee that he could select up to 25 new books with any title he desired and I would order them and ship them to Lampang. This would provide him with new books that he really wanted. No used books for these kids! I later changed the plan to offer Amazon books as the book club begin to be a real pain, sending me books I didn't order. With over 1,200,000 children's book titles listed Amazon by far has more books than any other source I can think of. I should have used them to begin with. Sawadee was absolutely delighted with this arrangement. As we exchanged emails it was something like watching a kid in a candy store. The excitement was contagious and I began to share his enthusiasm. I have to say that in over ten years of donating to worthwhile projects this one ranks among the top in providing the feeling that you are indeed making a difference. Many of the titles he selected were the same as I had when I was a child, most notably Dr. Seuss.

Somewhere along in this project I asked Sawadee about putting bookplates in the books to honor my wife's son who had been tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. If I recall correctly it was much less than a month since the accident so my thinking was that it would be a good way to honor him. I had intended to create the bookplates and attach them to the books before I mailed them. Sawadee offered to do the bookplates himself and I accepted. It was Sawadee that offered a thank you letter from his school, to his credit, not my request as he posted. Of course I agreed. It should be important to note that I had decided to make this donation based on the worthiness of the project and not as a memorial to my stepson. This was an afterthought. Let me say if the bookplate was not acceptable I would have made the donation anyway with no concern. If I had known that Sawadee was having issues with the letter I would have quickly told him to forget it. He really didn't need another issue with all he was facing at that time. If I were Sawadee I think I would have lifted a piece of school stationary and asked my wife to write a letter in Thai, sent it, and called it good. I suspect he is too ethical to do something like that.

With English as the international language of business it is very important for those that want success to learn it well. In my experience so many Thais struggle to use English properly. My wife has two nieces that have had massive amounts of education in English. They read and write English at a high level but their pronunciation is not on par with their abilities. The concept of teaching English to very young children is brilliant as young minds have few, if any, learning barriers. I am sure that many of these young learners will continue to develop the English skills that will significantly help them in their careers regardless of what they choose. The importance of this learning experience for them simply cannot be underestimated. Long after we are gone I am sure that some of these students will look back fondly at old Sawadee teaching them English when they were so young.

It has been my privilege to work with Sawadee to help, in a very small way, bring an educational experience to these lovely children. This world would indeed be a much better place if there were more like him. His dedication to his family, school children, and his community is very obvious to me. I can say that he is among those that I both admire and respect.

The fact that Sawadee was fired is not so much of an issue as how the school handled it. In the US, companies can fire anyone for just about any reason and it happens to some of the better workers at times, like me. It is unfortunate, but simply part of life. Perhaps the school decided that a Filipino teacher at half the wage would be best for the school? I do question the wisdom of dismissing a proven performer for a relatively small savings.

The deplorable way the school handled this firing is far beyond anyone’s concept. Over the past 40 some years during many trips to Thailand I have seen and experienced many things that are very baffling to me. At the same time these same things were perceived as normal and ordinary to Thais. Much of this can be explained by simple cultural differences. However the schools methods in this firing had nothing to do with culture. It is just plain mean. I have to say that I really don't know why this happened the way it did, but I am going to hazard a guess. I don't think it is a Farang issue but rather one or more mean, small minded, nasty people. They knew they had Sawadee by the balls and they didn't care. There are people like this in the US too. Sawadee should wake up every morning and thank God he doesn't need to work with awful people like that anymore.

As for me, I remain extremely satisfied with the entire experience of donating books for Sawadee's classes. As my finances permit I would certainly help again. My wife didn't get the letter but in typical Thai fashion she mai bpen rai and the thought disappeared. She has pictures that Sawadee sent of his students holding the books we sent. Recently she has been showing the pictures to friends and co-workers referring to them as children reading Off's (son's name) books. It has now been about 10 months since she lost her son and she has only recently been able to look at the pictures. They have become a treasure for her.

Well Sawadee couldn't deliver the letter but he did send something that meant a lot more. Surely you have heard the worn out saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Here is proof that it is absolutely true! (posted here with Sawadee2000's permission) Let me ask you would you rather have a letter or a picture? When I look at these sweet smiling children holding “Off's books” it truly warms my heart.

Thai students

Thailand students


Last month I opened a door to a cabinet that is used infrequently and to my surprise found a small box of children's books. I thought I had sent them all. It seems that my wife had put them away and I had forgotten them. I emailed Sawadee and requested his address again so I might complete my commitment. What struck me in this endeavor is the shipping costs are much more than the cost of the books. Furthermore, it is cheaper to ship them USPS Priority Mail than snail mail and is much faster. You figure?

My next donation to Sawadee's children will be made in person as my wife and I will be traveling to Thailand sometime within the next 5 to 6 months. I will contact him before we firm up travel plans to determine what he needs. When my wife goes to a temple for a few days I will venture to Lampang with something for his students. I do enjoy Thai temples, but not that much. Perhaps Sawadee will allow me to spend a few hours reading English books to his little ones.

My first reaction at Sawadee's account was shock that these school administrators would stoop so low. My next thought was why he allowed them to abuse him in such a callous way? I would have told them go ahead take your best shot, we will see who wins!!! Well Mike, maybe not so fast. As an old school, tough as nails, retired U. S. Marine Corps, NCO I cannot be intimidated by anything, period. However, caution is the greater part of valor and one needs to choose their battles with care. That said, I would have to say that I would have taken the same path as Sawadee. This is not a battle that anyone should consider. Retreat is not defeat.

When I read Sawadee's post I felt compelled to write a submission about my experience with this fine man. It's not that he needs any validation from me or anyone else but rather perhaps my words will help heal the bite just a bit.


Mike


Stickman's thoughts:

It's great to see the way readers come together like this to help each other!