The Accidental Do-gooders: How a couple found themselves forming a foundation to help under privileged children
Randy and Darryle Lovernich have had a good life. Partners for decades, this American couple moved to Thailand fifteen years ago with no ambition further than enjoying their well-earned retirement. They had a lovely apartment in Bangkok, enjoyed a vibrant social life, travelling the world and Thailand whenever the mood struck.
“We visited Chiang Mai often and always enjoyed the city and its people,” said Randy, sitting next to his partner in matching purple t-shirts, the logo on the breast featuring the Tree of Life Foundation. “We have always wanted to help out and donate to charity where we can,” added Darrell, “but the last thing we thought we would ever do again was work!” they both burst out laughing.
And work is what they are doing now. Following a trip up to a remote hill tribe village during their stay at Le Meridien, where they always stay when visiting Chiang Mai, both men found themselves affected by the visit more than they could have ever imagined.
“There was one child in particular,” they said, almost at the same time. “His smile, his delight in the toys we brought and games we played, it just stuck with us, we just couldn’t shake thinking about his future,” added Darrell. “Soon we were trying to think about what we could do to help.”
The pair turned to Le Meridien’s staff, who they had become very friendly with over the years, for help.
“Initially we selected two schools recommended to us by the hotel, Ban Na Gu and Ban Mae Maem schools in Mae Taeng District. We put together donation boxes which included 1,400 books which covered teaching manuals, text books, run reading books and class room supplies. The hotel staff took us all over town to buy everything as we simply didn’t know where to start, and soon we had bought 300 kgs of rice, fish sauce, mama noodles and other essentials, spending about 275,000 baht of our money to supply these two schools,” said the Loverniches.
Le Meridien facilitated the travel to the school and helped the pair find a way to help.
The couple still wasn’t satisfied, and felt that they could do more. So with the help of the hotel again, they were introduced to a lawyer and formally set up the Tree of Life Thailand Foundation.
“We never knew it would be so much work!” Darrell laughed. “We have been working almost full time, setting this up, studying about what it takes to be a responsible foundation. We just want to help.”
The aim of Tree of Life Foundation is to regularly monitor and assess the needs of the schools, adjusting the donations as required, which at this time is new shower and toilets facilities, a project they hope to start working on later this year. They also wish to facilitate the schools in building an organic garden so that they can become more self-sustainable.
“The aim is to reach one more school each year,” said Randy. “We want to be involved because we love doing it, but we also want the foundation to be sustainable and we hope to eventually add scholarships to our programmes so that these kids can have a real future.”
With their affluent lifestyle, the Loverniches have come into contact with many people and businesses which they are now hoping to call on to support their foundation.
“We have no aim to be a huge foundation, we want to focus on each project and do it right, and also to follow through, hopefully Tree of Life can be part of these communities and these children’s lives as they grow into great members of society,” added Randy.
Darrell and Randy’s story is not unique. In fact it echoes hundreds if not thousands of stories of other Thai and expatriates living here who find themselves helping out where they can. It appears that all it takes is the will, “We couldn’t believe the great support we received from people along the way,” added Darrell. “We honestly didn’t know where to start, but local people just stepped up and guided us and we are very grateful for that. It looks like I am back out of retirement.”
Email: [email protected]
Donation: Bank: Siam Commercial Bank
Branch: Terminal 21 Bangkok
Swift Code: SICOTHBK
Acct. Name: The Tree of Life Foundation
Acct No: 422-028252-5