What happens when you mix Imagination with YES(TA)?

It may seem like an odd match up, but one of our closest relationships at the University is with a group called YESTA--a US Embassy funded study program that provides deserving students, mostly from Thailand's Muslim South, a year of high school study in the US before returning to enter university in Bangkok. Once in University, these YES alumni are active in community service year round.  Over a year ago the group leader walked into Passport, learned about what Imagine Thailand was about and proposed that we do something together. Last spring we joined up with a student group from UBC and Hat Yai University to conduct a leadership camp.  In that event the main beneficiaries were the students themselves. They got to study and play together in an multi-cultural context.  The program went so well, that we decided to do it again.

This past September, Imagine welcomed YESTA to join us in Takua Pa, teaching English to Buddhist students in a public school.  Now some of you think, that's awesome a Christian organization teaming up with Muslim students serving a Buddhist community, while others may question if that's a good thing to be doing.  Well, for our part we're pretty excited about it for many reasons.

The divide in Thailand over religion and culture is pretty large.  Even though Muslims have lived in the South for hundreds of years, they are often still referred to as visitors. You're probably aware that separatist extremists are exploiting the sense of disenfranchisment by waging a deadly insurgency in the Deep South. While Thailand is 95% Buddhist, in the Deep South, the numbers are reversed--95% of the population of these provinces is Muslim.  So when you have Muslim students choosing to serve a Buddhist community that's a big deal. When they do so by joining with Imagine, that's an even bigger deal. YESTA needs to be commended.

So what's Imagine's agenda you ask? Well, it's not complicated. Imagine believes it needs to be in the lives of the community whoever they are, wherever they are.  We're not closed off behind a parish wall, but living out our faith in relationship to anyone and everyone who feels safe to be around us. Spending a week with YESTA working alongside and together with them was awesome. The result was lots of fun, laughs and great conversations. And of course, we served a community that needs to see what happens when people are willing to not surrender to fear and misunderstanding, but instead live life together for the benefit of others,


Takua Pa Learning Centre Growing

Takua Pa is where Imagine Thailand began.  Here in this part of Phang Nga province, you'll find the deepest impact of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Even today people are shaken every time they hear of an earthquake, some remain emotionally traumatized, and from time to time someone dies from illness related to the tsunami.

You may remember after two years of working on recovery and development projects, we decided to stay on in Baan Phru Tiew, the community that was created to house survivors of the tsunami.  Community members asked for some form of after-school learning centre and six years ago we launched this project. We struggled to find decent space, and often we wondered if we should carry on.

How things have grown in Takua Pa! A year ago 15-20 students would squeeze into a living room the size of a decent walk-in closet. We now rent a small campus with access to two buildings and a large learning centre. With the help of Philadelphia Church in Lewisporte, Newfoundland and Omega Challenge in British Columbia we have the first Google Chrome Computers in Thailand, on-line learning and now up to 60 children who come each day after school.

The Centre is many things: a place of hope and refuge for kids whose parents find it hard to push them forward in their studies. It's a place to be after school, a place for fun and for learning. Children are getting help with homework, learning typing skills, preparing for exams and becoming better students.  Our staff follow their test scores, and we can see that 90% of the students are improving at school. We can observe that they are more engaged in learning, prefering to do online learning exercises rather than playing Moshi Monsters. We can also observe that they are becoming better people.

The Centre also provides emotional support and spiritual counsel. Many of the children have made the local church their home. We recently took a team of 12 pre-teens to serve in a migrant school in Mae Sot. Not only did they have a chance. to cross a culture in order to serve other children less fortunate, they had the chance to change. We didn't structure it that way, we just wanted these kids to have the experience, but when they came home their parents started calling our staff.  They wanted to know what we did to their kids because they were so different.  Their attitude at home had changed so much.

This really reflects the vision of Imagine--to provide an opportunity to young Thai leaders to be involved in the needs around them in their own country and in the process be transformed.  Typically we thought the "young Thai leaders" would be students from Bangkok's universities, but we are happy to say, that these young leaders are also the rural poor, touched by one of the world's worst natural disasters, but eager to learn and eager to make a difference.


Can a Pie Change the World?

About 14 months ago Imagine began a small social enterprise called the British Pie Shop. We teamed up with a Brit living long term in Thailand, to make some of the best savory meat pies in Southeast Asia.  As a kid I ate them Saturday evenings while watching 'Hockey Night' in Canada, and it's the kind of taste expats crave. We wanted a real business that earned income and with over 600,000 foreigners in Bangkok it seemed we had a chance at success.

The goal wasn't to line our pockets, but to find an industrious way to pay the bills of running Imagine and support our national staff. Well that initial goal is beginning to be realized. In the past three months we've had some great press, consistent production, and sales are up over 100% year on year. That means we're selling over 1200 pies every month to happy customers. We're aiming to double our production in the next six months. About $1.00 of every pie sale goes to Imagine people and projects that are changing our world.   Now that's making a difference.

What's more, customers become friends.  They're diplomats, media types, government ministers, and international businesspeople. They're finding out about us, about what we do and why we do it. That provides lots of opportunities to talk about more important things than just pies, and it builds vision for together bringing positive change to communities around us.

The Pie Shop is expanding as well. We now have a retail outlet in Mae Sot, where we have a host of projects, and soon will be bringing the good taste to Myanmar through the Yangon Bakehouse.

An enterprise like this is a new experience for us and a lot of work--mostly on the shoulders of our baking staff and managers Greg and Andrea--but it's a lesson in the potential of social enterprise. Not only do we provide a product that many people enjoy, but we also provide a marketable skill to local people, earn needed funds to cover ministry costs (thus reducing the need for donors to fund administrative costs), and provide a legitimate platform to be in the lives of our community and neighbours.  Can a Pie change the world?  Well, pies are certainly having an impact in our world.


Bangkok Dangerous: Too much water; too little water

Imagine an area from Vancouver, BC to Portland, Oregon--almost 500 km--under water. Every house, business, industry, road or hospital under as little as 10cm and as much as 4 metres of dirty and polluted water.  That would be news wouldn't it? Imagine a population the size of Vancouver proper--every man, woman and child (660,000 for those reaching for Wikipedia) losing their work over night with no prospect of returning for months, no unemployment insurance and no bank account. That would be news, wouldn't it?  Imagine a city the size of New York City and Greater Toronto combined told to evacuate while you can. That would be news wouldn't it?  But it's not.  Buried deep in the National Post or New York Times you'll find an update, and yes, finally the Globe and Mail has caught on, but let's face it, floods are not good disaster stories. They take too long, drag out, leave too many people alive.  It's death by a thousand cuts. But that's the story here. Those numbers listed are still conservative, for we all wait for the final, painfully slow act in this drama--Bangkok's fall.

   Even for us, at times it's hard to take this flood serious.  The days here are sunny, warm and finally summerlike.  Images of the flood have inconvenienced pedistrians slogging through calf-deep roadways, or kids swimming in the canals. But for those submerged, it's much worse. Take the lady who refused help to be evacuated early this week.  The next day she called for help when the water had risen to her neck.  But by then it was too late. No one could reach her. The speed of the water's entrance won't be matched by its exit--some communities still sit in chest high water forty days after the flood.

   This is the flood that never ends.  Raining when it should have been sunny, our summer hot season was the soggiest on memory.  Flooding began in the North two months ago, and the water run-off of endless tropical storms has accumulated in the Central Plains, pushing south through the only exit it has--Bangkok. How much water? Imagine a lake 75% the size of Lake Ontario draining through your home town. Now we have canals and dykes and rice fields to drain it all off, but the problem is we can't drain it fast enough and the force of that Great Lake is pushing itself through walls, and levees and containment walls.

   For our family so far it's been an inconvenience.  Our condo building is full of sandbags and last week the building mangement set up a jetski in the front as an emergency measure.  We've closed Passport Cafe and our British Pie Shop; moved all furniture up to the 2nd floor and built a flood wall; prepared our home for flooding and stored precious photographs;  our three kids are at home since school is closed for at least three weeks (or so they say); we've stocked up on basic food and supplies, but still we are not wet.  For hundreds of our church members this is not the case. For millions of other Thai, they are out of home, without work and faced with the task of rebuilding once water is completely drained in December. Countless homes with their contents are under water.  On Wednesday we listened to stories from Pastors of flooded churches in Central Thailand and Greater Bangkok. All were under water.  Church members either survive by living on the second floor of their home while waiting for help or are relocated to other provinces to wait. Lots of water means no work. No work means no food.

   Lots of water also means not enough water--drinking water that is.  The primary needs here right now is lack of clean, drinkable water, food and boats to get these valuable necessities to standed people.  Fortunately, we can help some.  Our experience over the last three years with providng clean water means that Imagine Thailand is now installing water stations at over 22 church locations in Greater Bangkok.  The systems can use the city water sources, clean the water and community members can take it away in plastic bags (bottles are at a premium) wrapped Thai style with elastic bands.   Of course these machines don't come free.  We have committed to over $22,000 worth of systems and are installing as fast as possible, but we need help.  For the size of machine we install, the total cost is about $1000.  If you or your church is interested in helping with these cost please click on the button below.  It will take you to the website.

   Thanks for you standing with us in prayer ad financial support. If you want to follow us on Twitter for updates about current events in  Thailand and happenings with Imagine Thailand.  For family news you can follow on Facebook, and for general info look up For those who want to see Imagine Thailand first hand, plan to participate in the 2012 Discovery Tour.  More info is on the website.    

Peter and Cavelle Dove
Imagine Thailand


Bridge Building


    Bangkok and the Chao Praya River--A City that could use a few more bridges

    This summer, enroute to Canada we got stuck in San Fransisco for 12 hours. Not wanting to waste a great opportunity I hustled Matt and Ben on to the train and made for downtown. Passing by Fisherman's Wharf I pointed out Golden Gate Bridge.  Perhaps no other bridge in the world is more famous and I was glad my children had a chance to see it, but lately I have been reminded about the purpose of a bridge. Beautiful or not, a bridge is meant to get you somewhere.  A bridge is never built to be a destination.  A bridge links; a bridge helps you get from where you are to where you need to be; a bridge brings together two different worlds. 

     If I were to describe the purpose of Imagine Thailand, it would be that of a bridge.  Our main function is to serve as  a bridge helping connect people. We link educated, urban Thai students with rural, marginalized and vulnerable communities. We link motivated and passionate volunteers from Thailand and abroad to meaningful and needful places of service in Thailand.  The bridge is made out many different kinds of materials; Passport Cafe is one of those materials; teaching in the university helps build the bridge; and students camps is another valuable piece in our bridge struture.

   This is how the bridge works: take the team we hosted to teach English at a Southern Thai school called Suttin Anusom.  Teaching English is important to Thai people but what was even more remarkable was what happened when the lessons ended.  At the end of the camp, the host teacher asked if the visiting team could pray for all the teachers that were present.  Some of the teachers felt uncomfortable but they agreed.  As they stood in a circle and the team prayed for them, some of the teachers began to cry.  We didn't understand, but even today the teachers talk about that moment as being significant for them.  The bridge was English, but to where did bridge lead?  It led to reconciliation.

    Or consider an American team that served in old town Takua Pa.  Paired up with a Thai young adult team in a historic first--the inaugural Thai team from our national churches to volunteer with Imagine Thailand.  What was the bridge?  Again, English.  To where did it lead?  Well, to two destinations. First, English teaching provided an opportunity for well-educated, urban Thai young people to meet a felt need in a rural community.  Secondly, a deeper need was met when a small group of young students prayed to know God better at the English camp. 

    Or in Bangkok where we just finished our fourth year of teaching Basic Leadership Principles to 190 students in the Faculty of Pharmacy. The last module was on 'vision' and our facilitators, Passionate, faith-filled Thai young professionals, were invited to share their vision.  They each had a wonderful opportunity to share their hope with their facilitation group. The bridge in this case is developing leadership capacity among emerging students, but the destination is life transformation.

    Whether it's in Takua Pa, an area where 5 government schools have welcomed Imagine Thailand since we've been teaching English there; the Deep South where Muslim widows have been supported through our income generation projects; at the university where students have begun to seek their destiny in life; or Mae Sot where our water systems, teacher resources, and life camps for stateless children are bringing hope, bridges have been built into communities that for years have been inaccessible.


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