The chairwoman for the Foundation for the
Education of Rural Children is a blue eyed blonde from Knoxville
Tennessee. She is a lady who never lost sight of the fact that
she had some type of personal ‘mission’ despite spending
many years of putting it on the back burner while looking after
and raising her three sons. She did not know where that need
would take her, but having now reached Chiang Mai, she looks as
if she has found her niche.
Renee was an only child, born to an attorney
father and a school principal mother. She admits that being an
only child does have some advantages, but there are
disadvantages as well. Having a doting father can sometimes work
When she finished secondary education she
already knew where she wanted her career to be - on the stage.
Theatre! However, to get there it meant doing a BA, majoring in
English literature, at the University of Texas so that she could
go to the graduate school where they had a very good children’s
theatre. From there it was to the University of Florida, which
had a department of Theatre. "It was so much fun,"
said Renee, eyes sparkling when she thought back to those days.
Part of the "fun" included a young
law student, and they were married, returning to Knoxville,
where her (now ex) husband set up a private practice in law.
Renee began teaching English, in a small college for black
American children, and directed plays for the students as an
after hours subject. These were the days of strict segregation
in the southern regions of America. This in itself was quite an
eye-opener for this young woman. "I was always an
idealistic liberal and suddenly realised I had grown up and
never knew any black people or Jewish people, and I only knew
She taught there for four years, but then the
job of her dreams came up - director of theatre programs for the
University of Texas. She had the opportunity to write plays as
well as produce them, letting her talents grow with the
position. "It was fantastic! It was so hectic!"
However, after two years she resigned. "I gave it up when I
discovered I wasn’t Superwoman. I had three boys by then, and
having custody of them, I stayed home for many years."
She ‘stayed home’ for over 12 years, but
she also managed to have a little community radio talk show
called "Talking About Books" as she was an avid
reader, and did volunteer work with the Arts Council as well.
She admits that she never did become a home body, "I’m
still not domestic." And as far as cooking was concerned,
"I wonder nutritionally how they (the boys) survived!"
She and the boys did survive through to the
last one going to university, and Renee knew she was going to
leave. Or rather that something inside said she ‘had’ to
leave. "I never wanted to stay in Tennessee, but the option
to leave wasn’t there till the kids were grown up." She
thought about the American Peace Corps, but that seemed too
structured, or restrictive, but Asia seemed to be calling. But
where? With her sons telling her that this was just a dream and
not reality, she suddenly was inspired and went into a travel
agent and bought a one way ticket to Israel. There was method to
this seeming madness. She had had an interest in world religions
for many years, so the Holy Land looked like a fairly logical
place to start her new life.
It certainly was an interesting time. She saw
holy sites and experienced the unholy horror of a suicide bomber
outside her hotel! Israel was not where she should be, but she
was still unsure of ‘where’ in Asia she was headed. To find
out, she headed into a book shop and picked up a book on
Thailand. "The book said to give Bangkok a miss but go to
Chiang Mai. So I bought a ticket and came here."
Having arrived, with her background and
experience, it was only natural that she would go back into
teaching, which she did for four years. "I really enjoyed
teaching the Thai kids. They are very hard workers."
She also began doing some volunteer work with
children, and it became obvious that the charity group needed a
vehicle to ferry children and staff around. Nobody had a spare
one they could have, so she became involved in fundraising. The
event was a success, and they purchased a vehicle. By now there
was no stopping. She became involved with forming the foundation
for these underprivileged children, and the next event raised
money to build a small school, and then a pre-school in a Karen
Renee has retained her interest in world
religions, being fairly ecumenical these days, "The world
is more than white America." She is also quite the
philosopher when asked about where the world is headed.
"Our hope as human beings is that the few people who grow
towards the positive side (of life), trying to meet an ideal,
will be able to spread that out a little bit."
She is not a fatalist, even though when asked
about her personal future said, "Whatever is going to
happen, is going to happen," but adding, "We do have
choices and can do things towards this in our own little
Renee says, "A lot has happened since I
left Tennessee. I have wanted a ‘big commitment’ for a long
time. With so much happening here, why would I want to go
Indeed, why are we all here? Thailand has supplied something
that we were lacking in our own societies. That ‘something’
can be very different for different people, but for Renee Vines
that ‘something’ appears to be inexplicably tied in with
Thai rural children. That plane ticket to Chiang Mai has been of
benefit for everyone!