Weekly Local Biography

  Ratana Khuenkeaw

Ratana Khuenkeaw is in many ways a remarkable young lady - a woman who wanted to be a doctor, but instead became a Muay Thai fighter to make ends meet. She is also a woman who has followed very traditional Thai ways and worked to give her sisters education. These days she works in Chiang Mai in project management, construction and landscaping, and is a tireless worker for charity. There are young boys in Chiang Mai who now know that charity truly does begin at home - in their case, Ratana’s home!

Ratana is a local lady, born in Lamphun to a farming couple. They were not large scale farmers, and with eight children to feed this was in no way a silver spoon upbringing. They all had to pull their weight and help. When not looking after younger sisters, or assisting her mother, the young Ratana was a bit of a tomboy. Rather than playing with dolls, the young girl was more often seen playing football or sparring with the boys in Thai boxing (Muay Thai).

Muay Thai was to have a great influence in her life, for many reasons. Her uncle had a training camp for young hopefuls, and exhibition bouts would be arranged, for men and women. “One day, one of the women did not turn up, and I stood in. I didn’t want to be a fighter, but I got 500 baht!” said Ratana, remembering the auspicious and financial start to her fighting career. She was 15 years old.

Back at school in Lamphun she studied hard. Her dream was to be a doctor, but she knew this was not going to be possible. “We came from a poor family. We did not have enough money.”

When she finished school, she still harboured the hope of further education, so she went to work in the tobacco factory to save some money. The odd Muay Thai fight helped finances as well. In fact, she fought 19 times for 19 wins, that’s a better average than Mike Tyson!

Eventually she had enough to keep herself and she went to Sukhothai to study Law for three and a half years, but did not enjoy it, and went to work in Bangkok for the Taxation Department.

It was in Bangkok that a chance meeting was to change her life, and take her away from Thailand for the next 12 years. A friend’s mother had a silk outlet in the capital and used international models to display her fashions. One of these models was a Belgian woman whose family had time-share apartments, and Ratana became friendly with her. This led to an offer to come to Belgium to work with her family in the time-share business.

Ratana returned to Chiang Mai and studied interior design and then went to Europe where she worked for the model’s family as an interior designer. She did not particularly like the work, but this experience was giving her family an opportunity they could not have had otherwise. “Thai salary is not enough to help the family, so the wages in Belgium were very good and I could then help them.” Over the 12 year period, she assisted four of her sisters through college and university, to become a nurse, a police officer, a computer programmer and a doctor - the career she had always dreamed for herself.

Her sacrifice for her sisters over, she returned to Thailand. “I didn’t like Europe, the weather or the job. I didn’t have many friends,” she said, ending a dozen years of experience overseas.

She now applied herself to the books again, and studied housing construction and landscaping, even building a house for another of her sisters. This energetic young woman was off and running again.

Muay Thai was once more to have a profound effect on her life, however. She went to a Muay Thai show and there she met the Swiss announcer. They started talking that evening, and are now married and have a six year old daughter.

On the business front, she has built 26 rooms that she began to rent out to ensure a steady cash-flow and continued with her contract landscaping.

Again it was a European connection that affected the next part of her life. Three years ago, she carried out some landscaping for Annelie Hendriks, and found herself introduced to the aims and objectives of the Samsara Foundation and the Foundation for Education of Rural Children (FERC). “When I went there, the eyes of the children showed they were looking for some hope. It made me happy that I could do something.”

So Ratana has thrown herself behind these charity organizations and has been directly involved in being the architect for their buildings, project management and even working as an interpreter for the disadvantaged children.

But her help for the needy does not end there. She spied a young boy in a beer bar center one day who looked very hungry. She gave him some food, and then found him waiting each day for her. He did not speak much Thai, but she asked him if he would like to come and live in her house. The answer was “Yes!” and so she began her extended ‘family’ of young hill tribe and homeless Thai boys who are staying with her, now numbering 15.

“So I work harder to look after these other children,” said Ratana. That includes getting up at 5.30 every morning and going jogging with them, and then taking them to her husband’s Muay Thai camp where they are taught not only how to fight, but also to be self sufficient. She has arranged scholarships for these children, to ensure they get their education too.

Ratana says, “Everyone wants to have a good future,” and she is certainly someone who is making this happen for the underprivileged. She has not stopped yet either. “I want to do good today - and tomorrow.” Let me assure you, Ratana, you are doing good!