is always pleasant to interview some of our senior citizens.
People who have become an indelible part of the local culture.
Khunying Buphan Nimmanhaeminda, is one of those. Her family name
is known all over Thailand, not just in Chiang Mai, and her
immediate family and children, and grandchildren, are now
substantial figures in their own right, covering many fields of
We met in her garden, a spacious and quiet
green area, complete with birds and wildlife, and she really
came across as the ‘queen of all she surveyed’, though she
would never see herself in that light.
At 83 years of age, she now looks back at a
lifetime of service to the people of Chiang Mai. A lifetime
involved in education and service to the people. She should be
retired, but she has not, being still very much involved with
the New Life Foundation, a charity that she started and proudly
has the late Princess Mother as its patron. While we chatted, we
drank Jiaogulan tea, a most refreshing beverage, grown by the
people assisted by the New Life Foundation, as part of the
practical help given to recipients of the Foundation’s
Khunying Buphan is a true lady from Lanna.
Born in Phrae, her father was a forestry worker, and her mother
a housewife, that most difficult and time consuming occupation.
She was an only child, but since her family was not well off,
she went to the local government school until it was time for
her to look at her future career.
Despite being unsure, as most of us are at
that stage in our lives, she had relatives who were teachers,
and since she enjoyed working with children, she enrolled in
vocational school for teacher training.
Following graduation, she moved to
Phitsanulok and worked in the government school there, where she
taught the children for 12 months. There was to be a change in
her circumstances, however. She met the man who was to become
her husband in Chiang Mai, whose family had an interest in a
school in the area. They married, she changed schools, and spent
the next 34 years working as a teacher here, rising through the
ranks as she took on further studies, receiving awards and
diplomas, until she was the Headmistress.
During that time, she had two children of her
own, with her daughter now also working in the educational
field, running a company assisting young people who wish to
study abroad, while her son is involved in business marketing
and he and his wife, Khunying Buphan’s daughter-in-law, live
with her in Chiang Mai.
After retiring from teaching as a full-time
occupation 20 years ago, Khunying Buphan became even more
involved in volunteer work, with one of the main recipients of
her energy and vision being her New Life Foundation. This was
the charity organization of which she had been the founder more
than 40 years ago, and she still remains the president today.
This Foundation assists mainly those who have recovered from
Leprosy, giving them the chance to once more resume normal,
self-sufficient lives. It also helps those with mental
disorders, allowing them to slowly re-integrate into mainstream
life through a half-way house.
In the early days, Khunying Buphan could be
seen getting assistance to the lepers in the far-flung reaches
of Chiang Mai, a journey of many hours by truck and on foot. She
remembers these trips saying, “Oh we used to get so many
punctures!” She helped set up their own leper village
communities and then to oversee their being taught to be
self-sufficient by crop production. “I just wanted to help
people who couldn’t help themselves,” she said simply. (And
yes I then helped myself to a second and then a third cup of the
New Life Foundation’s Jiaogulan tea, tea being a beverage that
I normally eschew.)
The teacher in her could see a need. “I
knew what it was like to be poor, when I was a child. I wanted
to teach them what to do.” She was not someone who was happy
to sit back and direct others to do the work. “I used myself
to be the example. Just by ‘doing’. My function was to
motivate them to look after each other, to be self-sustaining
through agriculture.” That assistance went far beyond just
giving them seedlings to grow. That first settlement was built
with construction materials that came from Khunying Buphan’s
New Life Foundation. And much of it she delivered herself.
Like all well-run enterprises it grew over
the four decades and now has two homes for the elderly, as well
as the villages for the lepers and working with the Leprosy
Center in Lampang. It even encompasses pre-school child care
services and medical services. It has been a long way from the
dirt roads of Chiangdao!
Khunying Buphan says that she does not have
any all-consuming hobbies. “I don’t like painting,” she
said quickly, just in case I thought I was about to discover
Chiang Mai’s answer to Grandma Moses! However she does enjoy
reading - anything! “For me the best thing in life is to see
people smile and be happy,” she said. There are many people
she has helped to smile again over the past 40 years, and her
contribution to society has also resulted in recognition, but
they mean little for someone such as Khunying Buphan, whose best
rewards in life are the smiles of the people she has helped.
As the interview came to a close, Khunying
Buphan gave me two packets of Jiaogulan tea for me to take home
to my wife. She thanked me for coming out to see her and hoped
that she had not wasted my time. There are some people who are
born to be ‘ladies’. Khunying Buphan Nimmanhaeminda is one
of them. (I must thank one of our some-time correspondents Cory
Croymans-Plaghki, for her help in setting up this interview and
transport to Khunying Buphan’s garden retreat.)