Weekly Local Biography

  Khunying Buphan Nimmanhaeminda

It 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 endeavor.

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 largesse.

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.)