Weekly Local Biography

  Annelie Hendriks

Holland-born Annelie Hendriks and her siblings joke that they were “born on the drawing table”. The oldest of four children, her father was an architect who worked at home in the early days of his career. His practice prospered, though, and he soon had offices in three cities. Annelie grew up in a very protected traditional setting, but as Bob Dylan wrote, “the times they are a-changing”. Her choices in education and life were not traditional.

First she chose a social welfare academy, or college, which was not in her hometown while most of her friends chose to study at local colleges. And then there was Manus. A longhaired, bearded fellow social welfare student, it shocked her parents when she chose to live and travel with him all over the world during summer breaks. They later came to love him, but it was a classical clash of generations at first. As students, Annelie and Manus could only afford an old car and lived on a shoestring budget. But that old car took them to Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. They volunteered to build a kindergarten in Tunis and work on a coffee plantation in Tanzania. They considered each trip to be a study tour, and learned about different cultures and political systems.

They graduated from social welfare college, and moved to Amsterdam where Annelie studied political science and international relations. There were student rebellions, and university could be chaotic. Marriage was not a popular institution, but Annelie and Manus decided to marry so that she would qualify for scholarship funding to continue her studies. They’ve been together for 35 years. It was obviously a good decision.

On one of their summer trips they took the train to China. This was a pivotal trip in Annelie’s life. Unknown to her at that time, she would become the “China expert” in future jobs. It was her first trip to China. Everything was new and different, and she soaked it up. She later realized that she viewed the political structure through the very rose-colored glasses of youth. She began studying the language as well as the culture.

Annelie had worked for the Ethnological Museum in Rotterdam and the Dutch-China Friendship Association before obtaining her degree. Afterwards she moved to the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. She remained focused on China and cross-cultural communication and courses. Privately, she led delegations to China.

A few years later, disappointed over the lack of promotional opportunities at the Royal Tropical Institute, Annelie started her own company. Her expertise on China helped to provide an entr้e into the country for Dutch business people. She developed training materials on daily life in China and Chinese language, and she consulted with many companies. She was working in China when the terrible events of Tiananmen Square occurred. She wasn’t a diplomat, and it took her eight days to get out of the country. She knew that it meant the end of her business. Western investors were pulling out quickly, and it would be a long time before they would come back.

She returned to the Royal Tropical Institute as head of cross-cultural training. When three departments merged, she was asked to head up all three. She worked with multi-national companies, developing preparatory courses and briefings for people living and working all over the world. She helped develop negotiation courses, and did in-field work with corporations. She matched locals with expatriates, and helped each to better understand the other. Her department grew and grew, as international business grew and grew.

Then in 1998, Annelie Hendriks, super achiever, crashed. Whatever term you may use, and she calls it major burn out, she simply ceased to function. Getting up in the morning was an effort, washing dishes or answering the telephone became more than she could handle. Trainings that she had developed and could recite from memory were out of the question. She summoned the energy necessary to get into treatment, and spent over a year recovering. She remembers the last session vividly in October of 1999. The last card in a deck foreshadowed her future. It read “a view on the rice fields”, and Annelie set out to find that view. On New Year’s Eve of the New Millennium, she and Manus decided to move to Thailand. They sold their house in Amsterdam, and Annelie came to Chiang Mai where she began to build their new home overlooking the rice fields. Manus would join her when he retired four and a half years later. The house built and the garden planted, she started teaching Dutch and English. Then a student invited her to a festival in his home village on Doi Mae Sariang, and a new door opened.

Annelie saw the beauty of the hills and its tribal people, but she also saw 168 schools with no electricity, no books, poor sanitation, polluted water and a general lack of resources. She had set up a foundation before she left Holland, Samsara, and had supporters and a board there. She told the teachers at Mae Sariang that if they would write the proposals, she would help find the money to improved education for the children. Fourteen dormitories, 32 water treatment plants, 7 canteens, 4 libraries and many scholarships later, she’s still going strong on the mountain. With her Samsara board behind her, she is also a member of the board of the Foundation for the Education of Rural Children (FERC), which has funded some of her projects. She delivers whole units – furnished dormitories, canteens with cooking utensils and dishes, libraries with computers and books, battery-run electrical systems. And the parents and teachers are equal partners in her projects. She finds the money, and they provide the labor. Her work gives back to the country, puts her in close contact with Thai people and improves the lives of children and their villages. The teachers with whom she works have honored her. They have nominated her for a special award to be presented by His Majesty, the King of Thailand. Good luck, Annelie, and thank you.