Weekly Local Biography

  Rachan Ponchevin

By Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.

I first met Rachan Ponchevin as the Twin Towers in New York City were crumbling following the terror attacks of 9/11. I had just reported on my visit to the U.S. at a meeting of Rotary Club Chiang Mai West, and the possibility of international health and welfare projects was promising. Rachan, a relatively new club member, was alarmed by the breaking news. I will always appreciate his sympathy and concern, but he’s quite an unusual young man.

Rachan grew up in Chiang Mai and graduated from Montfort College. He went to Chiang Mai University and studied industrial engineering. After completing a bachelor’s degree, he went to work in Lamphun for Hana Microelectronics. Graduate school stayed in the back of his mind, though, and a few years later he went off to the United States to study at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Nashville is the capital of Tennessee, but you may know that it is also called Music City, USA, where the world’s country music lives and breathes. Most locals also know it as the country music capital of the world. The Grand Ole Opry lives there, broadcasting live country music every weekend. But Nashville is also known for its many colleges and universities, and the cream of the crop is Vanderbilt. Built on a gorgeous 330-acre campus that is also a national arboretum, it was founded in 1873. Seventy other Thai students were studying at Vanderbilt, most on government scholarships. Rachan and his friends began the arduous task of soaking up the local culture, exploring a little of America and mastering their academic subject matter.

They traveled to Atlanta, visiting museums and seeing the CNN headquarters. They went to New York City over the Christmas break, and were disappointed to find many of the landmarks closed. But they toured the city and saw the big skyscrapers – engineers enjoy that sort of thing – then drove on to Niagara Falls. They saw the aquarium in Baltimore and even took a trip to Disney World in Florida. They loved driving in the U.S. with its interstate highways and internet accessible door to door directions from place to place. Despite the difficult academic work, time went quickly and Rachan graduated with a master’s degree in management technology. He was back in Thailand in 1999, and back at Hana in Lamphun.

Three years later he became an ISO consultant, helping companies gain certification. He found it very gratifying as he watched the quality of products improve. But there were other things going on in his life, too. He had met Sailuk, another CMU graduate. She worked as an insurance agent for a local life insurance company. When he wasn’t busy as a consultant, he helped her out at work, and eventually selling life insurance became a part time job for him. We attended their wedding reception three years ago. There was a beautiful slide presentation on the stage, photographs of Rachan and Sailuk growing up together, as young adults, and finally getting married. What the presentation couldn’t show was the newest addition to the family, a beautiful baby girl born a few days ago, and so treasured by her parents that she has been nicknamed “Pethproud”. The name stands for the color of diamonds, and tells us all how important she is to her proud parents.

After he met Sailuk, a Thai friend invited him to visit his Rotary Club. Something about the club “clicked” and Rachan became a very active member. This year, he’s the club secretary but that doesn’t mean he takes the minutes of meetings. It’s a very responsible job that requires many organizational skills and a lot of time. He sets up the meetings, including any special ones, he organizes parties and other functions, and he serves as a liaison between the Thai and western members of the club.

But more follows. At the age of 33, he is the president-elect of Rotary Chiang Mai West. It’s a very young age for such a responsible job. But we’ve no doubt he can do it. “Service before self” is the motto of Rotary International this year, and Rachan is already planning his year of service. His club is bringing almost 19 million baht in international grants into Thailand this year, building sanitary facilities, schools and water treatment plants to help orphanages and hospitals. The grants will not be completed when he takes office, and more applications are on the way. He wants to increase membership in the club, and to encourage old members to return when they can. His favorite projects are the school lunch projects, small programs that supplement the money given to schools by the government. He likes visiting the schools and meeting the children.

Rachan doesn’t work all of the time, though. With a new baby, he isn’t so likely to swim or work out at the health club anymore but he jogs and rides his bicycle in the neighborhood. He loves country music, both Thai and American, but he’s confined to singing it at home right now. He and Sailuk want to travel more. They visited South Korea two years ago during the spring, and saw the beautiful flowers. They want to go back during the winter to see the snow. Romantic movies set in Korea are popular now, and they’ve chosen several places they want to visit.

We return to talking about Rotary. What he likes about being a part of an international service club is that “clubs from many countries work together”. It isn’t just about developed nations helping developing nations. When the tsunami struck Thailand, Rotary clubs sent money and supplies and people to help. And when the hurricane struck New Orleans and the coast of Mississippi, Rotary clubs sent money and supplies and people to help. “Rotary is for the world”. With Rachan’s positive outlook, I think he would find a way to help people in difficult circumstances regardless of which international service organization he served.