New Zonta president Dr. Laura Godtfredsen
talks with the Chiang Mai Mail
Bongkod Nitthayu, Suwannee Roncoroni, Daranee
(former president), Dr. Laura Godtfredsen (president), Dr. Khemthong
Sirisanglert and Chatnapa Yuprapat (l/r).
Last week, Dr. Laura Godtfredsen took time to tell the Mail some details
about fascinating life, her achievements, her interests and her life here in
Chiang Mai, as well as giving details about Zonta, whose new president she
has just become.
Good morning, Dr Laura, and thank you so much for giving us this
interview. You are well known around the academic and arts world of Chiang
Mai for being a ‘larger than life’ character - how do you feel about that?
Life is awfully big to be larger than. I frankly have never given that any
thought. I enjoy what I do immensely and maybe that makes it noteworthy. I
don’t know. I choose to live by myself way out in a small village west of
Mae Rim, so I am not one to socialize a lot. It’s pretty relative.
How long have you been in Chiang Mai, how long have you taught at the CMU
and what is your present position?
This is my second stint at CMU. I was here doing research at the Grad.
School of Business in 2003 - I think. I came here first in 2001 as a
Fulbright Scholar teaching entrepreneurship at Yonok College. What I did was
very well received and led to a well publicized workshop for academics
wanting to know about entrepreneurship in conjunction with Thammasat
University. I founded a workshop called the International Colloquium for
Entrepreneurship Educators and ran it for almost 10 years, mostly in
Slovenia and at Babson College where I taught. We had educators from over 25
countries. We taught them how to teach entrepreneurship Babson style. I got
the only awards I ever got in my life doing that. In Thailand, after Yonok,
I taught business at Payap for three years and then several months ago took
the position of advising doctoral students at the College of Art, Media and
Technology at CMU. So now I listen to doctoral student presentations,
critique them, and make a few presentations of my own.
After your recent success with That Takes Ovaries, what other theater
projects are you involved in?
Two years ago three other women and I presented the Vagina Monologues to a
packed house. Women loved it and wanted us to do it again. One of the women
who promoted the idea, Elayne Clift, is coming back in a month and will be
at CAMT. I suggested we do it again. Keely Robinson, who was in TTO, did it
with us at that time. I am rehearsing for the role of Fonsia in The Gin
Game. I hope at some point we can present it as a fund raiser too. And, of
course, to continue the support for grandmas taking care of their orphaned
children. There is so much suffering and so much to do to combat it.
You have just taken over as Zonta President. What is Zonta, how many
members have you got in Chiang Mai and what is the motto of Zonta?
Zonta is an international women’s organization that through service and
advocacy supports the cause of women world wide. Zonta, the big Z, is a
Lahkota Indian word of the Sioux, adopted in 1919 in Buffalo New York. The
organization now has chapters in 66 countries. Zonta means honor and being
trustworthy, from the Lahkota word for ray of light or inspiration. Here in
Chiang Mai, we have committed ourselves to helping aged grandmothers in
their efforts to raise their grandchildren whose parents have died of AIDS.
We also raise money to help the children with books, and school expenses. We
have home care programs, fund raising for indigent women to go to college.
Some of that money has come from my friends in the States. Our membership at
the moment is around 14 and we are going to embark on finding more
professional women, both Thai and non-Thai, who want to make a difference in
the lives of women here and be part of Zonta’s mission. Most of our members
right now are Thai. Thailand has Zonta chapters in Chiang Rai too, and 7
clubs in Bangkok, among others. We want to be more than just a club to raise
money. My view is that the great value of non-Thais, (I don’t like the word
‘farang’, because none of us are foreigners here), and Thais together works
best in a mutually supportive organization. I am proud that Zonta can bring
together women of many nationalities. We will soon be sponsoring lunches and
events to learn more about each other and share our cultures. In my view,
having lived in over 8 countries and speaking several languages, I have
found that human connection is far more powerful than culture. That is not
to say we ignore culture, we celebrate it. This past week I have been in
three Damhua ceremonies in Bangkok and here. So Zonta is really universal. I
also insist that whatever we do we place the how in as important a position
as the what. How we work together, how we ensure transparency, how we arrive
at mutual decisions in which each woman has an equal voice, and how we work
to appreciate each other. In my view, these attributes are in short supply
Why did you choose to become President of Zonta? Of course, you were
offered the position, but why did you feel like doing it as you are a very
busy lady? How long is your term of office and what are your goals?
I joined Zonta several years ago because I believed in its mission and
enjoyed associating with its members. Last year the members put me up for
election. It is not a position you take for ego satisfaction, I can assure
you. Daranee Sophanasuk, the former president, can tell you how much work it
is. I thought long and hard about accepting this as a non-Thai and whether I
could carry on the programs my predecessors have done so well. My goals are
primarily to expand the number of grandmas into our program. We estimate
that there are 75 more grandmas who are living hand to mouth. As it is they
are getting support of only 300 baht a month.
Then we want to continue our efforts to help the grandchildren of these
grandmas get help for their education. My focus will be on communicating the
value of what we do to other women, both Thai and expats, and create an
enjoyable context for working together. That means having more activities to
enjoy together as we work on the projects. I hope also to focus on theater
as a valuable avenue to raise money, raise consciousness, and encourage
working together. Theater is an incredible resource for good. Stephan
Turner, the director of Gate Theater here, suggested that we can present The
Gin Game at some point as a fund raiser. Fund raising and having fun. I
cannot imagine a Creator who put us all on this planet not encouraging us to
help each other and enjoy each other at the same time. It just wouldn’t make
any sense to me. The position of president is two years. I would say that in
my view Zonta should continue its work to reduce suffering. In that sense it
brings Buddhist values together with that of the Lahkota people. A ray of
light is enlightenment, yes?
You are known as a ‘home bird’ having a beautiful home just outside Mae
Rim - what is your greatest pleasure in your home?
For reasons that I am still not clear about I designed a house that is way
too big for me. And, maybe unconsciously, I wanted it to be an oasis for
people I know to come sing, do scenes, swim in the pool, gaze at the
mountains, listening to the chanting from several temples day and night. And
by being big it is a place where we can all come together. It is well known
to my friends and acquaintances that while they are singing, swimming in the
pool or dancing, I just fade away to my bedroom and go to sleep and leave
the house to them to enjoy as long as they want. I love to witness people
enjoying themselves even when I am asleep or trying to sleep.
What would you consider the best and worst things of Chiang Mai?
The good first, yes? This is one of the most amazing places I have ever
experienced in my life. I have lived in Germany, Denmark, Slovenia, Croatia,
France, Estonia and Mexico and have never encountered the creativity I have
seen here; art, ceramics, sculpture, music, writing and now, with Gate
Theater company, another artistic venture. I am a member of the Writers
Group that meets every Thursday where there is no dearth of talent. The
group encourages members to follow their inclinations to write prose,
poetry, fiction and non-fiction. We are now in the process of assembling our
stories for an anthology to be published with the title Lost in Thailand. So
this has become a community of exceptional people who have gravitated here.
And now fortunately new restaurants have blossomed. Then of course is the
access to nature. I am an elephant lover and got training as a mahout. And I
am in awe of waterfalls. Where else can you find all this in such close
proximity? The choice of people, no, better the Yiddish word “mensch” is
better, real caring human beings are amazing. When Thais and expats clash,
there is amazing energy.
The downside? That’s easy, the traffic and the pollution. Seven years ago
this was a quiet town that was not noisy and jammed with cars and
motorbikes. I can’t imagine, at the pace this city is growing, how it will
cope with more traffic.
An opportunity to share ideas and thoughts with the city’s Mayor
Monthly meeting to involve residents and officials
The Mayor of Chiang Mai, Dr. Duentemduang na
pictured with Alan Hall, Tom Krasaesuk, Duenpen Chaladlam
and Dr. Tarradon Piamphongsant, the Deputy Mayor.
Last week, an idea first mooted by the city’s Mayor, Dr. Duentemduang na
Chiengmai, became reality when she and her team held the first of what
will become monthly meetings with residents of Chiang Mai, who are
invited to share their ideas and thoughts about the city with her on a
regular basis at the Art Museum, behind the Three Kings’ Monument. The
aim of the meetings is, in the Mayor’s own words, “To bring the council
officials out of their offices to answer residents’ questions”. In talks
and interviews given recently, the Mayor has stressed that she wants to
actively promote the involvement and ideas of Chiang Mai residents, both
foreign and Thai, in her plans to make the city an enjoyable place to
live. Everyone is welcome at the meetings; the only requirement is that
questions, comments and confirmation of attendance should be sent in
advance by email via the Chiang Mai Friends Group to
[email protected], in order that a topic or topics may be chosen in
advance for each meeting, and to enable seating arrangements to be made.
Each speaker will have the opportunity to talk for 5-7 minutes.
Suggestions in writing can also be given at the meeting to officials of
the city administration. The next talk will be held on May 28; those who
would like to attend should let Boong at the Chiang Mai Friends Group
know by email by May 25.
Traveller Sid returns to make music
Sid and Yo, happily lounging around on Santa
A well known face on the Chiang Mai musical scene, Sid Richardson, the
musical director and pianist at the CM Choral Society, timed his return
from his recent USA trip to coincide with preparations for the Choral
Society’s upcoming June concert at the newly refurbished Payap
University Media Centre. Sid and his friend Yo’s three week trip
included a visit to his home town of Augusta, Georgia, time spent in
Southern California and South Carolina, and a very enjoyable stay with a
frequent visitor to Chiang Mai, Bob Reigel, in Santa Monica. Plus, of
course, the obligatory Disneyland visit! Welcome home, Sid, it’s good to
have you back making music.
Thailand Friends Community holds party in Dusseldorf
H.H. Princess Maja von Hohenzollern presented with award
The Thailand Friends Community in Germany, (Thailandfreunde e. V.), held
a party on April 26 to honour the continuing commitment of the Princess
Maja von Hohenzollern to both the School for Life in Chiang Mai and poor
and handicapped people.
Princess Maja von Hohenzollern, seen here with Dirk
Weeber-Arayatumsopom, left, and Rainer Reiss, is presented with the
The party, held at the newly-opened Maritim Airport Hotel in the city of
Dusseldorf, was attended and enjoyed by 75 invited guests. As part of
the festivities, and in appreciation of all her efforts, H.H. Princess
Maja was presented with a “Thai-Kinnari” sculpture, designed and made by
a Bangkok artisan. She also received an award named as “Thailand Friend
of the year 2008, both National and International”.
Speeches were given by Thailandfreunde e. V.’s president, Dirk
Weeber-Arayatumsopon, who will be coming to Chiang Mai at the end of
May, and by the vice-president Rainer Reiss, the Mayor of the town of
Birkenheide, home of the headquarters of Thailandfreunde. The second
vice-president, Thai citizen Wuttipong Arayatumsopon, presented a Thai
traditional dancer group entitled “Fathai”, which translated as “ocean
H.H. Princess Maja said that she will continue to be active in Thailand,
and that she is looking forward to inaugurating a branch of the
Thailandfreunde community in the Kingdom, which she hopes to be able to
direct, together with Dirk Weeber- Arayatumsopon and two young writer
colleagues, Carolin Lupberger and Tim Wiebelskircher. Donations given
during the party totalled more than 30,000 baht.
Foundation for the Education of Rural Children to Award 97 Scholarships
5 recommended students awarded
Gary Dilley Scholarships
Members of the Foundation for the Education of Rural Children and
friends will travel to the Region IV offices of the Department of
Education in San Patong at 10 am on May 16 to award scholarships to 97
happy students. Ninety-two of the scholarships will provide emergency or
supplementary funds designed to top up the money that the students and
their families are able to contribute for the school year and also to
enrich their educations. These funds will assist with the purchase of
uniforms and school supplies, and will also go to pay for extra
educational opportunities such as computer studies, art, music and
Five students, however, will have the opportunity to attend high school
at levels matayom 4-6. At the request of the FERC Scholarship Committee,
teachers and administrators at Region IV recommended students who were
eager to continue their educations but needed financial assistance to do
so. FERC scholarship committee members J. David Geddes and Glynn Morgan
screened each student, and five were recommended as recipients of Gary
Dilley Scholarship Awards.
Chadarot Kuenkum of Sarapee, Sirawit Jerchokchai of Mae Wang, Wimala
Saelee of Mae Wang, and Yuttapong Inkae of San Patong are all students
in Chiang Mai Province who will continue to pursue their educations with
assistance from FERC. Sarocha Yotmanisakun of Pobpra in Tak Province
will continue her schooling in Tak Province. Students and their teachers
and families will join FERC Board members at the awards ceremony.
Friends and interested members of the public are also invited to attend.
Please contact FERC via its website, www.thai-rural-education.org, for
directions or further information.