Phuket Has Been Good To Us Foundation is the brainchild of Tom McNamara, a local restaurateur with a vision for the future. The organisation is the fruit of Mr. McNamara's efforts to give back something to a community that had been so beneficial to him, and which he loved so much. The Foundation has grown over the years and is now a well-established charity organisation working to improve the lives of about 1200 children and be an inspiration to all those who follow.
In 2005, Mr. McNamara approached a local Thai schoolmaster to inquire how he could best help his school on Kalim Beach in the wake of the 2004 tsunami disaster, which destroyed the school. Mr. McNamara's Baan Rim Pa restaurant group had long supported the Baan Kalim School
, sponsoring its sports teams, teacher training trips, and more. The school had been rebuilt and additional relief money was pouring in at the time, but both men wanted to do something that was long term, sustainable, and not potentially squandered or misdirected. The Headmaster of the Kalim School expressed his concern about the low quality of English language education at the school. Although there is an English language curriculum in government schools such as Kalim, its implementation was less than adequate and funding was limited. Mr. McNamara soon came to the conclusion that funding an English language program could prove highly beneficial. Living and working with Thai people on the island for nearly two decades, he knew first hand how difficult it is for businesses on the island to find staff who speak English well enough to work effectively in the tourist industry. He resolved to dedicate himself to making quality English language teaching available to the youth of Phuket.
To understand better why Mr. McNamara became convinced that such an endeavour was so important, it is necessary to consider the historical context.
Thailand was the only country in Southeast Asia not to be dominated by a European power during the age of colonisation. Today, Bangkok is as cosmopolitan as any other large city in Southeast Asia and Thailand exhibits many of the trappings of a modern society. Thailand, however, possibly due to the preservation of her political sovereignty, has retained a cultural uniqueness, that to this day continues to make it a source of fascination and delight. English is spoken in most parts of the country, but perhaps because of the persistence of the nation's cultural independence, it is not spoken nearly as well as in places like Hong Kong or Singapore. In a 2005 study, Thailand ranked second to last among nations in the region in English language skills.
Phuket prospered in the past, on the strength of tin and rubber industries, but tourism is now the dominant economic factor on the island, both in property development and the leisure/hospitality industry. It has become a world renowned tourist and leisure centre. Visitors to Phuket will find English signs on almost every road, it is the common language of most people who visit the island. However, on Phuket, few Thais speak English very well. Demand is high in all sectors of the tourist industry for staff with good English language skills. Such skills usually outweigh other factors, such as experience, in hiring, retention and salary levels. Many foreigners have come to Phuket and opened up successful restaurants, hotels and resorts that create many jobs for local Thais, but within these companies, the better-paid jobs and senior management positions are often taken by foreigners with a command of the language of English. This limits the capacity for local Thais to occupy such posts and earn an appropriately higher salary.
It is this reality that convinced Tom McNamara that quality English language teaching, offered in an organised and sustainable fashion, would significantly improve vocational opportunity, and hence the quality of life, for many school leavers and emerging professionals, who are native to Phuket. With the support of the Headmaster of the Kalim School, he approached the Governor of Phuket, with his English Programme proposal. It was decided that a charity foundation should be established to launch the programme, as a pilot project, at Baan Kalim school.
Enter Fleur Birch-Atkinson, Mr. McNamara's daughter and a current Board Member of the Foundation. Ms. Birch-Atkinson is fluent in Thai and spent a large part of her formative years on Phuket where she lived among Thai people and went to school at a local English institution. She left Thailand briefly to earn an undergraduate degree in America but returned home to Phuket, where, in just a few short months, she transformed her father's Foundation from idea to reality. A Board of Directors
was established with a mix of influential Thai nationals and foreigners, with a knowledge and concern for education. Start-up funds were quickly raised, and Phuket Has Been Good to Us Foundation became a Registered Charity.
We believe this innovative approach to using private sector funds in public education will produce long-run benefits for those businesses that we seek to support us. Despite Phuket's explosive growth, all businesses on the island have experienced at one point or another, labour shortages. Our programme seeks to provide a mutual, long-term solution, by the establishment of improved vocational opportunities through English
which will benefit both Phuket business’ and local school leaving job seekers.
The Pilot Programme at Baan Kalim School
The aim was to put together the best possible programme that would serve as a model of best practice, in school-based English instruction. This would provide a base for The Foundation’s future development, and offer a self-contained curriculum programme for possible adoption by other Thai schools.
At the outset, it was determined that our approach would be one that focused upon a functional use of English, which took into account the economic and cultural context, within which the children and youth of Phuket are living and learning. The newly appointed Director of Education, Kate Cope, was responsible for establishing initial standards of teaching practice, determining culturally relevant and functional teaching materials and putting in place benchmarking and assessment schemes.
The Kalim Pilot programme became operational on the 15th May, school year 2006-2007. It was lead by Kate Cope, the only paid employee of the Foundation. At this time, she was ably supported by many hard working volunteers, who assisted in classroom activities and the testing process. The effectiveness of the programme was evidenced by the positive response of pupils and the resulting immediate improvement in English comprehension shown by oral and written test results.
Meanwhile, Tom McNamara continued his efforts to raise funds and ensure the Foundation’s long-term survival. His efforts were rewarded when the Foundation received 5.2 Million baht through the efforts of Australian music promoter, Michael Chugg, who Mr. McNamara had invited to join the Board of the Foundation. The funds came from the proceeds of Mr.Chugg's Wave Aid tsunami relief concert and proved to be enough to finance the full three years of the Foundation's pilot program at the Baan Kalim school.
Expansion to Kamala
With the Wave Aid donation fully funding the Kalim programme and additional support emerging, the Foundation expanded in 2007, to a second school in Kamala. Like the Baan Kalim School, the Rajaprachanukroh 36 School in Kamala
had been destroyed by the 2004 tsunami and had been rebuilt. The Kamala school's Thai name ‘Rajaprachanukroh’ translates from the Thai as ‘The King and the people helping each other’. The King's foundation has established many Rajaprachanukroh schools all over Thailand, the Kamala school being the 36th. Honoured to be connected with a school sponsored by HM the King and his family, Phuket Has Been Good to Us Foundation began operating an English language programme for students in grades 1-3 in May 2007.
In the second year at Kamala, we expanded our program to include grade levels 1-6, with the total number of students involved in our programme exceeding 600. Additional teachers were hired, and the school granted the Foundation four classrooms, an office for the teachers and a space to house an English language library. As the Foundation's reputation on Phuket Island and beyond grew, financial support and ‘in-kind’ donations arrived from many quarters, including books for the Kamala school library, arranged through Simon & Schuster publishers. Today the Foundation teaches English to all 619 students at Kamala School aged 5 to 18, from kindergarten to their last year of senior school.
Administratively, the Foundation from its inception operated out of a shared office at Mr. McNamara's Baan Rim Pa group, which to this day offers ongoing and invaluable support. But the growing size of the Foundation made it necessary to move to independent offices in Kamala, and accommodate a small administrative staff of volunteers, to coordinate efforts in teacher and volunteer recruitment, testing, fundraising, public relations and other initiatives.
The Rajaprachanukroh 36 School in Kamala also serves as a residence for 170 students who rarely have the opportunity to leave the grounds of the school and interact with their community. The Coconut Club
was set up to enhance the lives of these children and also to provide a chance for them to speak English beyond the classroom.
The initial aim of seeing our program implemented in every state school on the island is a long term goal, which lies years ahead. We continue, however, to work toward becoming the best at what we do; striving to fine tune our pedagogical approach, to provide excellent training to our teachers, to develop better assessment practices, to become a resource for other educators, and to be an inspiration to all who seek to improve the lives of children in Thailand.
In 2008, our founder Tom McNamara began to succumb to his long battle with illness. As his health deteriorated and his ability to oversee fundraising and day-to-day operations lessened, he brought in others to carry on his legacy. Peter Hamilton, co-founder of chinadotcom, joined the Board of Directors, with a brief to revitalise and extend the Foundation’s fundraising network. He has become the primary conduit for the Foundation's much-improved fundraising efforts, an essential need for our growth and development. He has been instrumental in the creation of a new, proactive Board of Managers
, recruited from the Foundation's many volunteers.
All of the Foundation's staff and volunteers continue to work hard, to honour the efforts and vision of founder Tom McNamara.
We thank you for the time you have taken to visit our website and for your support of our mission.