Tag Archives: Asset Based Community Development

Kao Jai – Learning for the Heart

5 Sep


It’s been wayyy too long but I write to you from Seattle where I just moved to do my PhD studies in Education. It’s been a crazy couple of months just before I left and I finally found a place to move into and so I’m slowly getting settled.


I just wanted to share one story that stood out for me during the last few months. I spent the months of July and August mostly in the schools in Thailand, to roll-out Tutoría in 2 primary and secondary schools. We began our work with FiftyFold in the province of Phitsanulok, then to familiar ground in the north in Chiang Rai. So far we’ve trained about 40 teachers and more than 300 students in Math, Thai, English, Science, History, Social studies, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. It’s been such a delight to work alongside wonderful teachers and students. One kid, Ongsin stood out.

Ongsin, a burly 16 year old at Chiang Rai Wittayakhom (CVK) was taking a bath when school started. It was pretty normal for him to come in late. His chemistry teacher was pacing the room where we were holding the Tutoría pilot, anxiously waiting for him to stride through the door. But he took his time.

When we were about 1 hour in, we saw a shadow of a towering figure outside the doors and she rushed out to pull him in. Ongsin has the sheepiest grin on his face. He sat down next to his tutor and leaned back so his could rock his chair back and forth on just its two legs. I liked him already.

The order of the day was that Ongsin would be tutored to learn about Petroleum extraction and the chemical makeup of petroleum and then have to tutor it to someone new.

So it began: His tutor asked him to read the various pages of his textbook. He scanned the pages and then gave up saying, “I don’t get it” or “Mai Kao Jai” in Thai. But his tutor persevered.

I watched the pair from afar. I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying but slowly I noticed Ongsin place his chair on all four legs, and burry his head in the book with absolute concentration, trying to read and re-read the information on petroleum oil rigs – he wanted to make sure he knew everything before he tutored someone else. They both sat down to reflect on the process and then a little anxiously, Ongsin asked his tutor to test him again and again to make sure he was ready.

His chemistry teacher noticed the pair and sauntered over to ask how he was. Ongsin has a glisten in his eyes when he looked up. “This is the first time I finally understood something. I didn’t just understand it, it pierced and went right into my heart!” He waved frantically and beat his heart as if a knife had penetrated it. He laughed.

You see, in English understand is more of a cognitive word. You understand with your brain. In Thai, understand literally means “Kao Jai” or to go into the heart – Kao – to go in and Jai – heart. So understanding is really, finding meaning that touches the heart. Ongsin brought that to life for me. It rang especially true for me this Teachers’ Day.


So as I begin my life in Seattle and PhD studies in Learning Science and Human Development, Ongsin’s story guides my thoughts. I want to study more Ongsin-like experiences – the inner workings of not just the brain, but the heart, and how to dignify people through learning and dialogue.

I’ll also be working part-time to create a tinkering studio in West Seattle and I think that’ll just be a wonderful experience and opportunity to stay grounded to the city and her people. I’m excited to grow from this.

I miss home especially much on a day like Teachers’ Day (happy Teachers’ Day everyone!!) but know I’ll be back with more insight and more ideas on how to grow, refine our work and journey together as educators in Southeast Asia.


With love,



Tutoría in Thailand!




Sing, Dance, Love

29 Aug
Mr Dayo/ Mr Brahim Music: Ternikano Berno- Circle of Youth

Mr Brahim Music: Ternikano Berno- Circle of Youth

So I met a wonderful man, Mr Dayo, who invited Raphaelle and I to his house today, who shared his own experience being a Rom in France, the struggles, but what was most amazing was the pride he had in his own people.

“Many people think we are the bastards of Europe, with no state, land or education. But when they see our true selves, then they will understand why we laugh, sing, dance and love.”

So often we think of people in labels, in stereotypes and we are feed into a culture of needed to categorize people, to talk about “the other.” But what is the other, we are have layers, and layers of experiences, joys, comforts, impulses, layers to be shared, uncovered and discovered. One of my favorite concepts from the Asset-Based Community Development approach by John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann is the concept of stories, of the imagination and of the hope and pride that are often forgotten when we are stuck in a “need-jail” mentality. The most dangerous thing is to talk to our neighbors, and today, I had a deep conversation with one of mine. 🙂

– Meixi

A HUGE SHOUT-OUT to Raphelle Neyton for translating on the spot! She’s amazing. 🙂

The Paris Skyline

Running to School

3 Aug
International Delegates at NorthLight School,Singapore

International Delegates at NorthLight School,Singapore

It’s my third day at NorthLight and it has been absolutely wonderful. It’s a school for students labeled “academic failures” and this has been a place of hope and inspiration. The teachers’ dedication and love for their students were evident in the way they would spend time with them, sit with the students in the canteen and joke and laugh with the students. When I was talking to Mrs Chua, the Principal of NorthLight- the vision for 2010 was for students to be running to school and walking home. And I’ve seen that vision. Our school is like a large playground, one student said- what a beautiful picture.

When the world says give up, Hope whispers, Try one more time

When the world says give up, Hope whispers, Try one more time

I’ve done about 10 interviews so far in NorthLight and love is key here- and that is education.

at the National Vol and Phil Center

Meeting with Mr Lawrence Lien, CEO, National Vol and Philanthropy Center

Monday, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Mr Lawrence Lien in Singapore. He’s the CEO of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Center and he had met Jody Kretzmann in Chicago last May or June. What was the most exciting was learning about his experience as an Eisenhower fellow and his interest in bringing Asset-Based Community Development to Singapore. In a country where we are used to new buildings and roads popping up in the blink of an eye, this was so new and refreshing. We want to get people to own their neighborhood and community. Coming from Peru, where the sense of community was so great, I just had a whirlwind of thoughts. How do we create ownership in Singapore? Is that even possible? We had developed so quickly that we didn’t need each other- was that what was key? But at the same time, I have seen the spirit of passion and heart and pride in my own peers, in the many people that have come to Suraj and I in Amber wanting to right a wrong they saw. These thoughts will probably be on my mind for a while. How can we work with school and communities to get communities to own their school, feel proud of each neighborhood, the people, food and places?