A Teaching Moment
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A Teaching Moment

Retired English teachers Tom & Dianne Klein give generously to a school in Thailand

Some travelers can circle the world—but find their hearts anchored to one particular destination. Two such travelers are Tom and Dianne Klein, first-time OAT travelers from Bowling Green, Ohio. The destination that draws them is Thailand.

The Kleins' first experience of Thailand occurred in Fall 2006, when Tom was invited to teach Global Studies and three other courses to 650 college students during a 16-week "Semester at Sea" voyage around the world, under the aegis of the University of Virginia. The cruise called on roughly ten countries throughout Europe and Asia, and of those countries, according to Tom, "We liked Southeast Asia so much, we went back."

Their return occurred in 2008, on a cruise on the Mekong River that included a stop in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. "That's when the need to teach in Thailand started," Tom recalls.

Those Who Can … Teach!

By the time they embarked on these travels, Tom and Dianne had raised a son, now in his 30s, and retired from long careers as English teachers—Dianne from the Bowling Green, Ohio, public school system and Tom from Ohio's Bowling Green State University. Long active in interfaith volunteerism in northwestern Ohio, Tom learned through one of his colleagues of a teaching opportunity at Thailand's Payap University. Founded by the United Church of Christ, Payap is Thailand's first private university. When he was offered a one-year contract to teach English as a second language in the graduate program, Tom jumped at the chance.

A few weeks into that experience, however, Tom realized that the taxing demands of "transportation (I had no car or scooter), food, heat, and living alone" were more than he could endure for a year, and he returned to Dianne and the comforts of home sooner than he had anticipated. Still, he says, "While not all of my goals were reached, many were, and I remember Thailand fondly."

Working with student teachers in rural schools around Chiang Mai also gave him a personal appreciation for the hardships faced by students at Thai schools—and the dedicated individuals who teach them.

A Primary Education

Friends of the Kleins had been recommending OAT to the globe-trotting couple for years, so when a brochure promoting the travel company's Discover Thailand adventure arrived in the mailbox, "we couldn't resist," Tom reveals.

One of the lures of the OAT adventure for them was the primary school visit that is part of the included itinerary. The particular school they visited on their November 2010 adventure was the Baan Don Chum Primary School, one of four rural Thai primary schools supported by Grand Circle Foundation.

Dom Chum village, where the school is located, is also the site of an agricultural cooperative supported by the Foundation's Invest in a Village initiative. The Baan Don Chum School is responsible for providing lunch for its students, and when complete, this project will free the village from its dependency on the city of Phrae, 25 miles away, for food and farming supplies, and allow it to become self-sustaining.

A $5,000 Gift from the Heart

The Kleins' small group of 16 spent "a good part of the day" in Dom Chum village, according to Tom. At the school, the group presented gifts, including three soccer balls, to the delighted students, who sang for them, taught them some Thai phrases, offered a kick-boxing demonstration, and took the travelers on a personal tour of the school. Later, the people of the village made coffee for the travelers and showcased their artistry during crafts and music demonstrations. "We were enraptured by the Don Chum school," Tom enthuses. "We fell in love with the teachers and the students. We had a burning desire to help them."

And help they did! They consulted with teachers and the school principal to find out what was needed most. What they discovered was that the answer included the basics, such as food, clothing, bicycles for transportation … and something near and dear to the Kleins' heart: the salary for an English teacher.

Before even boarding the plane for the trip back home, the Kleins made a generous personal donation of $5,000 to cover all of these expenses. "When we visit any school in a developing country, we want to go back and help," Tom explains. It's in our genes."

Giving Back at Home

The couple's generosity isn't limited to lands across the sea. They also are active volunteers in their home community. A museum docent, Dianne is also the coordinator of secondary and college programs for the Toledo Museum of Art.

For his part, Tom is a firm believer that "interfaith understanding is the road to international peace" and leads workshops in that regard at libraries and area colleges. He also is the founder of a Jewish-Muslim youth-based initiative and serves as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA), representing troubled and abused children for the local CASA program.

A commitment to giving back to the destinations it travels is one reason why Tom and Dianne chose OAT for their Thailand adventure. "These ongoing projects mean a lot to me," Tom says. "It shows they're interested in more than profit and greed. It's like the principle of camping, 'Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it.' That's my philosophy and also OAT's."

As for the Kleins, Tom explains the couple's own impulse to give back this way: "There is a Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam, that means 'to heal the world.' It's a central philosophy of Judaism. And it's how I try to live my own life."

Give back to the Don Chum Agricultural Cooperative, Thailand

Featured in our December 2010 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.