As much as we like to believe that we can plan our futures to the nth degree, life is full of uncertainties. While qualifications in business is a great accomplishment, it doesn’t mean the rest of your life will be confined to, say, the finance sector. Phannaroj Chalitaporn, CEO and co-founder of Raintree International School, is proof of that.
Phannaroj, or Mai, pursued a double degree in engineering at Thammasat University, which enabled her to finish her studies in Nottingham. A master’s degree in finance at Cambridge University followed. “I then came back to Asia and spent a year working in investment banking in Hong Kong before another year in London,” she says. Determined to become fluent in Mandarin, she then spent three and a half years in Beijing learning the language while working in a bank, before a second stint in Hong Kong.
It wasn’t until Mai turned 30, returned to Thailand and married fellow financier Casey Au, that she began to question the direction in which her career was heading. The realisation that one day she might want to start a family of her own got her thinking about the education sector. “I was helping my sister pick out a preschool for her children and it dawned on me that when I have kids of my own, the options for schools here that fit the criteria I have are quite limited. I believe that fostering independent creativity in children from a young age is so important to their development and in Thailand we don’t do this very well,” she explains.
And after much consideration, this is what led the coordinator for the Cambridge Alumni Society in Thailand, her sister Vorachan Chirathivat and Korn Chatikavanich to start Raintree International School, which has a progressive English-Chinese early childhood programme at its core. “Our emphasis is on promoting creativity and communication in a nurturing environment for children between 18 months and five years of age. Currently we have 32 children enrolled,” she says. “We teach mostly in English but include Mandarin in the curriculum. We also think it’s important for our expatriate children to be aware of the environment in which they are growing up, so Thai is also taught.”
Establishing a school is a complicated process. In Mai’s case, it took around three years of research and bureaucracy to get the school up and running. In a way she and her sister were its first students. “It took a while for us to fully understand what was required and to learn how to go about it,” she says, adding “We are still learning as we go.”
Dedicated to ensuring a rounded form of child development at Raintree, the one thing Mai would like to see more of in Thailand is schools fostering greater multiculturalism among the younger generations. “There is so much conflict in the world and clashes between cultures and religions,” she says. “We need to teach children compassion for one another, regardless of ethnicity or religious background. Traditional schools here have a tendency to overlook this.”
Mai is grateful for her understanding parents, Valeerat and Jitapan Chalitaporn. “They have always supported me in whatever I’ve wanted to do,” she smiles. “And I don’t think you have to be limited by your training in a specific field. I believe we are all lifelong learners. Whatever it is you want to do, you simply have to pursue it with passion.”
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