Baking Up Change

Cavelle Dove, Founder of Imagine Thailand was recently featured in Downhome Life Magazine for her role as one of four women behind the Yangon Bakehouse.   Yangon Bakehouse is transforming the lives women in Myanmar - one apprentice at a time.

Read about it here.


Finally--A Passport that makes an Entrance

When Imagine launched a university cafe and gallery in 2008 we chose the name Passport because we saw this venue as being a gateway. We said that it would serve as an entrance into a student's destiny. I remember very vividly talking over potential names with our Thai team. Pichit, one of our core founders suggested the name "Passport." In his mind, and we all agreed, the place we were to open would be  a passageway through which students would enter their destiny. Much like a passport grants entrance into a new country and for some a new home, Passport Cafe would serve as an entrance into a new way of looking at the world a way framed by the understanding that God had created and purposed each student to live a life unto God.

Passport became much more than that. It was a home where students could study and snooze, as well as talk about important issues. In keeping with our vision, students who came through our doors had their first opportunity to leave Bangkok and serve rural communities. Some had their first encounter with Christians, and by extension, their first encounter with Christ.

We always had a frustration though--Passport was too small. At 300 sq ft. Passport looked pretty crowded if we had 5 customers. Well over the years we have also developed an abiding  personal and working relationship with Henry and Ruut Mononen. From Finland, deeply committed to young people and the university, they had expressed a desire to establish a Ministry Cafe for urban youth at the Campus where we served. We kicked around ideas of partnership for years, but it wasn't until last summer when a large site became available to Henry and Ruut, that we began to seriously think about working together. Well, now talk has become action and today we're announcing that partnership.

The Cafe and music studio will be called Entrance. The site is large--three large floors totaling about 4500 sq ft. The main floor will house a Cafe, which in addition to great coffee, will offer  simple food options, a performance stage, and a library corner. The second floor will have a meeting room and professional recording studio, while the third floor will have offices and housing for visitors or volunteers.

The vision of Entrance is goes beyond the unreached:  it is also focused on being a ministry that gives opportunities to christian youth to train and develop their skills in the line of music/media as well as build them up through a discipleship process. Markus, who was raised in Thailand, and his wife, are incredibly gifted in music and media and will manage the production side of things.

Together we will form a cooperative strategy predicated on the belief that we can be more effective serving the university and urban youth as a team. For us, this reflects our desire to refocus Imagine's work on emerging leaders. Under the guidance of Hannah Wood, our campus outreach has seen considerable growth and attention this past year, and working in a larger space with a committed team will only enhance our effectiveness.

The name Passport will no longer apply to the physical space, but rather to the process we have developed to motivate, train and send students into places of service. We will now work in partnership with Henry, Ruut, Markus and their team at Entrance to serve emerging leaders, urban youth, musicians and university students.

For those of you who have been to Passport, yes the closing of Passport does mean change, but it also means greater opportunity and impact. For those who have financially supported Passport's beginning, know that all equipment and furniture purchases will continue to be used for ministry purposes, only in a different venue.

We're excited about the future and the new opportunity before us.  Whether it's Passport or Entrance, we're  committed to the same vision--the journey to a new life that begins with both "stepping out" and "coming in."


What happens when you mix Imagination with YES(TA)?

It may seem like an odd match up, but one of our closest relationships at the University is with a group called YESTA--a US Embassy funded study program that provides deserving students, mostly from Thailand's Muslim South, a year of high school study in the US before returning to enter university in Bangkok. Once in University, these YES alumni are active in community service year round.  Over a year ago the group leader walked into Passport, learned about what Imagine Thailand was about and proposed that we do something together. Last spring we joined up with a student group from UBC and Hat Yai University to conduct a leadership camp.  In that event the main beneficiaries were the students themselves. They got to study and play together in an multi-cultural context.  The program went so well, that we decided to do it again.

This past September, Imagine welcomed YESTA to join us in Takua Pa, teaching English to Buddhist students in a public school.  Now some of you think, that's awesome a Christian organization teaming up with Muslim students serving a Buddhist community, while others may question if that's a good thing to be doing.  Well, for our part we're pretty excited about it for many reasons.

The divide in Thailand over religion and culture is pretty large.  Even though Muslims have lived in the South for hundreds of years, they are often still referred to as visitors. You're probably aware that separatist extremists are exploiting the sense of disenfranchisment by waging a deadly insurgency in the Deep South. While Thailand is 95% Buddhist, in the Deep South, the numbers are reversed--95% of the population of these provinces is Muslim.  So when you have Muslim students choosing to serve a Buddhist community that's a big deal. When they do so by joining with Imagine, that's an even bigger deal. YESTA needs to be commended.

So what's Imagine's agenda you ask? Well, it's not complicated. Imagine believes it needs to be in the lives of the community whoever they are, wherever they are.  We're not closed off behind a parish wall, but living out our faith in relationship to anyone and everyone who feels safe to be around us. Spending a week with YESTA working alongside and together with them was awesome. The result was lots of fun, laughs and great conversations. And of course, we served a community that needs to see what happens when people are willing to not surrender to fear and misunderstanding, but instead live life together for the benefit of others,


Takua Pa Learning Centre Growing

Takua Pa is where Imagine Thailand began.  Here in this part of Phang Nga province, you'll find the deepest impact of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Even today people are shaken every time they hear of an earthquake, some remain emotionally traumatized, and from time to time someone dies from illness related to the tsunami.

You may remember after two years of working on recovery and development projects, we decided to stay on in Baan Phru Tiew, the community that was created to house survivors of the tsunami.  Community members asked for some form of after-school learning centre and six years ago we launched this project. We struggled to find decent space, and often we wondered if we should carry on.

How things have grown in Takua Pa! A year ago 15-20 students would squeeze into a living room the size of a decent walk-in closet. We now rent a small campus with access to two buildings and a large learning centre. With the help of Philadelphia Church in Lewisporte, Newfoundland and Omega Challenge in British Columbia we have the first Google Chrome Computers in Thailand, on-line learning and now up to 60 children who come each day after school.

The Centre is many things: a place of hope and refuge for kids whose parents find it hard to push them forward in their studies. It's a place to be after school, a place for fun and for learning. Children are getting help with homework, learning typing skills, preparing for exams and becoming better students.  Our staff follow their test scores, and we can see that 90% of the students are improving at school. We can observe that they are more engaged in learning, prefering to do online learning exercises rather than playing Moshi Monsters. We can also observe that they are becoming better people.

The Centre also provides emotional support and spiritual counsel. Many of the children have made the local church their home. We recently took a team of 12 pre-teens to serve in a migrant school in Mae Sot. Not only did they have a chance. to cross a culture in order to serve other children less fortunate, they had the chance to change. We didn't structure it that way, we just wanted these kids to have the experience, but when they came home their parents started calling our staff.  They wanted to know what we did to their kids because they were so different.  Their attitude at home had changed so much.

This really reflects the vision of Imagine--to provide an opportunity to young Thai leaders to be involved in the needs around them in their own country and in the process be transformed.  Typically we thought the "young Thai leaders" would be students from Bangkok's universities, but we are happy to say, that these young leaders are also the rural poor, touched by one of the world's worst natural disasters, but eager to learn and eager to make a difference.


Can a Pie Change the World?

About 14 months ago Imagine began a small social enterprise called the British Pie Shop. We teamed up with a Brit living long term in Thailand, to make some of the best savory meat pies in Southeast Asia.  As a kid I ate them Saturday evenings while watching 'Hockey Night' in Canada, and it's the kind of taste expats crave. We wanted a real business that earned income and with over 600,000 foreigners in Bangkok it seemed we had a chance at success.

The goal wasn't to line our pockets, but to find an industrious way to pay the bills of running Imagine and support our national staff. Well that initial goal is beginning to be realized. In the past three months we've had some great press, consistent production, and sales are up over 100% year on year. That means we're selling over 1200 pies every month to happy customers. We're aiming to double our production in the next six months. About $1.00 of every pie sale goes to Imagine people and projects that are changing our world.   Now that's making a difference.

What's more, customers become friends.  They're diplomats, media types, government ministers, and international businesspeople. They're finding out about us, about what we do and why we do it. That provides lots of opportunities to talk about more important things than just pies, and it builds vision for together bringing positive change to communities around us.

The Pie Shop is expanding as well. We now have a retail outlet in Mae Sot, where we have a host of projects, and soon will be bringing the good taste to Myanmar through the Yangon Bakehouse.

An enterprise like this is a new experience for us and a lot of work--mostly on the shoulders of our baking staff and managers Greg and Andrea--but it's a lesson in the potential of social enterprise. Not only do we provide a product that many people enjoy, but we also provide a marketable skill to local people, earn needed funds to cover ministry costs (thus reducing the need for donors to fund administrative costs), and provide a legitimate platform to be in the lives of our community and neighbours.  Can a Pie change the world?  Well, pies are certainly having an impact in our world.