Don Bosco Vientiane, Laos, 20 June 2020 -- Interview with Mr. Sanya Boonprasert Don Bosco Vientiane Founder Past Pupil of Don Bosco
What is your family and Salesian educational background?
I was born in Rayong, Eastern Thailand. I was born into a poor family and we are seven siblings, all Buddhists, who had a chance to study at Don Bosco College. I studied the Certificate of Vocational Education (Electrical) for 2 years, then took a Diploma course in Electrical (2 years) while working as a teacher and finally studied 5 years for a bachelor's degree. As a ‘Bosconian’ – Don Bosco Past Pupil, I was one year in Ban Nazareth (Aspirantate), assistant to the students for 2 years. All together some 12 years with Don Bosco. During those years I learnt the Salesian spirit, Don Bosco way of education based on loving kindness, reason and religion with diligence, faith and cheerfulness. I was often in the Church and prayerful.
How did you start Don Bosco Vientiane in 2004?
Once out of Nazareth House (Aspirantate), I prayed and told Mary Help of Christians: “Mother, I decided to resign, but I promise you, that if there is in my life an opportunity to help children or youth in need, I would follow Bosco's spirit. And I will do it with joy!"
When Fr Tito Pedron (former SDB provincial of Thailand, 1985-1992) and the THA provincial council planned to open a new work - project in Laos, they have been looking for the right person among the teachers in the Don Bosco Technical school in Bangkok. Both teachers and students identified that Sanya was the right choice. Then Fr. Tito called me and in a personal meeting I said ‘Yes’ to Fr. Pedron right away! [NB – That time the SDB religious were not able to reside in Laos].
How was the humble beginning of the first Laos Don Bosco TVET?
We started the business in 2004 with five Laotian students who had graduated from Bangkok DB Technical School. When we arrived to Laos, I rented one house to open a new center that was called "Mitr Samphan" and started the training for Electricity & Motorcycle Repair. The following year, we began teaching the first student, whose name was Thao Sansuk. We used the backyard of our house, there was only one tent and one table.
In the years that followed, more young people were admitted. They were sent by Catholic religious or their relatives. Most of the students who graduated in the early years became the next junior teachers.
Then started steadfast development of the vocation training center:
In 2006 12 young people were enrolled and we taught them electricity and mechanics (one year course). In 2007 we had already 24 students and 12 boarding students, since we rented a house next door, made a student’s bedroom and helped teach the disabled in nearby Sister's school (SPC Sisters) who run their school in cooperation with the Lao Government. In 2008, there were already 48 students (12 boarders and 36 day students) with 13 teachers in 3 trades: electricity, car/motorcycle repair and mechanics. The company has launched a center in Vientiane (capital city of Laos PRD). In 2009 we signed a 5 years MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to collaborate on vocational training with young people in government land, km14. There were 96 students and 20 teachers. We bought 16.000 square meters (10 rai) of land and renovated the old building to be used as a training center. We run 4 sections: electricity, motorcycle repair, mechanics and welding (courses of 1 year or 6 months).
From 2010 to 2013, there were 120 students and 25 teachers. We rented a farm on our own, and contacted the FMA Sisters from Vietnam to start their own Vocation training center in Laos, located near Ban Dan Chang. Vientiane City.
During that time an additional 2-storey school building was constructed, while Don Bosco premises were improved. We worked closely together with the Lao government. The Lao government has helped to save 400,000 bath to receive 60 more boarding students every year. We have registered as an NGO working in Lao PDR properly and start to join regular meetings with other NGOs present in Laos. Then in 2014 the first two Salesians SDB (including one Filipino Salesian Brother) arrived to live in Don Bosco Vientiane and I was given the task to supervise the VCT (Vocation Training Center).
How was the way of accompaniment by Fr. Tito Pedro, SDB (former provincial of THA)?
It is very important to complete the work of Don Bosco in Laos. The advisory board and the adult faculty at the time were very supportive of the project, and the trust was very much in place, especially for Fr Tito Pedron, who regularly followed up, phoned and spoke frequently and decided to solve the problem every time. His integral way of accompaniment – from guidance, economy, supervision, formation to spiritual guidance – was excellent.
How do you see your Laos missionary experience?
We spent some10 years in Laos from 2004 to 2014, starting from zero. Indeed I came to to Laos with just one item of personal luggage and with 5 Laotian graduated students from Don Bosco Bangkok. First we lived in the compound of the Catholic Church of Sacred Heart, Vientiane. Then we moved to the rental house and opened the "Mith Samphan" (Friendship) small workshop and training service.
The starting point was to prepare to deliver all the work (Vocational Training Center) to the Salesian Priests and Brothers. They had to move out to open a new center in Laos and stay close to us to take care of and they were close mentors like fathers and brothers. And sometimes we had meetings with the Lao government and civil authorities. My own business is about electricity installation. To start it, it took two years until the local people managed to run the business.
In 2014, the company moved back to Thailand and opened a company in Thailand named Boonsomjai Co., Ltd. and Turin Merj Co., Ltd. over a two years period.
What was your main challenge during the first years in Laos?
The challenge was simply to start the Salesian work from scratch in a new country. The goal was to open a Vocational Training Center in Vientiane. "We" as Don Bosco Alumni must be able to act on our behalf and pass the task to the Salesian Society members once the starting mission has been completed.
When there were some problems arising, I looked at the picture of Mary Help of Christians and Don Bosco in my room. And when I encountered problems, I would consult with Fr Pedron and the other senior teachers, faculty members to find adequate solutions.
What are the beautiful moments during your stay in Laos?
Our Vocation Training center was shut down and stopped at certain point. But all the teachers and students at that time didn’t leave Don Bosco for good, no one went home. Everyone agreed to work for a year to find a solution. It was amazing!
And I saw true poverty - really, really, really very poor kids. Their life completely changed when they got the chance to study, to have a career and so be able to feed their family, feed themselves. Then they would come back to thank you for their Don Bosco education in our regular training center. Some of our trainees have been driving for 10 hours to load a sack of rice for the juniors in the center to support their food. Really living miracles of transformation!
What is your dream?
My dream is to see the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center growing steadily and expand to various other districts of Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, where there really are many poor young people! I would like Vientiane Don Bosco Vocational Training Center to become a clear example of the work of the Don Bosco Alumni and collaborators who can work closely with Salesian Priests and Brothers to help young people and spread a good education.
And what are you doing now?
I currently own my business, Boonsomjai Co., Ltd. and Turin Merge Co., Ltd., which works on a full range of construction services. Within five years of its founding, the company's business grew amazingly, possibly due to the blessing of Mary Help of Christians and our Father Don Bosco.
Are you ready to give hand to Don Bosco also tomorrow?
Yes, I would encourage Don Bosco's work and affairs in many ways according to the request and capabilities available. And I would be pleased to manage the Don Bosco Training Center or School. In the event that the clergy member is not enough to work in the future.
NB: The THA province of St. Paul comprises 3 countries: Thailand (founder Bishop Passoti in 1927), Cambodia (founders Br Roberto Panetto and Fr. Walter Brigolin in 1991) and Laos (founder - Mr. Sanya and five Lao Alumni in 2004). We pray for more committed Past Pupils of Don Bosco like Mr. Sanya with a deep faith and love for the poor young people.
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