Pimali Foundation

The enormous impact Fr. Michael Shea and Sarnelli House have had on hundreds of children and families is well known by all visitors, friends and supporters. Through travelling to see us in the northeast of Thailand, following the website or reading Kate’s excellent newsletter, people have become aware of how a small place of such good can change so many lives. Abandoned or abused or very ill children are still alive and safe and fulfilling their potential because of the compassion and kindness of Fr. Mike and his team, while hundreds of people in surrounding communities are above the poverty line or benefitting from decent health care and education because of the work of the Outreach program.

There have been other, less measurable outcomes from the work Fr. Mike undertook. In 2009, Stephanie des Arts-Loup, a Swiss born woman came to visit. Her mother is Thai and since childhood, Stephanie had had a desire to make a contribution to Thai society. She felt privileged to be born in a wealthy country like Switzerland and to have had a comfortable life with decent opportunities. Her wish was to do something for Thai children who had no such privilege or opportunity. She searched the Internet and came across Sarnelli House. Stephanie wrote to Kate and asked if she could come and visit and made her first trip to Nong Khai in March 2009. Although she had been to Bangkok many times before, Stephanie wanted to make this trip alone, without her husband, Alex.  She instantly fell in love with the place, with the people and most of all, with the children. Stephanie returned every six months, always with Alex, spending one memorable New Year’s Eve camping with the children in the cold mountains. It was during one of these visits that Stephanie had a long talk with Fr. Mike. He was upset about a young girl of his who had left for a boy and returned with a baby. He and Stephanie got talking about the need for more than simply keeping kids safe and alive and Fr. Mike wished that there were greater options for the children’s futures.

This got Stephanie thinking and she awoke one morning with a dream. She had experience from working in the hospitality business and she imagined opening a hospitality training centre in Nong Khai to give disadvantaged young adults proper training to set them on their way in life. Alex and she created a business plan and talked to contacts they had in Bangkok to assess whether there was a need for such a centre. The need was apparent and the couple travelled to Thailand two or three times a year to meet perspective partners and look for suitable sites to build a centre. They sought funding in Switzerland and Thailand and once they had 80% of finance in place, they moved permanently to Nong Khai (with an infant daughter in tow) in December 2014. They called their new foundation “Pimali”, which was the nickname given to Stephanie by the children of Sarnelli House (‘malee’ means jasmine in Thai).

Pimali opened its doors in November 2015, offering courses in three aspects of hospitality training - cooking, food & beverage (service) and housekeeping. The courses last from six to 11 months and all graduates are guaranteed a six month internship at a five star hotel in Thailand. Pimali has a growing number of partnerships with the top hotels in Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi and Buriram. The Pimali students are very well received by these hotels, so good has their training become. The training centre has a good, core staff who teach the students according to a syllabus from an established school in Lausanne, Switzerland. Four bungalows and a restaurant are attached to the centre and the trainees learn within this practical setting. Guests from all over the world, including the Swiss and Irish ambassadors, have stayed at Pimali and served and fed by the students. The restaurant serves food from its own organic fruit and vegetable gardens and Pimali has recently installed solar panels in order to reduce their carbon footprint, as well as their energy costs.

More than ten Sarnelli House children have been students at Pimali in its first few years. Two boys are currently enjoying their internship at a hotel in Phuket while four girls returned to work as cooks and carers at Sarnelli House. Four young men and women are now working full time in the hotel sector, all at five star hotels and all earning sizeably more than they would ever have expected. One is an excellent chef, another is a lively and charming waitress and two more are impressing in the housekeeping department. They have experienced life away from Sarnelli House, overcoming shyness and low self-confidence to fulfil a promise they themselves may not have recognised. Fr. Mike and the staff are thrilled with these outcomes and are very grateful to Stephanie and Alex for their investment in our children. 

The work undertaken by Stephanie and Alex has been amazing, and they would possibly admit that the centre is more of a success than they ever imagined. They are both great advocates for underprivileged children of the region and they have always been extra supportive of any of the Sarnelli House children who have been to study at Pimali. They have changed the lives of their students and deserve huge credit for their determination and compassion. Stephanie will freely admit, that were it not for a certain Fr. Mike Shea and the miracle of Sarnelli House, the dream of Pimali may never have been conceived. Anything after that is all their own work.

For further information, please visit pimali.org

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