The First Seeds - late 2006

                 We had often discussed how many of our friends on leaving Chiang Mai after a short visit had said things like: "Wish we could have stayed longer" or:   "We'll be back again - didn't realise how much there was to see and do here"

         Other conversations had covered how tourism might help those less well-off in the community, particularly the many rural children who lack the opportunity of a proper education and a decent start in life. We talked about the very lucky kids privileged enough to go an establishment such as Prem International School, and the stark contrast between such a lofty educational institute and impoverished villages, often with primitive classrooms, leaking roofs and pupils sitting on an earth floor.   

     It was not long before we thought how wonderful it would be if the lucky children could do something voluntarily to help the poor ones in a concept of  "Children helping Children"  Cash donations would of course help, but that did not fit the spirit of the idea.  How therefore, to generate funds for poor children using the hands and the hearts of those much better off? We talked of the vision of children, and how differently they saw the world reflected in why not raise funds with their paintbrushes, and sell their creations?  That sounded like a great possibility.

The Germination

                 This idea however did not fit totally with our tourism ideal. We might of course sell canvases to tourists, but how to promote Chiang Mai effectively to bring more tourists - and encourage them to stay longer;  see all the things that most people miss? And get this message out internationally, over an extended period?  The desk calendar idea came in an instant - yes of course, already many calendars out there, but most had a commercial motive, and many were cluttered with sponsors. We envisioned a neat non-commercial, non-profit item which would promote our city in an elegant way,  encourage extended lengths of stay, involve privileged children in its production, and raise funds through sales for poor kids.  A 'charity' calendar. ......The Chiang Mai Charity Calendar. Something that would look like this maybe...................?

The first mock up 'vision'

So our main objectives were formed:
    * Initially, to encourage well-off children to help poor kids in a 'create and donate' concept, using art pieces instead of money.
    * To help put Chiang Mai on the world map as a prime destination in its own right for leisure, conferences, medical tourism, high quality purchases, sports, education, studies, and not a stopover, as many perceive it to be.
    * To raise funds for disadvantaged Thai children through sales of a charity calendar featuring paintings done by rich children, who care about poor children 
    * To further motivate the kids who donated the paintings to continue doing worthwhile things - by letting them experience their own success, first hand.

The Growth

        Having an idea is easy. Realizing it is something else. We were just two inexperienced people with a sprouting seed, but nowhere to plant it. We needed children to volunteer, rules and conditions of entry drawn up, paintings to be produced, content to be written, artworks and layouts to be done, a printer to be found, a web site to be created, a large amount of cash to be paid in advance, and thousands of like-minded people willing to buy a desk calendar to make it a success.

        Our first communication was sent to the Management of Prem Tinsulanonda International School in Chiang Mai, who shared our vision. As per the outline given, they agreed to propose the "create and donate" idea to their students in a painting project using a theme of "Why Chiang Mai is a Wonderful Place to Live"

        It was made very clear to students that this was purely voluntary, that there would be no prizes, and that paintings submitted would not be returned, but offered for sale to add to the charity pot. Time was also short, it was exam time, and we worried that the response might be insufficient. Meanwhile, we had received an enthusiastic reaction from Khun Junnapong the TAT Director in Chiang Mai, who applauded the idea, as did City Life Magazine who offered to do the layouts, artworks and photography free of charge, and Chotana Print Company agreed to do the production at cost. Our concern about a slow response from the students proved unfounded. A total of 93 entries flooded in, and 13 were chosen by a panel of judges for inclusion in the calendar.

The Flowering

        Thanks to all those who supported it along the way, offered encouragement and advice, kept us motivated and cheerful when inevitable problems arose, the vision is now a reality. That first fragile seed of thought has produced 10,000 copies of the 2008 Chiang Mai Charity Calendar,  sending our colourful promotional item into homes and offices all around the world - and raising a meaningful amount of money for a deserving cause.

        This simple creation, produced entirely by amateurs and school students, is not likely to win any global awards, or have its images displayed in the Tate Gallery, but its appearance has already attracted international media attention by virtue of its initiative, innovation and uniqueness, which is raising awareness of our beautiful city, to travellers and the Travel Trade alike. That is already an achievement. But we must remember that the calendar is not just a year-long promotional tool for our city, it is a symbol of 'Children helping Children' - and we hope an example which others may wish to follow. 

The Inside Story - One of Crocodiles and Crises

        After that idea first came, we drew up rules and entry forms, and received confirmation of participation from Prem Tinsulanonda International School whose students were invited to ‘create and donate’ paintings reflecting a theme:   "Why Chiang Mai is a Wonderful Place to Live" Although time was short, students and parents reacted quickly and positively. Entries soon rolled in using the 40 x 60 cms format specified. Meanwhile, City Life Magazine had kindly already offered to do our layouts, graphics etc., free of charge, and Chotana Print Company Ltd., to equally kindly produce the calendar at cost. Khun Junnapong Saranak of TAT Northern Office Region 1 had applauded the concept, and we were now on our way … not too confidently, as we knew little about printing, and this was suddenly our baby. We had no rich sponsors (nor did we want to clutter the calendar with logos and advertisements) and we were going to have to proceed as best we could, with the help of kindred spirits who shared our vision and enthusiasm - then leave the rest to the Powers that Be.

        A former travel industry figure and long-time resident wrote the 5 pages of text about Chiang Mai for us, also free of charge. The 93 paintings were collated and numbered with their titles and descriptions. We then realised that we could not effectively exhibit them for judging as they were,  so we had to find more funding to put all 93 entries into display frames.

        To ensure impartiality, the judges’ voting sheet listed only titles and descriptions against the numbered entries. The artists’ signatures on the paintings were covered up. The judges were asked to award points from 1 to 10 for each entry, 10 being the highest, and the thirteen paintings with the highest aggregate scores were selected for inclusion in the calendar.

        Although we were surprised how much time and administration this had already involved, so far, so good. Behind us now were innumerable sleep-disturbed nights, fretting, worrying, and rolling from one side of the bed to the other..... ‘crocodiling’ as we came to call it. And there were plenty more of these horrible beasts to come…

        Next came layouts, colour schemes, proof-reading, mock-ups, etc… and the web site. Since we had boldly promised to post all 93 paintings on it without thinking how it would be done, we found ourselves acting as amateur photographers with no proper equipment, lighting or otherwise. Coupled with resizing, uploading and countless computer crashes, there were more of these - horrible crocodiles.

        Finally in early August 2007, the 2008 calendar was ready, fresh & crisp from the printer, ten thousand of them, weighing over three metric tonnes. Relays of print shop staff hand-carried them from a truck, package by package, and stacked them chest high into our sitting room at home, to disbelieving howls of protests from the family. Wow, what a baby we had delivered! Urgent questions arose - of storage,  stock controls, transportation and distribution. Next was to come the "Two-Person Sales & Marketing Show" and a lot more of those reptiles in the night!

        Nearly 2 months later, by the end of September 2007, worrying how we might sell this huge quantity of 10,000 (a 'nice round figure' which had looked so easy on paper) we could already have started a huge crocodile farm, considering the number of restless, sleep-disturbed nights endured. The frightening thought came that we might not even be able to cover the printing expenses and other related costs - far less raise funds for charity.

        Word of our project had however already reached Bangkok, and the sympathetic ears of Dr Suvit Yodmani, at that time, the  Minister of Tourism and Sports. Dr Suvit generously agreed to preside at our official "Calendar Launch" on 5th October 2007, hosted by the newly-opened Sofitel Riverside Hotel (now renamed the Ratilanna) and flew up from Bangkok for the occasion.  We will never be able to thank you enough for that, Dr. Suvit.

        Although the calendar had gone on sale at a few locations in Chiang Mai, it soon became obvious that we would have to depend on sales to local companies as well as to individual consumers, and we were obliged to approach the corporate market. However, being just two private individuals with neither a sales team, nor an advertising budget; without being a registered charity, or an established company, we soon discovered how difficult it is to promote an 'unknown'  We were often disheartened by the scores of proposals we sent out that were never even acknowledged, or the sales presentations we made, which were turned down. This did not in any way serve to reduce the 'nocturnal crocodile' count! To offset these disappointments, we were thrilled by the overwhelming reaction from others who enthusiastically shared both our vision, and our objectives. 

        The conclusion is that we raised a substantial sum of money, and presented our donation to the 'Dream Weaving for Peace Foundation' on Friday 4th April 2008. The word 'dream' is very appropriate as we write this, as the last 14 months of work and planning which went into this project seems somehow unreal, although the 'reptilian memories' and those sleepless nights are still vivid and clear!

Update: 23rd October 2008

Additional note - We are in the midst our sales efforts for the 2009 calendar and the current economic crisis is seriously affecting sales. We are now repeating the sleepless nights - and those crocodiles are back once again!    

Update May 2009
Despite the crocodiles, the economic crisis, and the prophets of doom (who said we would lose money!) we managed to raise 423,000 Baht which we donated to four different organisations. 

And we are going ahead with a third 2010 edition!

Why do we do this?

It's a very sensible question we are constantly asked. Each year we risk half a million baht of our own money to print the calendar, with no guarantee that we will break even on costs, far less have anything to donate. Much of the subsequent expenses comes out of our own pockets. On top of that it's a hard time-consuming slog: almost a full time job for just two mad people, small moments of triumph mixed with large measures of disappointments, worry and exhaustion.      
So what's the motivation? It's not just that we enjoy raising money for kids, or helping the tourism industry. It's a bit like climbing a high and dangerous mountain.........the reward comes at the summit. where the pain of climbing dissolves in the thrill of achievement and becomes addictive. 
So, here we go once more ...............................hello again, you nasty beasties..........  

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