Mae Chee ‘Aunampai’ Passakchai – WOMAN of ACTION™

A-Celebration-of-Women-Feature-Banner

 

A Celebration of Women™

is elated to Celebrate the Life of this diligent, hard working and humble woman that devotes her life to the education of young girls in Thailand.  Her advocate inside her school, providing us with her Story tells us she has an amazing sense of humor and is brilliant, but when it comes to talking about herself, she has almost nothing to say.

 
 
 

WOMAN of ACTION™

 

A. Yai  older girls

 

Mae Chee Aunampai Passakchai

‘Mae Chee’ means nun in Thai, literally ‘mother in white

 
 
 
 
Although there are many Buddhist monks in Thailand, there are no nuns. The “establishment” monastic institution of Thailand, the Sangha Supreme Council, does not recognize the ordination of bhikkhunis (nuns), for reasons that amount to a classic “catch 22.” The proper ordination of nuns requires the presence of ordained nuns, and because there are no ordained nuns in Thailand, nuns cannot be ordained.

You might remember that awhile back a Thai monastery in Australia held a nuns’ ordination by importing some ordained nuns from Taiwan for the ceremony. But when the “home office” in Thailand found out about this, it severed ties to the Australian branch and informed the Australian monks they were no longer part of the order. I’m guessing the nuns from Taiwan were Mahayana and not Theravada, but still, that does seem harsh.

Women in Thailand who want to devote their lives to the dharma are called mae chi or mae ji, a term of unknown origin. They shave their heads, take vows, and wear traditional robes, but they have no official status as ordained anything. They are neither clergy nor laypeople, or they are both, depending on circumstances.

ae__107Mae chee (Thai: แม่ชี, RTGS: Mae Chi, IPA: [mɛ̂ː tɕʰiː]) are Buddhist laywomen in Thailand occupying a position somewhere between that of an ordinary lay follower and an ordained monk.

It is still illegal for women to take ordination in Thailand, based on a 1928 law created by Prince Chinnawon Siriwat, then the Supreme Patriarch. He based this on the fact that the Buddha allowed senior female monks (the Bhikkhuni Sangha) to give monkhood to women. But, citing the belief that the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha died out centuries earlier, the Prince commanded that any Thai monk who ordained a female “is said to conduct what the Buddha has not prescribed, to revoke what the Buddha has laid down, and to be an enemy of the holy Religion…”.

The most recent case brought to the Supreme Court of Justice is that of Samana Phothirak, a monk who has been ejected from the Thai Sangha after being convicted of breaching the monastic laws repeatedly. Phothirak then created his own sect of Buddhism and ordained about 80 bhikkhunis in 1998, leading to his imprisonment for 66 months on several successive counts of “causing schism amongst the religion“.

Mae chees have traditionally been and still are marginalized figures in Thai society. During the 20th Century, new movements to improve the lot of mae chees emerged. But the situation is still far from being acceptable under modern standards of human rights, with other Thai women often the most vocally opposed to women wearing robes. The Thai Bhikkhuni Sangha has been revived by Venerable Dhammananda, who has not been imprisoned. But opposition from high-ranking Thai monks seems to have discouraged mae chees from joining her.
 
Mae Chee ‘Aunampai’ Passakchai, Born 1965, to parents running a small business in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Education was available to her through high school. Even when growing up she had a desire to be a nun and to serve others.

When she was 20, with no previous illness, she fainted without apparent reason and went into a coma for three days. Doctors could not determine the cause and were sure she would die.

Aunampai said when she came out of the coma, a respected monk and fortune-teller who she knew “basically told me I am at the end of my rope in this life and he advised me to become a Buddhist Nun for three months in order to extend her life span.

She was ordained as a nun several months later and she said she enjoyed ‘tamboon’, doing acts of service for merit, so much that she wanted to continue as a nun.

From the age of 21 to 25 she did the equivalent of a BA, four-year of Buddhist Study at the temple Wat Kak Nam. Upon graduation her teacher suggested that she work on an independent social project with other independent nuns helping girls in poverty outside of Bangkok. She felt drawn to serve society and help these girls. Her teacher, Aunampai, and two other nuns went to the project.

Helping Girls

There was one small building and their group joined other nuns and worked with the 20 in-residence girls, all of the age of 13. The girls came from poor families or were orphans. They had attended grade school, but there was no middle or upper school available to them. The nuns observed as they served the community, that Thai boys from these poor families could become novice monks and find educational support and a place to stay at Buddhist temples, while girls did not have this alternative.

At school they call her “Acharn Yai” which means highest teacher or Principal of the school.

Poverty pressed these girls to go to work in order to help their families. They observed that working as cheap laborers in factories in the big cities caused some girls to become easy prey for brothel agents or remaining employed in these degrading occupations put them at risk of other abuse, AIDs, depression and addiction. Being concerned about the unequal opportunity of receiving standard curriculum, an informal school was underway using a government curriculum intended for adults who had never gone to school.

Aunampai found herself teaching every subject: reading, mathematics, science, social studies, language etc. And the girls did agriculture to help sustain themselves.

By word of mouth, more girls came each year. When Aunampai was 38 there were 50 girls and the government of Thailand changed its policy and would not allow the adult education curriculum they had been using to be taught to individuals under the age of 18. Aunampai was told if she wanted the girls to continue their institute would have to start a regular school.

Starting a formal school

line up singing

All the nuns working on the project told Anumpai it would not be possible to establish a school. The girls attending the school were already an enormous challenge coming from very troubled backgrounds, a wide range of ages, and speaking diverse dialects. Her associates considered it too daunting a task to deal with the licensing, building requirements, establishment, and on going required legal operation and massive paper work necessary to meet government requirements. She was discouraged by her colleagues, and told if she wanted to do this she would have to be the director. At the school they call her Acharn Yai, which means highest teacher or Principal of the school.

groupShe said she knew she could not disappoint the girls and leave them to struggle throughout their entire lives due to lack of sufficient education and knowledge. She could not wait for the government to expand education into these remote areas of Thailand. She took it into her own hands and forged ahead to formerly establish Dhammajarinee Whitthaya School in May 2003. She was the acting director, but needed to get her Masters to be formally approved as director. So in addition to the challenge of starting the school, she attended the University of Pachapat Suan Dusit and attained her Masters degree in Buddhism.

Dhammajarinee Whitthaya School offered poor girls the unique opportunity of receiving standard educational curriculum combined with Buddhist studies and self-discipline. Everything in the school was and continues to be free and the girls live in a beautiful and peaceful atmosphere. The school takes care of all of their needs.

The girls came from different parts of Thailand. Many come from remote areas in the north where there is no educational opportunity. Some girls came who had not been successful in regular schools, schools that have given up and rejected the girls. Aunampai Passakchai, describes that “some of the students are orphans or from broken homes and some were violently or sexually abused. If the school did not help take care of them, the problems would be multiplied.” She does not want to see these groups of children increase in the society. “What we are doing is a preventive problem solving,” said Aunampai.

Her school today

The number of students in the school has increased every year and there are now 430 students, kindergarten through high school. Aunampai oversees 38 teachers and administrative staff.

Aunampai said that every year the girls come in with diverse problems, but within a year the girls are on par academically with other students nationally in their grade. Aunampai feels that one of the things that has made her efforts so successful is that she knew that these girls needed more than book learning and discipline, that they needed a way to deal with the incredible stress that most had already undergone at such a young age. In her deep compassion she provides tools to help release past trauma in the girls. She introduced yoga and a meditation and made it a part of the daily curriculum. The teachers saw the girls getting happier, more peaceful and alert and ready to learn. The school is unique in its approach of developing the child through meditation, which is as essential as filling their minds with information. The school develops a strong moral character and exuberant young adults ready to contribute to her society.

Anumpai has helped over a 1000 girls through the establishment of Dhammajarinee Whittaya School.

Her Vision

Due to socio-economic problems and recent natural disasters, girls in poverty are more vulnerable than ever before. More girls want to come, but the school lacks space and has had to turn away girls who have not opportunity to go to school. Aunampai wants to build a new classroom building this year to allow hundreds of more girls to attend her school. Here goal is to have 1000 students. Then she desires to take the continuing steps and provide free higher education up to PhD level. In addition she would like to start a branch of her school in the most remote northern province of Thailand to serve some of Thailand’s Hill Tribes who have limited or no access to education.

If you would like to donate to this momentous campaign visit her website BuddhistGirls.org, English donation page.

Or email: Opportunity4Girls@gmail.com for information about a tax deductible donation option for U.S. tax payers.

Current Campaign Solution

A plan to construct a large new classroom building for about 500 more girls is underway. Some money has come from the government and private donors but the school still needs to quickly raise $125,000 to complete this large building within a year. Contributions to her campaign will enable all current students to finish high school, hundreds of more students to come next year, and it will help thousands of girls who will graduate from this school in the future.

Current video of Dhammajarinee

English Sub.

Chinese Sub.

Japanese Sub

History of the school video
Buddhist Charity School: History of Dhammajarinee Witthaya

School website: BuddhistGirls.org

 
 
 
 

A Celebration of Women™

 

welcomes this re-born and enlightened female soul into our global alumni with open arms, embracing the possibility of many collaborations in the pursuit of betterment of the lives of all girls/women worldwide.

 

carnations
 
 

Brava Mae Chee ‘Aunampai’ Passakchai!

 

A-Celebration-of-Women-Feature-Banner

Speak Your Mind

*

Copyright 2014 @ A Celebration of Women™ The World Hub for Women Leaders That Care