Phuket’s Kalim region sits over a small hill to the immediate north of Patong, the world-famous epicentre of hedonism and decadence on Phuket island. Although it is so close to the immense cashflow of Patong’s buzzing cash-registers, Kalim is a rather down-at-heel suburb populated by many impoverished families…. fisherfolk, odd-jobbers and the unemployed. Now however, there is a simply wonderful initiative of hope and future happiness growing and developing in the midst of this community, right beside the bustling road leading north through Kalim, in the evolving form of the new Chicorée Baan Kalim Children’s School. This wonderful initiative is being completely funded by a wealthy Swiss family with strong connections to Phuket working hand-in-hand with a well-known local Swiss ex-pat, Thomas Brack.
The original school on this site was built some twenty years ago by the Thai government, but had always struggled with funding until the Phuket Has Been Good to Us Foundation stepped in and started to help run and financially support the children there from 2006. Sadly, the Coronavirus pandemic significantly hit the Foundation’s finances and so they had to concentrate on their main school in the Kamala Beach area, to the detriment of the Kalim School which was closed and started to fall into disrepair and ruin.
How the amazing initiative to rebuild and relaunch this important community resource as the Baan Kalim Chicorée School came about is a classic example of good fortune and chance working to produce a wonderful benefit for Phuket people and their highly-deserving young children.
Thomas Brack came to Phuket some twenty years ago after a successful career in the Swiss Fashion Industry. He settled in the Kalim area and soon became the Manager of the highly-successful award-winning 9th Floor Restaurant which was situated in a rather run-down building in the heart of Patong. The Sky Inn Condotel towered over a car park just off Rat-U-Thid Road and was as unlikely a place to find one of Phuket’s most successful fine dining restaurants as one could imagine. As you entered the down-at-heel elevator taking you up to the eponymous 9th Floor Restaurant and Bar, you’d be forgiven for thinking; “This can’t be the right place,” as many others had done before you. But when the elevator doors slid apart, you found yourself entering a parallel universe of elegance, style, wonderful views over Patong, fabulous cuisine and beautiful black-clad waitresses welcoming you with an inviting “Wai” of Thai greeting. Overseeing all this elegance was Thomas Brack who for many years managed what became a world-famous “must do” venue for high-rollers when visiting Phuket. The world’s wealthy and famous came to party at the 9th Floor and one such potential customer was Jörg Weber who had built the Chicorée fashion empire in Switzerland since opening his first store in 1985.
Thomas Brack takes up the story; “I’d known Jörg Weber for 40 years through my work in Swiss fashion from 1982. We’d had no contact for over 20 years, until 2007 when, on the recommendation of a regular guest, he and his family came to the 9th Floor Restaurant for dinner. I couldn’t remember him and of course I didn’t expect to see him in Phuket either. The funny thing is that I didn’t have a free table and we were having a jokey conversation about this, when we realised that we knew each other. They came back a couple of hours later to eat and we a great catch up talking about old times and acquaintances. In the years that followed, the family came to Phuket every year for vacations and this is how my friendship with the whole family developed. On my visits to Switzerland, I always met them and we had started talking about a social assistance project, possibly a school, for the past few years. In January this year, the family and I decided to support a school with poor infrastructure in an area with poorer families for a five- or six-year period, or longer, if we felt the initiative was a success with the whole school, director, teachers, community and children’s families all taking part.”
Thomas spent the next three months learning about the school system in Thailand and driving all over Phuket looking for schools in bad shape. He realised that there were many such schools that urgently needed help and finally decided on the Kalim school.
Thomas continues; “I’d known the Kalim school for over 20 years as I’d always lived in the area and drove past it daily. I contacted the school administration and from the first visit I knew that this was the right school. I shared my impressions and the choice with the Weber family and briefed them with photos etc. In May Jörg and his wife Marianne came to Phuket and were rather shocked by the state of the school, but we had good discussions with the school administration and then agreed the project could begin”.
The plan is to renovate the whole building including the outside areas and outfit it throughout with new furniture, learning materials and even TV’s in every classroom. There will be specialist classrooms for computer studies, English language and science; a new kitchen fully stocked with utensils, plus new bathrooms and children’s playground.
From November 2023, when the renovations are complete, the school will initiate English lessons for all classes including Kindergarten with the teachers and tutorials trained by the Phuket Has Been Good to Us Foundation who have been working closely with Thomas. There will also be computer and science lessons, not to mention a healthy dietary program with food, all-day drinking water, morning and afternoon snack-breaks and a nutritious lunch
Thomas explains; “Children who have food shortages at home will be able to take a food box with them in the evening, plus we will supply uniforms and backpacks. We want the children to stay at the Chicorée Baan Kalim School from kindergarten through to the sixth grade, which rarely happens in local schools because the learning infrastructure isn’t available. We plan to change that by giving children a very good standard of education and support so that they actually enjoy going to school”.
This really is a superb and much-needed initiative for Kalim and Phuket and the Weber family with their Chicorée brand and Thomas Brack are to be thanked from the bottom of our hearts for bringing Hope, Health and Happiness to the heart of Kalim!