Interview with Annelie Hendriks, founder of Samsara Foundation

Annelie Hendriks is a Dutch national who has lived for 20 years in Doi Saket, Chiangmai. She studied Cultural Studies and International Relations and started her career making exhibitions for museums. Later she was the director of an institute in cross cultural training, working for international NGO’s and companies. When she moved to Thailand 20 years ago she opened the Samsara Foundation, which had the aim of getting all children to school in Mae Hong Son Province. The foundation focused on building facilities to support schools, such as dormitories, canteens, toilet buildings, kitchens, clean water installations and solar panel electricity projects. This infrastructure had a great impact, as many children in that province didn’t go to school due to the lack of boarding facilities. The organisation closed in 2016, having achieved its ambition of getting kids to school, and now Annelie is turning her attention towards creative storytelling using mixed media.

Aom from Studio 88 had a chat to Annelie about her work and life in Doi Saket.

Discussing Samsara projects.
Discussing Samsara projects.

What made you decide to settle down in Doi Saket?

Doi Saket is, in my opinion, the best place near Chiangmai to live. In the winter the wind comes from the northeast, where there are only mountains with many trees. When you live in the southwest part of Chiangmai the wind brings you all the dust particles caused by the city and airport. Doi Saket is quiet, there are not yet many tourists and it’s still very original with mainly local people living in the area. But foreigners also discovered this area to live and retire. Which brings more restaurants, coffeeshops and other facilities in this area such as the Vivo Bene Care Center, a Swiss investment project.

One of the best initiatives for Chiang Mai and the area of Doi Saket is the new Modern Art Museum Maiiam. It not only brings us great exhibitions, but it also organises other events in the museum, such as modern dance performances, concerts, theatre plays and lectures. Because of the existence of this museum more artists have decided to live and work in Chiangmai, which really contributes to Chiangmai as an art city. The artist-in-residence programs in Doi Saket also add to this environment.

The art scene has expanded so much the last ten years.

Opening dormitory at mountain school
Opening dormitory at one of the mountain schools.

Tell us about your work, what are you currently focused on?

At the same time as I closed my foundation my soulmate of 45 years died and both my parents also passed away. After their deaths I scanned a lot of documents (letters and diaries), photographs and movies made by us and my parents. For a long time, I had no idea what to do with it and what to do anyway with my new situation, until I noticed an article by the Washington Post about the garbage problem in the world. In the article the journalists used slides of photographs, videos, audio, graphics and documents – a new way of telling a story, a more creative way of telling a story. That inspired me and with some help from my network I found someone who could teach me the software necessary to tell these kind of stories. At the moment I am preparing the first stories. In in 8 months or so, after I have some content to show, those stories will be accessible for everyone who is interested. For me it is a way to create something new based on all that material from me, my soulmate’s, my parents’ and grandparent’s past. It is also a way to come to terms with my great loss.

How did the communities perceive your initiative? What is the impact has it had on the communities?

My foundation had a lot of impact, although it was in the Province of Mae Hong Son. When I started my foundation working at existing schools in Mae Hong Son in 2004 only 25% of the mountain children finished Primary School. When I left in 2016 95% of the mountain children finished Primary School, 78% Middle school and 65% High School, which was achieved just by building boarding facilities at the schools. We handed over to the Provincial Departments of Education at 280 mountain schools 400 big buildings, 200 smaller buildings, 280 clean water installations and 100 solar panel projects. In total we distributed 1,000 scholarships to mountain children to study. But other results were that the parents were much more connected to schools and teachers than before. After building the facilities together, the schools and the community cooperated more together.

Cooperation with directors of one of the schools.
Cooperation with directors of one of the schools.

How would you like to see the community in Doi Saket in the future?

There are good initiatives in Doi Saket to connect the foreign community with the local community. The Friends of district Luang Nua (supporting the 23 poorest families in this district in close connection with the district leaders), the Wongjarin Foundation (Initiated by Mr Sornsak Wongjarin, Aom’s father, helping schools and students in this district) and Vivo Bene Care Center, all three of which I support, are just some examples. I would like to see some more cooperation between those initiatives. What I also would like to see is a big initiative and cooperation from all of us living here in the environmental field. Let’s come together and fight the terrible air pollution which covers Chiangmai for weeks in March and April since Doi Saket is not excluded from this. It will not be an easy task to convince some locals and members of the local government to cooperate in this, but it is so extremely important as the air pollution is destroying the health and, in the end, also lives in our community.

In the field of art, with the Maiiam Museum not that far away from Doi Saket, I hope that more and more artistic initiatives will take place in Doi Saket. Studio 88 and Compeung Artist Residencies are great steps in that direction. More information about what is locally happening would be good too. For instance during Loy Kratong, that beautiful light festival is celebrated by the local community around the small lakes in Doi Saket, the local communities and government did such a great and artistic job in the decorations but almost none of the foreigners living in our community knew about it.

Opening canteen with the Lisu and Karen communities.
Opening canteen with the Lisu and Karen communities.

Why do you think you would like to introduce artists in your network to Studio 88?

I hope that the initiative of Studio 88 will develop in such a way that more and more artist are coming to Doi Saket to develop their art and get involved with the Doi Saket community. The cooperation between Studio 88 and Compeung is a good initiative, we need cooperation between all our initiatives.

Doi Saket is a very peaceful, quiet and beautiful area to live in permanently or temporary. It will make your creative ideas happen. For me the environment of Doi Saket is essential to let my Multimedia Stories blossom.