University educator doubles as friend and teacher to poor Thai kids
Andrew Jackson University director of education Dr. Larry Flegle is known for his pioneering work in online education. What’s less well known is the role he plays when he’s not interacting with students and AJU faculty members. Larry’s a global philanthropist and a founder of The Missionary Quartermaster. This foundation raised over $1.4 million to date to fund medical treatment, education and housing for poverty-stricken tribal children in Northern Thailand.
Through the organization’s auspices, children between the ages of 5 and 18 from the Hmong and Yao tribes in Northern Thailand receive dormitory housing, English instruction, and a kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade education. The children, nicknamed “Larry’s Kids,” live and study in the dormitories during the week, overseen by American missionaries, returning home to their families on weekends.
A ham radio enthusiast, Larry began chatting over the airwaves in the mid-1990s with a physician from Texas named John Gibson. Dr. Gibson told Larry about the mobile medical clinics he had established in Northern Thailand. The doctor described the extreme poverty that afflicted the Thai tribal people, and invited his radio buddy to visit Thailand and lend a hand. “When I got to Thailand, he immediately put me to work,” Larry recalls.
Larry served as the medical administrator for the mobile clinics, handling logistics and helping to schedule appointments for medical care. It was the first time many of them had ever seen a doctor. “I saw the tremendous need these people had and I couldn’t leave it alone,” he says.
Since that first visit, Larry has visited the region many times, often with his wife and daughter, wearing a variety of hats. He once functioned as an intermediary charged with securing the blessings of tribal leaders so that the clinic could offer medical care. On another occasion, he served as self-appointed recreation director, showing outdoor films on king-sized sheets stretched between bamboo poles. Larry commented that Bennie Hill is funny no matter what language you speak.
The most important message Larry tries to impart to “his kids?” “I tell them the same thing I tell my students: Stay in school.”
So far, the Thai students are listening. The dormitory school has already graduated students who have become nursing assistants, secretaries, and x-ray technicians. Larry hopes the foundation has also done its part to dispel the Ugly American image many of the region’s U.S. visitors have acquired. “Many Thai people think of Americans as rich, well-educated, and selfish. We’re changing that last one,” he says.
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