A Vernon man’s dream to make a difference may leave him poor at the bank but rich with fulfillment.
Ronnie Yamada, who owns Siam Orchid restaurant with his wife Orathai, is ready to take a leap of faith and move his family to Thailand next year.
Trading his serving tray for a ruler, Ronnie’s dream is to return to teaching by opening up a school in a remote village outside of Bangkok.
“Even my family thinks I’m nuts,” said Ronnie, who is doing this virtually all on his own.
“My philosophy is: life is like a book. We have good chapters and bad chapters but we always need a new chapter.”
The inspiration for this new chapter came from his eight-year-old son Sebastian, while on a recent trip to Thailand.
While Ronnie is Canadian (of Japanese descent), his wife is from Bangkok therefore they return three months a year with their son.
They recently bought a home in a small area called Palau, four hours southeast of Bangkok. While working on his home and mango orchard, Ronnie also spent some time teaching the children of the small community.
The parents were overwhelmingly grateful for the time Ronnie took to sit down and connect with the children, many of whom cannot afford to go to school.
“There’s no public school system and if there is it’s two hours away and parents can’t afford it,” said Ronnie, who would spend his Sundays with the children.
As grateful as the families were, Ronnie found an even greater benefit out of his experience.
“There’s no financial benefit from it, there’s a spiritual benefit,” said Ronnie, who taught in Japan 18 years ago and found this recent return to teaching to be immensely fulfilling.
But it was the words of his son that truly inspired Ronnie to make teaching these children the next chapter in his life.
“Papa, you can make a difference here,” Sebastian told his father one evening.
“That was the game changer, that was the TSN turning point,” said Ronnie of the “one sentence that can change a lifetime.”
Therefore taking any profits he makes from his restaurant in Vernon, Ronnie is sending money back to Palau to build a school.
“I’m hoping if everything goes right, it can be done in February because I’m leaving in March.”
Ronnie is hoping to recruit a couple of teachers who have the same desire to make a difference to join him at the school.
“It’s not for everybody. It takes the special type of person to live there. It’s not financial, it’s the experience.”
Helping him along the way, Susan Gerle has been mentoring Ronnie and preparing him for his journey.
“I’ve assisted setting up an international school before and I know how much work Ronnie has ahead of him,” said Gerle, who instructs a Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) in Vernon and Puerto Vallarta.
Through the course, Gerle has been teaching Ronnie to teach English to adults and children.
“She’s a big mentor of mine,” said Ronnie.
“Hopefully I can help Ronnie prepare volunteers to teach when the school in rural Thailand is open,” said Gerle. “It would also be fun to eventually teach the TESOL course there too!”
When they do make the big move, Ronnie and his wife are hoping they can get someone to look after the restaurant for them.
“We’d like to keep it open.”
And in the meantime, he hopes his actions will show others that dreams can come true.
“I just want to let people know that there is more out there.”