When she announced that she loved children on the way to winning the Miss Thailand crown, 1988 Miss Universe Porntip Nakhirunkanok Simon wasn't joking.
Recently back in Thailand to visit her projects for children, she checked in as usual at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok. She set up Angels Wings Foundation International as her own private foundation, aiming to provide funding for teenagers of Phuket. The aim of the charity is to provide underprivileged teenagers with academic scholarships and also funding that will cover their living arrangements. The idea started when she went to Phuket to join the tsunami relief efforts of December 2004 and saw the effect it had on families, individuals and those whose homes were destroyed by the natural disaster.
The main concept behind this charity is the idea of "paying it forward"; passing on the knowledge, so to speak. The teenagers that receive this scholarship will complete their education at their selected Thai university, and then return to Phuket to become full-time teachers, giving back to their community. To Bui, education and teaching are some of the most important factors in a person's life, and apart from their home life, she feels that children and teenagers also need a strong support system from their schools. This charity aims to improve the well-being of underprivileged youth in Phuket province, and this could start by improving the education system.
Angels Wings Foundation International receives hundreds of applications per year, but the application process is very selective, reserved for academic scholars from underprivileged backgrounds. On this occasion, Bui also recognised four recipients of the scholarship, who gave speeches of gratitude towards their benefactor at the end of the afternoon session.
Bui also acknowledged how humbled she is by the emotional and financial support she receives for her charity in Los Angeles, where she now lives. People in the US are always willing to help improve the conditions of less prosperous Thai provinces.
Aside from Angels Wings Foundation International, Bui is also an active member of the Dream Foundation in the US, and her alma mater Pepperdine University's board of Regents in Malibu, California.
Seeing the success of the four recipients of Bui's charity makes it apparent that anyone can help make a difference in the Thai education system. All it takes is one step, one scholar at a time.
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- Writer: Niki Chatikavanij