Influence with grace and dignity

She is tiny in size…but that’s the only thing small about her.

Khru Prateep Onsongtham Hata is a lady who grew up in the slums of Klong Toei about ten minutes by motorbike taxi from the busy business district of Bangkok in Thailand.  From very humble and modest beginnings, even by Thai standards, she has defied all of those obstacles to leave her mark on this world.  It’s a mark that will live on well after she steps down from what she does for those in need.  As she approaches the 40 year mark of service to others through the Duang Prateep Foundation let’s hope that end is many years away.

Growing up in the slums she was ineligible for public schooling as she was of mixed race parents and at a tender age she found herself in employment scraping the rust off ships in the shipyards of Bangkok.  Witnessing a class system that condemned her and those like her to a life of poverty she realised the only way beyond that and to achieve a different life was to obtain an education.

Saving money from her work in the slums she returned to school, self funded.  Completing school she went to teachers college with a clear desire to build a school for those who were without an education.  The government of Thailand considered her school illegal and shut it down.  She opened it up again and they shut it down.  This was repeated time and time again until Khru Prateep was recognised internationally for the work she was doing.  The Government relented and allowed her school to operate.  In the years that followed she would go on to be recognised as an important figure within the education system and was finally awarded “Teacher of the Year” by those who had years previously shut her efforts down.

Thirty eight years after starting the Duang Prateep Foundation this amazing lady continues on a daily basis to serve those who society forgets at best and rejects at worse.  She is an advocate for those who don’t have a voice and her advocacy has taken her into parliament as a senator of the Thai government.

These days her work is serving those within the slums and she advocates just as loudly and just as strongly for those no one else seems to care about.  Her advocacy work is done with grace and dignity and there is nothing bullish about her.  I’ve witnessed her charm those in the highest levels of government, not just in Thailand, and I’ve seen her hold court with the captains of industry. 

The influence Khru Prateep wields and the gravitas she possesses is based upon grace and dignity rather than power or beauty.  She is both powerful and beautiful in all measures but incredibly influential based upon grace and dignity.

I often wonder how we can incorporate more of what I witness in her into our lives. Is it the respect of the Thai people combined with a desire by Khru Prateep to put others first at her expense that has the effect of elevating her to a position of leadership? 

Spending time with Khru Prateep I feel more balanced and clearer that the path to influence and great leadership can be achieved with both grace and dignity.