Part of Webster University’s educational mission is to seek out and fulfill unmet needs. It’s a mission Lisa Nesser (BA, Photography, 2000) took to heart and applied halfway around the world.
Nesser is the founder of Thai Freedom House, a school she operates out of her home in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The school caters to refugees and indigenous people living in the area, providing educational opportunities to those who may not be able to secure them otherwise.
“While working through other organizations I saw a need that wasn’t being addressed – education for the street kids that are usually refugees or indigenous (hill tribe) people,” Nesser said. “There was nowhere for them to get an education, no where for them to feel safe and be kids.
“So, I started my own school for them, at my house, where it is still located. I made sure to find a house with a small garden so we could teach outdoors and use the environment in our lessons. We also have a place where the kids can wash up, change into clean clothes and relax; looking through books or playing with puzzles. All of our educational toys and materials are made of natural materials such as bamboo and wood so the students feel connected to their traditional ways of life.”
Nesser traces her passion for working with refugees back to her college days. A family friendship introduced her to a family of Bosnian refugees living in St. Louis.
“From them I learned what it is to be a refugee; what particular struggles a landless, stateless person goes through; emotionally, physically and legally,” she said.
After graduation, Nesser volunteered for three years at a Tibetan refugee camp in Southern India and then with Burmese refugees both at the Burmese border and in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second-largest city.
“We are very happy here in our little haven of freedom but I am scared for our future, the Thai Government can be threatening towards refugees and those who work with them. I am afraid our peace may soon be disturbed and we may have to find a new place to live and work. I am afraid not only for myself but for these gentle lives that have already been displaced and disjointed so many times, where will they end up next…?”