PBI Tennis Magazine Article
 

Volume II No. 1, Article by Dave Kensler
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     The two main objectives of the Rico Foundation are the advancement of sports excellence, particularly tennis, and the promotion of higher education. Disadvantaged children from the local area are able to enter into a local tennis program at little or no cost and receive personal instruction by top tennis pros. Peter Burwash International is supporting the effort in these early stages by providing a resident professional who is training the local youth on a daily basis. "We hope to bring along talented children, give them a chance to compete and realize goals of one day perhaps becoming a star player."
     
    A second component is the scholarship program to help fund university level education for financially disadvantaged Thai youths from that area. Fowler saw that many children finish high school but cannot afford to continue. Although there is some government funding, for most families, the additional costs involved make it impossible to attend a university. "Some kids have lost their parents to AIDS, alcoholism and disease. We want the poorest, but they must also be the brightest, most motivated and have the ability to work hard".

     In order to ensure success, the selection process of scholarship recipients is rigorous. "We choose students each year from three high schools, all within 30-40 miles of each other in this area," Fowler detailed. "There are four candidates from each school. We talk to the student council, the principals and teachers to get their recommendations on the best candidates. Out of 12 candidates we choose one. It is tough because it is so easy to get emotionally involved," he said.

     While many college scholarships are given with a handshake and best wishes for success, in this situation it is just the beginning of a very challenging process, "The scholarship will more than likely be for a university in Bangkok which is a major lifestyle and cultural change for these kids," he emphasized. "These are children of rice farmer in the mountains who will now be going to school every day with wealthy kids whose parents live in Bangkok. They go from a very rural existence to a big city life. We know our kids will face challenges and will have to work a little harder to make it."

      Just the day to day living adjustment in addition to the finances involved can be overwhelming for these young people. "We help them open a bank account and manage a budget," he explained. "Their meal allowance might equal their parents' monthly income." Any time children have access to more money than their parents, a potential problem exists.

    "One of the challenges we face is kids wanting to send some of the scholarship money to their parents or the parents asking their kids for some of it. This is strictly prohibited." Fowler emphasized. " The money is for education. If the parents start asking the kids for money, of course it will make the kids feel guilty and it potentially becomes a situation of parents holding back their child."

   In addition to all this support, Fowler offers the scholarship recipients a surprisingly high level of freedom both during and after they complete their studies. "When they finish college they have zero debt and absolutely no obligation, financial or otherwise to the Rico Foundation. Furthermore, there is no obligation to study a certain course or subject. We let them choose," he said.

     Thus the "for-profit tennis resort" was created to ensure the long term funding for youth tennis and university scholarships. In fact, 100% of the resort's profits are devoted to the scholarship program. According to Fowler, resort guests have freely and willingly participated. "So far Every Guest has contributed something to the program beyond what it cost for their stay. When people read about the program they want to help", he remarked. "One reason I am taking this approach is to ensure I do not spend the rest of my life fundraising. The more successful the resort becomes the more scholarships can be offered.
 
For more information on the resort and foundation please visit www.ricofoundation.org.
For Rico Hand Knits please visit
www.ricohandknits.com.
In addition, the resort offers guests Thai Massages, bike excursions, delicious Thai cuisine and first class accommodations.

     However, one could easily argue there might not be either a resort or foundation without Fowler's company Rico Hand Knits. Started in 1990, the company has proven to be well ahead of its time by utilizing people who are able to work from their homes, long before such a concept became popular. "We have over 2,000 women employees, most of whom are the wives of the rice farmers," Fowler explained. "Almost all the women work from home knitting. They work when they want and for how long they want. They are often organized in small groups and have a group leader."
     
     The women, who often sit in the shade of the trees in their villages while they knit, produce sweaters, blouses, vests, tank tops, cardigan sweaters and much more. Each piece is unique with no two being the same.

     Ironically, while the clothing can be ordered from anywhere in the world via the internet, the women who make the items have neither a computer or in many cases, electricity. "We are the second largest employer in the region," Fowler stated. Top