By Ruth Gerson
Here for more than 50 years, UK-born Elizabeth M. Prinyarnussorn has been on the move with her schools ever since
ELIZABETH M. Prinyarnussorn is an expat woman who married a Thai man. Elizabeth not only made her life here in Thailand, but she also left her mark on society by opening a child care centre at the time when expat women were unable to find work in Thailand.
Elizabeth arrived in 1965 after marrying Nikkor ‘Nikki’, a Thai doctor in Liverpool, the UK in 1964. A children’s nurse by profession she met the young doctor who specialised in neonatal deformities, burns and reconstructive surgery. Typical of those times, foreign spouses were not permitted to work in Thailand and were left with few option - one of them was teaching English. And that is what Elizabeth did.
At first, she taught English to young doctors preparing to travel abroad, and later at a private commercial college. However, she felt that it was not her calling. Working with children seems to have been a part of her from an early age as she liked to spend evenings and school holidays helping to care for neighbourhood babies, setting the path to her future. “It always stuck with me,”says Elizabeth.
It was not until 1978 that Elizabeth established the Noddy Playgroup, with a modest staff of herself and one more teacher. She had previously worked for three years as a teacher at a small playgroup in the Sukhumvit area and that motivated her to pursue and start an enterprise of her own.
She registered her child care centre and pre-school, one of the first of its kind in the country, with the Department of Child Welfare. The two houses that accommodated up to ninety children were located at the very end of Sukhumvit Soi 14, abutting the enormous Tobacco Monopoly complex. Although it all started well, challenges gathered on the horizon.
In the early 1980s, the Thai government decided to build a convention centre to meet the growing need for such a facility. A considerably large tract of land belonging to the Tobacco Monopoly was expropriated to build the Queen Sirikit Convention Center and a new street was paved to reach it. The wide Ratchadapisek extension that runs from the Sukhumvit-Asoke intersection to Rama IV Road came into existence. The road also cut into the back of a few lanes off Sukhumvit Road, including Soi 14 where the Noddy Playgroup stood, running through what was once the pre-school compound. There was nothing left to do but move. The year was 1983.
The search for a new facility ended at an old Thai school at Soi Kaeng Chuan in the Klong Toey area, inhabited at the time by many families of kanom (Thai sweets) vendors who left the building swarming with ants. Her husband was very supportive of the project although Elizabeth thought that the new facility was a bit too large – a three-floor building that needed renovations! Nonetheless, the work began, partitions were torn down, fans installed and rooms painted. To make the school a cheerful place Elizabeth had each room and its door painted in a different colour. The pre-school thrived at this location for eleven years reaching an impressive 130 children under its roof.
It was not long before the development of Bangkok caught up with Elizabeth once again. This time it was for the new thoroughfare – to build a road on both sides of the Klong Chongnongsri Narathiwas that runs roughly south to north from the river to Suriwong Road, dissecting all major roads in downtown Bangkok.
Luck must have been on her side, as Elizabeth found a school building on Yenakart Soi 2, not far from Nang Linchee Road. Although the wooden building was riddled with termites on one rai of land situated at a cul-de-sac, it was ideal.
After demolishing the old structure, the land was raised followed by the construction of a three-floor attractive school with the shallow stairs and protective netting, “An all-purpose structure built for pre-school,” as Elizabeth refers to it.
The school is now 38 years old and in its present location for 22 years, “The longest we have been anywhere,” says Elizabeth. When a swimming pool was added 18 years ago it was Elizabeth’s grandson who took the first plunge. Presently, twelve classrooms accommodate children from the ages of 18 months to 6 years of age with the greatest demand for the 2-4 age group. The staff comprises of Thai and foreign teachers and teacher assistants (TAs), some who grew up with the school.
The children who leave the pre-school continue at the various international schools in Bangkok, many of them with a British curriculum. And so continues Elizabeth’s impact on the Thai educational front.
Tel. 02 671 0836-7, noddyplaygroup.com