And So BAMBI Was ‘Born’

Published on: March 03, 2012

On the 30th anniversary of BAMBI, Founder and Patron Mel reflects back on its beginnings. By Mel Habanananda, BAMBI Patron (and the big ‘mum’ behind BAMBI) (Cover photo is of the first BAMBI meeting with all eight founder members, 1982; Mel in the middle of back row wearing a brown dress)

Happy 30th Birthday BAMBI!

‘Support and friendship through the common bond of motherhood.’ This is as true today as it was at the very first BAMBI meeting with all eight of us on 16 April 1982. From a group of eight, we grew to a group of 800! But how did it all start 30 years ago and what has happened since? Back in April 1982, seven new mothers, who had been attending my childbirth preparation classes, met at my house for a class reunion. They were a wonderful group who all got along so well that I suggested that they should continue to meet, and also include any new mums who would be attending my future classes so that they could offer their support and share their birth and parenting experiences. And so BAMBI was ‘born’.

The BAMBI ‘baby’ grew so fast…

Like many newborns, the BAMBI ‘baby’ grew faster than our expectations and within a few months we were up to 40 plus members, and like all babies, we had our ‘teething’ troubles. By the time we were 18 months old, our monthly meetings were creating noisy chaos in the home of any member who was game enough to have us. Squabbles broke out over whether the group should be split – either by age group, area, or not at all. Something had to give, and it was finally decided that we should find ourselves a permanent monthly meeting venue. And so the search was on for someone to have us. Like orphans, we wandered from place to place – a nursery school here, an international club there – until, in March 1984, the British Club took us in. Who said that the Brits don’t like children?! To this day we continue to hold a playgroup, our AGM and other occasional events there. I headed up the unelected committee until 1985, when our Constitution was drawn up and we held our first AGM and voted in our first official committee. I took on the role of Advisor and non-voting Honorary President. Looking back, oh how I pity our first elected Chair, Sharon Evans, as I realise that I had an awful job ‘letting go’ and allowing someone else to be in charge of my ‘toddler’. Talk about a difficult ‘mum’! However, like many a child going off to school, this was the best thing that could ever have happened to this particular ‘mother and child’.

Supporting members while helping the underprivileged

From the very beginning, we decided that BAMBI, whenever possible, and after attending to our members’ needs, would use any spare funds to help those mothers and children less fortunate than ourselves. We marked our first Christmas with a donation of toys and goodies, donated by our members, to the Human Development Foundation of Khlong Toey, which we continue to support.

Painting given to Mel by Nancy Chandler and the BAMBI team when made Honorary President, 1985.

Over the years, through the tremendous generosity of our members and the hard work of our committees and charities coordinators, we have been able to support so many worthy causes – far too many to list here – which is wonderful. The main focus of the group has continued to be support for new mothers and their babies, but as our babies grew so did BAMBI – and how! Many activities were introduced which continue to flourish today: playgroups, new members’ coffee mornings, bring & buy sales, parties for every occasion, talks on all topics related to baby and child care and special support groups for parents and their children with special needs and in special situations. We also produced two guides: ‘A Survey of Birthing Facilities in Bangkok’ and an ‘International Pre-School Survey’, two enormous tasks that became too difficult to continue due to the huge increase of private hospitals and nursery schools in Bangkok.

BAMBI’s ‘siblings’

As Bangkok expanded so did BAMBI, out to the far reaches of Chaengwatttana and the Eastern Seaboard where we have, once again, a very thriving group. In the late 80s, I had the privilege to work with a very special woman, Joan French, who taught yoga to expectant mums in Bangkok – her ‘gals’ as she always called them. Her enthusiasm for BAMBI was such that when she moved to Katmandu she started a sister group there, KAMBI. It proved to be very popular, but sadly, after only 18 months, Joan died of cancer and the group gradually disbanded. We have always focused on giving support and information to breastfeeding mothers, as it was, and still can be, very difficult to find accurate, informed advice and help. The need for this continued to increase and in March 1991 our postnatal team coordinator, Anna Ingham, decided to form a special group to meet these needs: ‘BABIES’ (BAMBI’s Information Service, now known as Bumps & Babies). Twenty-one years on and I’m delighted to be able to write that it is thriving and is as popular as ever. These were our ‘teenage’ years. We were still developing, trying out new things, becoming more attractive with age (our membership continued to grow), still uncertain of ourselves at times, but maturing nicely.

New subgroups within the group

During the past fifteen years or so, Bangkok’s growth has been phenomenal and it has developed into a truly international city that can be a very bewildering and lonely place for newcomers,  especially if you’re pregnant or a new mum. The BAMBI Buddies volunteers offer a friendly, guiding hand to try and make it easier to settle in. Working mothers have always been a part of BAMBI, but Bangkok’s enormous expansion has given more ex-pat women the opportunity to work. It’s often very difficult for them to attend BAMBI’s regular daytime meetings, so in 2006 Linda Robson formed WOMBLES (Working, Overstressed Mothers of Bangkok – Let’s eat Supper) and another wonderful BAMBI group was ‘born’. With the help of BAMBI member Tamara Ryan, who relocated to Pattaya, we also established the BAMBI Pattaya chapter in 2009, which serves families in Pattaya and the Rayong area. In 2010, Monique Kleinnibbellink and Alena Henriksen launched the Bangkok Adoption Support Group.

Improving BAMBI Communication media

Sending out newsletter, 1985.

Over the years the BAMBI Newsletter (now BAMBI News Magazine) has reflected our activities and the growth of the group. It started life as a few typed pages (well, one typed page!) and then became a simple black and white magazine – how well I remember the ‘battle’ with the printer each month to get it printed, the frantic stapling and labeling that went on, sometimes well into the night, with the help of the Committee, a bottle of red and often my long-suffering husband, Tanit (Hab) too, in the quest to get it into the post on time. And then, in 1999, under the guidance and enthusiasm of our then magazine editor, Margaret Towie (also a professional journalist), it became the very professional magazine that we have today. It was this change of profile and the subsequent income earned from the advertising that prompted the Committee to look at BAMBI’s legal position. Also, I was getting rather nervous about a possible visit from the taxman!  After much debate and legal advice, it was decided that BAMBI should come ‘under the umbrella’ of the Childbirth and Breastfeeding Foundation of Thailand (CBFT, of which I am a Founder and Trustee) so that we could conduct any legal business and financial affairs through them. After a long wait, in March 2002, the Cultural Committee of Thailand gave its approval to this arrangement and so, finally, BAMBI became ‘legal’! Around this time we also started to develop our first website, which continues to be a great source of information and is now the way most newcomers to Bangkok discover BAMBI.

Still part of BAMBI

Mel in the 20th-anniversary party, 2002

Also in 2002, our 20th year, I was given the great honour of being appointed BAMBI’s Patron. Due to my extended visits to the UK, my work with the CBFT and my move, last year, to Chiang Mai, I seldom manage to attend BAMBI’s many events and meetings. Although I am away so much I still take a keen interest in BAMBI’s affairs and its well-being remains close to my heart. Through e-mails, our great website, and magazine and our kindly Chairwomen, I am able to keep up to date and in touch. Whenever I get the opportunity I still like to ‘poke my nose’ into a Committee meeting, where I’m always made to feel so very welcome and still a part of BAMBI – they even put up with me having my say!

Browsing through the years

For BAMBI’s 25th Anniversary (which only seems like 5 minutes ago) I was trying to remember the stages of BAMBI’s ‘growing up’ and I ended up browsing through 25 years of our newsletter/magazine back numbers. Each year’s copies have been bound into books and form the BAMBI Archive. I haven’t been able to repeat this pleasure this year, as they are now all stored in Bangkok, but what a trip down memory lane that was! Not only did I re-discover an amazing fund of information and ideas, but it was also a reminder of the many friends I have made, the wonderful members and committees I’ve had the privilege to know and work with, plus the bonus of having had a lot of fun along the way. All of which still holds true today.

BAMBI’s future depends on you!

Even if I could browse through the archive again I would still see that not an awful lot has changed. Yes, we are bigger, yes, we are much more sophisticated, more organized and we have more money (well most of the time), but the essence of BAMBI remains, essentially, the same – many fantastic mothers giving up their valuable time and using a good deal of their precious energy for the benefit of each other and the group. I’ve always believed that BAMBI, like some people, was born under a ‘lucky star’ as, through our membership, we have always been able to elect committees that have dedicated themselves to the protection, welfare, and promotion of the group. For me, as well as all the wonderful friendships I’ve enjoyed through the years, I’ve also had the satisfaction and pleasure of watching BAMBI grow and prosper. BAMBI has now, like so many of our BAMBI babies, matured into a fine adult and one that I’m so very proud to be associated with. As BAMBI continues to thrive and develop, we need you as much as ever, to offer both your help and support to our hard-working Committee, for its success depends upon what you, our members, are prepared to give to it. I sincerely hope that, whatever new directions we may take in the future, we will never lose sight of our original goal – that of giving ‘support and friendship through the common bond of motherhood’. HAPPY 30th BIRTHDAY TO BAMBI and may there be many more to come.  So, please join us for our celebration party on Saturday 10 March when I look forward to welcoming you and your families. See you there! Love to you all, Mel.

[ Related: What it was like to give birth in Bangkok in 1982  | Life in Bangkok in 1982

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