SET was established in 1994 by Phra Peter Pannapadipo, a British Buddhist monk. Phra Peter lived in a forest monastery in the lower northern province of Nakhon Sawan and occasionally taught English at a local high school. One of his students – Seckson – excelled at most subjects but his rice-farming parents were desperately poor and couldn’t even afford their son’s bus fares to school. Instead, Seckson lived full-time at the school, staying in a shed in the school grounds.
Seckson had passed a university entrance examination to study for a degree in Physics but because of his poverty there was no possibility of taking up the place. Unable to realize his dream of studying, Seckson had decided instead to take a job as a pump attendant in a gas station. To Phra Peter, that seemed a great waste of talent and he resolved to find a way to help the boy.
Phra Peter’s friends in the UK offered to support Seckson for four years while he studied at university. More than enough was donated so the balance became a small fund to help other youngsters in similar circumstances. The fund became the Students’ Education Trust. With continuous support from SET, Seckson not only gained his Bachelor degree but a Master as well. Using his own resources, he later studied for a PhD. Dr Seckson is now director of the Institute of Fundamental Studies at a leading university; good progress for someone who once saw his future as pumping gas.
In 1995, Phra Peter moved to a monastery in Nakhon Sawan City. The monastery was close to all the province’s main centers of education, including a university. Over the years, Phra Peter lectured at all the centers and established good relationships with directors, teachers and welfare officers.
SET really took off in 1997 after the publication of Phra Peter’s first book Phra Farang – an English monk in Thailand. The book included an appeal for impoverished youngsters, with the result that SET began receiving support from concerned people from all over the world. Phra Peter’s second book, Little Angels, about the lives of novice monks, received an even greater response. All royalties from book sales were donated to SET.
By mid-2003, SET had expanded to the point where Phra Peter’s increasing work-load for the charity began to cause some conflict for him in his life as a monk. To resolve that conflict, he left the monk-hood to devote all his time to SET. Now, as Peter Robinson, he works voluntarily as SET’s director. Many teachers and welfare officers also give their time to helping SET but the charity has only two paid members of staff, both former SET scholarship students.
In 2005, The Students’ Education Trust was registered as a charity in Thailand and became The SET Foundation.
Below: SET’s very first student was Seckson Sukkhasena (on right). He joined SET director Peter – center – to present our 5,000th scholarship to a high school student in 2015.