Rawiwan Kasetrevatin (Waew Cowles)
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Her parents escaped lives of little prosperity in the poorer Northeast of Thailand by working for the Thai government: her father joining the military and her mother working for the immigration department. Her father worked with the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, exposing their children to English while they were young. To assure their daughter and two sons even better futures, they provided the best educations they could, including for Waew, college in Bangkok where she majored in French at Silpakorn University. Her break with her past happened when she worked for the Pearl S. Buck foundation and then as an English teacher and accountant for a consortium of non-governmental organizations, Including The Experiment (Now World Learning) that was training refugees destined for Europe and North America. From there Waew attended New York University then transferred to Boston University to earn a master's degree in communication. It was while visiting friends in Brattleboro who she had worked with in the refugee camp that she was introduced to her future husband, Tim Cowles of Westminster West.
Waew brought to the U.S. her talents for graphic design, photography, sculpture, gardening and cooking. She offered her administrative skills to organizations such as Hospice and her language teaching skills to World Learning. Her Thai Supper Club introduced the community to gourmet Thai food. She made tiny felt bears and clothes to dress them for students to sell in the school store at the Westminster West School where her son started his education. She exposed the children to popular Thai street food and produced miniature books for the bears so that the bears and children could learn how to count in other languages, learn about other countries from a bear's perspective, and learn the alphabet. Her artistic touch showed in her gardens, her miniature dioramas of miniature bears, and the home she made with her family.
But her heart was in the lives of dogs, an animal not very respected in her home country where they are relegated to a life on the street. Waew was struck by the contrast in the fate of dogs in Thailand and the relative life of luxury they enjoy in the west. She photographed dogs surviving with ingenuity on the streets of Thailand and dogs in America waiting in the comfort of parked cars for their human companions to return with food from supermarkets. In the lives of dogs she probably saw the teachings of Buddha about how to live a good life more clearly. Her own life was certainly one of being an example of Buddha's teachings, both in the generosity of how she shared her talents with others and how she met the challenge of cancer and the eventual reality of her death.
She was born during the Chinese year of the dog, the primary trait being faithfulness to her friends and family. She devoted her life to them, especially providing for her son, the rich childhood she barely received herself as a girl.
She is survived by her husband, Tim Cowles, her son Dee-Jai, her older brother, Bhong, her younger brother Sanya, a half sister Mai, her Father, Rawi, and her mother Paka, and many nieces and nephews.
Instead of flowers please make donations to the VT Food Shelf or the Brattleboro Area Hospice.
Published in Brattleboro Reformer on Nov. 16, 2012