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Our 
Inspiration

Why Forest Hall?

Imagine somewhere you can be yourself. Where you can connect with others and be supported. A place created by a diverse group of people who shared one vision: to establish a centre for growth and healing that everyone could be a part of.

 

This was the New Life Foundation, founded in 2010 in northern Thailand. The Forest Hall was constructed two years later and became the main gathering space and symbol for the community. It was a warm, tranquil structure created almost entirely by volunteers from handmade earth bricks.

 

Under the shady roof of teak leaves, visitors to the foundation practiced meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and dance therapy, joined retreats and workshops led by teachers from all over the world, and shared their stories.

 

Inspired by the thousands of lives we saw changed, we're dedicated to helping leaders, organisations, and entrepreneurs create more such spaces for individuals to nurture learning, friendship, and wellbeing - because everyone should be able to find a Forest Hall when they need one.

Our Team

Our Story

Visitors to Thamkrabok Monastery in central Thailand may still remember the lanky young Belgian monk who could speak fluent Thai. He first arrived there in 2002 after struggling for years with anxiety, depression, and substance addiction. Feeling hesitant to return home after the month-long program ended, Julien ordained as a Theravadin Buddhist monk. He studied Thai, Buddhism, and meditation and immersed himself in temple life. He worked in the kitchen preparing meals for the hundreds of other monks in his sangha, translated between Thai, Dutch, English, and French, and supported those who had similarly come to seek help.  

 

After 8 years, Julien was finally ready to leave. He'd met another Belgian man, Johan Hansen, at Thamkrabok. Together, they envisioned a place where struggling individuals could find refuge and community, just like at the monastery, and established New Life Foundation in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Julien went on to spend the next 13 years developing and running the renowned therapeutic programs at the New Life Thailand, a certified nonprofit organisation, and later on, at the New Life Portugal retreat centre, a social enterprise. Under his leadership, both became healing spaces with outstanding reputations for helping individuals going through the most difficult times in their lives. ​

 

Tavy's family arrived in Australia in the early 80s in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge era. She earned a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Sydney and published research, including a book, on status hierarchy and social inequality in Thailand. After doing her postdoc in Germany, she worked in Bangkok as a researcher and in the field of nonprofit management and consulting. However, she felt disconnected in academia and wanted to make more of a difference.

 

Tavy's interest in Buddhism and meditation led her to New Life Foundation, and she joined the team after being inspired by their life-changing work. She put her skills towards helping develop the organisation in the areas of communications, fundraising, marketing, and admissions. She could also be found in the kitchen and bakery creating healthy meals for the entire community, joining (and sometimes leading) social anxiety support groups, and training staff and volunteers who came to support the foundation's mission.​

 

An international family with ties to many places across the world, Julien and Tavy are now based in Portugal, where they collaborate on Forest Hall projects and other initiatives they're excited about. They are especially interested in the intersection between the contemplative traditions and the latest neuroscience, mindfulness, and mental health research. In their free time, they love going hiking, swimming, and foraging for mushrooms with their little girl.

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