The New Age of Altruism: Young Thais Who Make Giving Back A Life's Priority
1/4 Pasut Sudlabha
Now in his first year at the prestigious University College London reading architecture, 18-year-old Pasut Sudlabha, also known as Proud, says an early love of the subject is what led to his active role in charity work. “In 2016 I volunteered for the Habitat for Humanity club at school,” the Bangkok Patana alumnus explains, referring to the non-profit organisation that builds homes for low-income families across the Asia-Pacific region. “At the time I thought it would be a good way of satisfying my architectural curiosity and a chance to get to know the real world. But it became much more than that.”
The Habitat for Humanity club at Bangkok Patana, of which Proud was president in 2018, raises money through sponsors, donations and events for home-building work wherever in Thailand the mother organisation deems it necessary. “The club is fully student-run,” says the son of Atita Sutadarat and Kriangyos Sudlabha. “As president I had to lead meetings every Friday, mainly to brainstorm fundraising ideas. We raised the money and Habitat for Humanity Thailand found locations for us to build and organised the trips for us.”
The conscientious young man started by helping on a project in Korat and says getting down and dirty is the best part of the job. “They’re not big houses, enough to accommodate only four rooms, but when you see where the families were originally living—often little more than wooden shacks—these homes are a big step up in terms of quality of life. We do everything from laying the main foundations to bricking and cementing the walls. It is hard work because we have a five-day window to build each unit, but it’s also very satisfying.”
Other builds followed for Proud, each strengthening his empathy for the disadvantaged. “You get to know and like the people you are building the houses for,” he smiles. “It’s not just about giving them homes, it’s also about giving them hope and stability. They are good people who don’t ask for much except the chance to stand on their own two feet. Initially, I thought the builds were a way to learn about architecture—about what goes into construction—but very quickly that became secondary to a desire to help these local communities, and in doing so help the country.”
Being aware of the levels of poverty and the inequality in Thailand has done much to push Proud into action and he’s happy to be an example for others to follow. “It’s very important for all generations to get involved in community service. I encourage as many people as I can to help those in need, see how they live and reflect. As someone from a comfortable background I felt I had to help.” The experience of giving has even permeated the quietly passionate student’s interest in architecture. “Having learnt what I have with Habitat for Humanity I want to design buildings that are in tune with the environment, affordable for all and comfortable and practical for their occupants.”
2/4 Supanika Vejjajiva
Another Bangkok Patana student following in Proud’s altruistic footsteps is Supanika Vejjajiva. The 14-year-old year-10 scholar has a yen for teaching and from that stems her keenness to become involved in community service. With the encouragement of her parents, Somkamol Chirathivat and Supakorn Vejjajiva, who are both engaged in charitable initiatives, she attended one of the school’s periodic Community, Action, Service fairs at which community clubs—most school-run and some linked to non-profit organisations and NGOs—invite students to sign up.
“Before I discovered the clubs I didn’t even know that we—as children—could help in the community too. I thought it was just adults, our parents and teachers, that did these things,” the budding activist says. “It’s great to know that people my age can be a force for good. At the fair I could have joined so many worthy causes. In addition to signing up with Habitat for Humanity, I have become involved with an environmental initiative to clean up plastics from beaches and I regularly volunteer to teach, play with and read to the nursery and foundation stage children at Bangkok Patana.”
The experience of giving one’s time selflessly is important to Supanika. “You discover things about yourself when you volunteer. Sometimes you might have to do something a little out of your comfort zone but that helps to build confidence and character. You have to be prepared to interact with strangers, to understand their problems and put their needs before your own. We live in an increasingly greedy world at one end of the social spectrum and an increasingly needy world at the other, so all the more reason to help those who cannot necessarily help themselves,” she says with maturity beyond her years.
Not above rolling up her sleeves and pitching in, while she is precluded from taking part in the physical house building work of the Habitat for Humanity club until she is 15, Supanika does what she can to raise awareness of the club’s mission and funds for future builds. She has, however, gained some teaching experience in the field on a visit to Bansankhong school in Chiang Rai. “I taught primary school kids maths, English and Thai and loved the experience,” she laughs. “It’s something I plan to do much more of in the future—it is important work boosting the education of underprivileged children in the north and northeast. Trips like the one I went on include constructing and repairing school buildings, donating equipment, stationery and uniforms and funds for lunch programmes,” the progressive teenager says. “It’s a privilege to be involved.”
3/4 Plengrhambhai Snidvongs Kruesopon
Despite being just 16 years old, International School of Bangkok (ISB) sophomore student Plengrhambhai Snidvongs Kruesopon, or Pleng for short, is something of a veteran when it comes to working for charitable causes. “As a little girl, I remember my mum taking me on visits to shelters and homes for those in need. She’s an active supporter of Operation Smile, the global charity that provides free life-changing surgery for underprivileged children born with hair lip and cleft palate disfigurements. Her example inspired me to get involved, to be hands-on when it comes to helping others,” the aspiring young diplomat and daughter of Apiphawadee Snidvongs and Tom Kruesopon explains.
That involvement as Pleng modestly puts it, has seen her become a member of the student council, part of ISB’s Model United Nations team and most recently the founder and president of the school’s UNHCR club. “That came about as the result of a school project I did in the seventh and eighth grades on the Rohingya,” she says. “I became engrossed in the research and kept asking why there never seemed to be enough aid to ease their plight.”
Following a visit to the United Nations headquarters in Thailand and a conversation with two UNHCR representatives, she decided to take action. “There are no black and white solutions to the complexities of the many refugee crises in the world today, but on a humanitarian level alone we can do much to alleviate the suffering of the disadvantaged and displaced by donating our time to fundraising and practical help via volunteer education and health programmes. As president of the ISB UNHCR club, I want to create opportunities for students to become involved.”
Pleng continues enthusiastically, “Every Wednesday, refugee children come to our school to interact with our student volunteers. We also organise trips to immigration detention centres around Thailand, providing common necessities and school and health supplies donated to us. The biggest fundraising event we have held so far took place in September. It was a sponsored fun run and raised 85,399 baht for the UNHCR organisation in Thailand. It also supported the UNHCR’s global 2 Billion Kilometres to Safety campaign that assists refugees on the move. Our community covered 845 kilometres. It took six months of planning but it was worth every minute because not only did the event positively impact the lives of refugees, it brought a community together.”
This is a young lady with a deep level of self-awareness when it comes to her philanthropic nature. “In high school, on a Global Citizenship Week trip to Chiang Rai, I twisted my ankle on a pile of rocks during one our hikes and so I had to wait while my friends climbed the rest of the mountain. I was so frustrated just sitting there under a tree. But then a ranger found me and offered to take me to a nearby village. What really struck me was the drastic difference in the living conditions of the villagers compared to my own. Oh, they were happy and dignified but I felt guilty and asked myself why I was so lucky to have all the resources I need to succeed but many others didn’t? It made me even more determined to help. It is easy to say ‘well, life isn’t fair’, but I believe that serving the less fortunate not only improves their quality of life, it also makes me a better person."
She concludes, “We have an absolute need to be more involved in making our communities, nations, the planet as a whole a better place for everyone to live. My generation has to step up because our future depends on our abilities to work together to overcome local, national and international social and environmental challenges. It is an obligation we can’t ignore.”
We have an absolute need to be more involved in making our communities, nations, the planet as a whole a better place to live for everybody.
— Plengrhambhai Snidvongs Kruesopon
4/4 Pheraphat Leelapanyalert
The first year of university presents many opportunities for students to broaden their horizons outside of academic study. For Chulalongkorn University economics senior Pheraphat Leelapanyalert it was a chance to explore interests away from his love for all things football. Currently on an exchange programme at the Institut d’Economie Scientifique et de Gestion school of management in Paris, the 21-year-old son of Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan and Somyos Leelapanyalert says, “When I first entered university there was a session held by the older students to introduce us to different community service clubs. The Kai Pat club seemed to attract more attention than others, so I signed up.”
The club offers an annual two-week upcountry residency aimed at helping to improve the lives of those in rural communities. “Wherever the camp, our primary responsibilities included teaching children, constructing resting areas for local schools and providing alternative solutions to problems that villagers faced,” Pheraphat, or Best, explains. “We would be rotated through four departments: construction, teaching, housekeeping and public relations, so we got to experience all aspects involved in a camp.”
I often feel that we can do more for society, not just by throwing money at problems but by physically mucking in.
— Pheraphat Leelanpanyalert
The students began work shortly after the morning national anthem and didn’t end until the anthem in the evening. “Despite the long hours time goes by very fast,” Best recalls. “There would be daily updates on progress and problems and nightly planning meetings with the villagers to schedule tasks for the next day. I loved it, the sense of getting something worthwhile done. I often feel that we can do more for society, not just by throwing money at problems but by physically mucking in. Contact and interaction with those you are trying to help is very important. It makes it personal. It gives you a real appreciation of what they are up against and it lets them know that they matter, that people care about their well-being. A feeling of companionship goes a long way at a profound level.”
He adds, “My experience during the stay was both fulfilling and life-changing. The villagers lead very humble yet dignified lives and they are full of laughter. Feasting under the stars together after a long day of physical work is incredibly satisfying. All the countless problems we faced were all problems that challenged us to grow and think on a deeper level. For example, we learned to be sensitive about what we discussed with local kids because we didn’t want to disrupt or influence their simple lifestyle any more than we had to.”
The Kai Pat experience has stayed with Best and he has further plans to be involved in charity work. “I’m particularly interested in a programme helping disabled people,” he says. “Being disabled in this country decreases not only the likelihood of being hired for work, it also increases the cost of living. As a member of the young generation, supporting an all-inclusive future is very important to me and I am always encouraging others of my own age to join community service programmes. They do a great deal of good for those who need help and on a personal level participation widens not only your perspective on the world, it makes you a better person.”
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