The newspaper and its generous readers have always been quick to help disadvantaged children, lepers and victims of natural disasters
“Education is a door to opportunity. If it wasn’t for this scholarship, I would certainly end up on the streets as a beggar or lottery ticket seller,” says Nattapum Saengprasit, who is congenitally blind yet has been working at Advanced Info Service’s call centre for seven years.
Apart from physical disability, he has overcome childhood deprivation. He was raised by his single mother and grandparents and was sent to a state-run school as it was the only one they could afford.
His profound determination to complete a bachelor’s degree drove him to get accepted by Chiang Mai University. However, his family could not afford the fees. Fate is not always unkind. The Bangkok Post Foundation eventually reached out to him and granted him a scholarship, enabling him to pursue the undergraduate studies until he graduated.
“I couldn’t have come this far without the help from the foundation. I was so delighted I received it. The grant, given to me without binding conditions, gave me a chance to stand on my feet,” he says.
The Bangkok Post is more than just a newspaper. It has reached out to those in need for more than three decades. Mr Nattapum is one among hundreds of children whose lives have changed for the better because of opportunities provided by the foundation.
Formed in 1982, the foundation emerged with initial funding of 500,000 baht provided by Post Publishing Plc. Its core objective was to reach out to deprived children and give them the same educational opportunities as other Thai children.
In its early days, the foundation began by sponsoring the education of eight underprivileged children until they graduated.
In November 1988, the foundation had an opportunity to reach out to children whose lives had been affected by Typhoon Gay, which hit southern Thailand and destroyed vast areas, killing more than 500 people and razing many houses and schools to the ground. One of the worst-hit areas was the little village of Ban Saphli in Chumphon province.
The news shocked Bangkok Post readers, who began to send money to the newspaper. Within a very short period, donations reached about 800,000 baht and the Post decided to use it to rebuild Ban Saphli School. However, the construction cost about 1.4 million baht, but the shortfall of 600,000 baht was eventually covered by money donated by kind-hearted Bangkok Post employees and board members.
Since then, the foundation has lent its support to several schools affected by natural disasters as well as providing educational facilities for disadvantaged schools in rural areas. They include those devastated by the deadly tsunami in 2004 and the 2011 megaflood.
Donations poured into the newspaper from readers after the tsunami struck. The foundation made use of the money by helping children whose parents died in the disaster in Ranong province and by granting scholarships for them to pursue the highest level of education they could achieve. The foundation also rebuilt seven schools affected by the 2011 floods in Nakhon Pathom, Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani.
From its small beginning of helping eight children, the foundation has so far sponsored the education of more than 600 needy students including orphans and children with disabilities. It is now providing support for 234 students at kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, vocational colleges and universities throughout the country.
A total of 163 recipients have graduated from universities and vocational colleges.
Throughout 34 years, the Bangkok Post Foundation has held on to its objective of reaching out to deprived children. Despite economic difficulties in recent years, the foundation has tirelessly carried out its mission, aiming to increase its support for needy students by organising fundraising events to supplement donations received from generous donors. All donated money is used for the cost of education without any obligations.
Apart from helping children in need, the Bangkok Post has also reached out to lepers through the Phud Hong Leper Foundation.
The story began back in 1974 on a hot, arid day in October when Bangkok Post reporter Sumitr Hemastol started off on a dusty road in Ron Phibun district in Nakhon Si Thammarat. His destination was the little-known leper colony of Phud Hong in the village of the same name.
The colony had been established by the government in 1956. On the day Sumitr arrived, 255 lepers and their dependants were slowly dying of starvation. They simply had no food to eat. The Department of Health, which in January 1974 had cut their food allowance down to a meagre 5 baht a day, had now decided to cut off even this paltry amount. There was simply no money left for food.
Sumitr returned to Bangkok and wrote a heart-rending account of what he had seen in that run-down place without a future. He wrote about the lepers and, even more importantly, he wrote about their children who were facing a bleak future without outside help.
After the story was published on July 12, 1974, the impact was immense. Offers of help began to pour in from all sides. The newspaper decided to establish a fund to handle all the donations flowing in. The foundation was then chaired by Prasit Lulitanond, who was the Bangkok Post chairman at the time.
The donations kept pouring in after the foundation was launched, with more than 90,000 baht collected on the first day alone. By Aug 1, the amount had passed 200,000 baht, while World Medical Relief donated drugs worth 70,000 baht.
Mr Prasit and his committee took meticulous care to see that every baht donated was put to the best possible use. The Bangkok Post itself extended generous help where possible, lending facilities and personnel and covering extra expenses to allow as much of the donated money as possible to go directly to the lepers and their families.
Over the past 42 years, the foundation has built a kindergarten for lepers’ children, built two fully equipped 60-bed hospital wards, provided equipment for minor operations, built an all-purpose building, coordinated with government authorities in building a reservoir, set up vocational training for patients and their children, and much more.
At present, 135 patients plus their family members are officially under the care of the Phud Hong Leper Foundation.
The foundation has come a long way since its establishment, but there is still a long way to go. Although leprosy is slowly being wiped out in the world, its ravages are still being felt by those afflicted by the debilitating disease and their families.
The foundation aims to continue to give help and encouragement to these patients and their families, to help them help themselves and to allow them to make positive contributions to society rather than become a burden.
(“Helping Hand at the Ready” was first published in the Bangkok Post, August 1, 2016)