American Generosity and Timely Help
Bangkok Post June 28, 1998
The plight of two impoverished northeastern families has touched the hearts of American newspaper readers, who have donated over $100,000 to some of the hardest-hit victims of the economic slump.
Bangon Pailak, mother of a four-year-old girl, and Lamkwan Thienda, father of three children, live in different corners of Udon Thani. If medical help had not arrived in time, there was a strong likelihood that they would have succumbed to their illnesses and died. But thanks to the power of the press, the two are to be given a new lease on life.
The plight of Mrs Bangon and Mr Lamkwan was featured in the New York Times on June 8. By nightfall of the first day after the story was printed, the New York head office was inundated with calls from readers inquiring how to give donations to save the two unfortunate victims. By the following weekend, hundreds of calls and thousands of dollars had been pledged.
The New York Times’ Bangkok office was also flooded with calls from sympathetic readers, some from as far away as Washington and Hong Kong, pledging money.
“Seen up close in villages, the Asian financial crisis is not a conundrum of currency pegs and credit crunches and various imponderables. In households like Mrs Bangon’s, it is as immediate as a typhoon and rather more deadly,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent Nick Kristof, who wrote the Times story.
To date, with an average pledge of $1000 per call, more than $100,000 (around 4 million baht) has been collected by the Times, said Mr Kristof. The money had been handed over to Plan International, an American non governmental organisation affiliated to Oxfam. The NGO has been assigned to carry out the wishes of the donors to see that Mrs Bangon and Mr Lamkwan get immediate medical treatment and financial aid.
Thirty-two-old Mrs Bangon, frail and anaemic, her soft face framed by thick black hair, lives in a small hut of wood and zinc beside a rice paddy with her young daughter and husband.
Since the economic crisis hit Thailand a year ago, her husband lost his job selling clothes in Bangkok. The family survived on occasional odd jobs the husband can find in the village, with the family’s diest supplemented by wild bamboo shoots and ‘phak boong’ (water spinach) in the forest.
Things would not have been so bad if Mrs Bangon had been healthy. But because of a stomach ailment, she is weak and suffers from bouts of dizziness. Every month or two she has to go to the hospital for blood transfusion. Doctors say she has to go for an operation or else she will never get well, she explained. The operation will cost at least 20,000 baht.
“We don’t even have enough money to buy rice, let alone afford the operation,” she said. “Things are getting worse everyday. My husband can get only 30 to 50 baht a day from the occasional odd job. Sometimes there is no money, he is paid some food instead. I cannot even afford the few hundred baht for the blood transfusion.”
Mr Lamkwan, 37, lives with his aged father and mother in Ban Pasingh. Like Mrs Bangon, he is dying because the family cannot afford the medication to treat his illness. He is suffering from paralysis.
Mr Lamkwan used to work in a cement factory in Ratchaburi, carrying limestone to a crushing machine. Three years ago, suddenly and for no apparent reason, his limbs got wobbly and weak and he could not walk, said his father, Som Thienda, 67.
“We have taken him to various doctors and hospitals for treatment, even to shamans and monks, but to no avail,” Mr Som said. “The doctor said we have to keep giving him the prescribed medicine which we have been doing for two years.”
In the early stages of hiss illness, Mr Lamkwan could crawl and move about on the floor of the house. Friends would carry him down to the compound and he could move about by holding on to supports. His brothers would send home some money to help. But since the economic crisis hit, the money from the brothers has stopped and the cost of medication has doubled.
“There is no money to buy the medicine for our son and as a result his condition has deteriorated,” said Mr Som. “Before he could speak a few words. Now he can only nod his head and is completely bed-ridden and has to be spoon-fed.”
His wife has left him and remarried. What is saddest is the three daughters left with the mother. They come to visit the father once in awhile and tears flow. “The children cry and cry,” Mr Som said.
“If there is a buyer, I am prepared to sell the house and pay for the treatment and cure him. I have done everything, even been ordained as a monk for three months to ask the Lord Buddha to save my son.”
Mr Som’s prayers have finally been answered. Hundreds of donations have been collected and a fat cheque is on its way to Ban Pasingh and Ban Wan Yai.
A specialist doctor has been dispatched to treat the two patients, Mr Kristof said.
“I believe all these ailments can be cured by modern medical technology. It is very sad to see young people dying because of poverty brought about by the economic crisis,” he said.
I was the researcher and interpreter for Nick Kristof. Two weeks after we flew back to Bangkok from the northeast, I heard the good news from Kristof, and filed the story for Deutsch Presse Agentur.