By Robin Westley Martin
We go where it's needed, when it’s needed, on the ground, every single day
The article I had written was about a group of farang (foreign) business guys in Bangkok who were visiting impoverished parts of the city delivering hot meals, bags of rice, and household necessities to the poorest people in the city, who were struggling because of the lockdown, as well as other restrictions put in place.
The deliveries by this team and their other foreign and Thai volunteers had kept hundreds of families going, kept the wolf from the door while they were unable to make any money for themselves.
I got to know the team quite well last year, and had accompanied them on some of their visits to the slum districts to hand out meals and other living necessities. None of us imagined that we would be doing the same thing over twelve months down the road.
The team, ‘Dinner From the Sky,’ have set up a dedicated charity during the intervening year, ‘Bangkok Community Help’ which has just been granted foundation status, and which helps them to maximise any donations they receive.
The two people behind it are Greg Lange and Friso Poldervaart. Greg told me, “When the restrictions eased last summer we never stopped, because we knew that there are always going to be poor and underprivileged in Bangkok. We went out every Sunday, and delivered 500 hot meals, bags of rice, household goods, and clothes and children’s toys that had been donated. We never missed a week.”
At the end of April there was a huge surge. The situation on the ground rapidly deteriorated, and in no time they soon found themselves delivering 2,000 meals per day … every day … plus the rice and all the other items. Things were going from bad to worse every day, and it was all getting out of hand. The team, and the city, needed help.
The area of the city where the most help is needed is Klong Toey, with its large population of Bangkok’s poor, and this is where Friso, Greg and their team have been concentrating their efforts. They soon realised the severity of the third wave threatened to overwhelm them, and they were in desperate need of help. It came!
When Covid cases started to show up in the Klong Toey community, we knew right away that we needed to do something to stop it and we needed to act fast. Klong Toey is the biggest slum area in Thailand, consisting of over 100,000 people living across 39 communities.
People in Klong Toey work in all sorts of industries, and contribute a lot to the workforce of Bangkok; from deliverymen, restaurant cooks, security guards, staff at department stores, taxi, tuk-tuk and motorcycle drivers and so on. Therefore, when Covid hits an area like Klong Toey and it isn’t contained properly, it can easily spread all over the city.
For this reason my mother, who is an MP, and myself straightaway requested that Covid check-points be set up in in Klong Toey communities. The day after the Prime Minister convened a cabinet meeting in the afternoon specifically to discuss the ‘Klong Toey cluster’.
He sent five or six mobile check-point teams to be based in Klong Toey, and rotate around the various sectors for fifteen days. And we also prepared three sites to give out Covid jabs for people living in the community, also for fifteen days, aiming at 3,000 to 4,000 people per day. This is currently under discussion to be extended.
How did you find out about what Friso and Greg had been doing to help the poor in Bangkok since the first lockdown. Once you had contacted them how did you decide how you could work together?
The first time we met was during the first outbreak, over a year ago, when we had joined them to hand out food and drink to people who had lost their jobs or income because of Covid. We stayed in touch after that. There is this chemistry or something between us that helps us work well together. We have the same objective, in that our drive is to help people.
We were aware of both Greg and Friso’s sincere good intentions to the people from day one. They put others before themselves and they never get tired of helping, always coming up with new ideas. After we got to know each other better, we began to target ways we could work together to help improve people’s lives. Not only from donations, but by helping them in other ways, to have better futures and better lives for themselves and their families.
Klong Toey, with its large population of Bangkok’s poor, is where Friso, Greg and their team have been concentrating their efforts. They soon realised the severity of the third wave threatened to overwhelm them, and they were in desperate need of help. It came!
We are now helping them to communicate more effectively with the district officials and police. We do our best to help facilitate their kindness and good intentions when helping others by ensuring that they are not breaking any laws, and trying to get them over the hurdles. Now, together with the help of my mother and myself, they have full access to do anything and go anywhere that they need.
Now that you are working together with Friso and Greg, how do you decide which particular residential areas to target for the food and other aid that they give?
As we know all the 39 community leaders in Klong Toey, we act as a conduit, providing Friso and Greg with information regarding the communities that are in need of – or are requesting – help. We also share official information such as the number of positive Covid cases in each community and the number of people in quarantine before we decide which area to target. We then rotate between the 39 communities after prioritising those that need aid the most.
Many times, desperate people have contacted us directly because they had no idea who to contact. As soon as we let Frisco and Greg know about these requests they send someone over to help right away, with food, or whatever else it might be that is needed. This is the most effective way we can work together.
People live under different circumstances, they need different things … some have infants or babies, some have elderly or infirm folk to look after, some need help more than others. These are the things that the community leaders know intimately about their neighbours, and we act as a bridge to make sure that the right kind of help goes to the right place.
How are you going to continue to work together, what is your plan for the coming few weeks, and what will it be looking ahead?
During this third wave of the pandemic we have, as a team, put together and distributed over 5,000 packages of aid kits to families who have Covid, are in quarantine, or who have lost their jobs because they were unable to go to work. We are also cooking and distributing over 2,000 hot meals per day to individuals and families living in Klong Toey.
These aid packages are very helpful for people because they can be used as they need them, and they don’t have to go out to buy food or household supplies, at the risk of spreading or contracting the virus.
Post-Covid we will resume several of the projects that we had been working on together, but have had to pause due to the current situation. We will resume the program of bringing international school teachers and basketball coaches directly to the kids in the Klong Toey communities. And also continue to find different systems and opportunities to help them in other ways.
One project that I think could be meaningful for the community is to organise a talent pool, and invite headhunters from outside to search the pool for talented or skilled people who are looking for work.
There are many projects in the slum communities that can’t be developed using a government budget, due to land encroachment issues. So receiving help from the private sector and kind-hearted individuals is effective and meaningful to those who are in serious need.
We will make a commitment to continue to support each other in as many ways as possible. For example, Friso and Greg, along with a team of their volunteers, recently helped to convert a garbage dump in Lock 4-5-6 into a communal area where people can hang out, spend time together, and reinforce a stronger community spirit.
Friso and Greg also helped to fit out and equip a dedicated Klong Toey ambulance, to transport Covid and bed-bound patients to hospitals and take them back home.
We are lucky to have found people like Friso, Greg, and their mixed team of farang and Thai volunteers. On behalf of the residents of Klong Toey slum my mother and myself extend our heartfelt thanks.”
“We've been doing this since the first Covid wave and have not stopped since. We get so involved in the different communities, we love them and the people”
The ongoing project helping the poor of Klong Toey during this devastating outbreak is a collaboration between Dinner from the Sky, Bangkok Community Help and Thum Dee Dai Dee. Over 2,000 meals seven days a week are being delivered to more than 15 different slum communities in Klong Toey. Friso, Greg, and all the volunteers are becoming very involved in these communities, and are starting to make friends there.
Friso told me that the priority is always to keep everyone in the team and the people they help as safe as possible. Because the situation is so difficult, they do indeed take risks everyday by giving out the hot meals and care packages. “The question is, if we don't do it, who will,” said Friso.
They fought hard and lobbied for more testing and vaccination in Klong Toey as they saw early on that things would spiral out of control fast if nothing was done. Together with Khun Nong (the Member of Parliament) and her son Khun Parit, and because of their tireless efforts, testing and vaccination was begun, and is continuing apace. The whole thing is being well and efficiently run, and hopefully soon the whole community will have been vaccinated. Those over 60 or with underlying conditions receive the Astra Zeneca jab, while most of the rest receive the Chinese jab, Sinovac.
Besides the daily activities Dinner From the Sky / Bangkok Community Help are helping individual families and kids with milk, diapers, cooking oil, candy for the kids etc. They support hospitals around the city with donation of PPE equipment, and have built (and are building) houses in Klong Toey.
Recently they completely one entirely new house. Now preparations are being made to build a two-storey house where 21 kids can live. Their current housing is extremely bad, with no running water, holes in the floors, walls and ceilings, rat-infested.
The team run classes for the Klong Toey kids, teaching them English, dance and creative arts, and enable them with them computer skills, and they organise basketball classes to help the youngsters exercise and promote teamwork. Just before the third wave hit they completed a huge project completely renovating a community centre and sports field in Klong Toey Lock 4,5,6.
I’ll let Friso tell you himself how he and Greg feel about the journey they started on just over a year ago:
“We've been doing this since the first Covid wave and have not stopped since. We get so involved in the different communities, we love them and the people. Our organisation grew from five volunteers cooking meals in a kitchen to a huge team of almost 200 giving their valuable time for free to help out others in need. Corporate sponsors, celebrities, politicians … donors from around the world have all come aboard,
“We receive so many messages per day of encouragement as well as people wanting to help, we're very grateful for all the support we get. As Covid is at peak height right now, we're also operating at peak performance. Seven days a week, 2,000 meals a day, 1,000's of care packages for people in quarantine and people with low or zero income.
“We need as much support as possible to be able to keep going, together we will come out of this, but now is the time to look around and help the people that aren't capable of helping themselves.
“We're not bound by complex structures, so when we see someone in need, we go there and help ... hands-on, without restrictions, right away. This is what makes us different from other organisations, we go where it's needed, when it’s needed, on the ground, every single day.
“If there's anyone that knows what's really going on in the Klong Toey communities, it's us … because we're there all the time. And we love it!”
please go to …
Facebook.com/Bkkcommunityhelp … and …