Bangkok’s current COVID outbreak may have started in the upscale “entertainment centres” (I don’t think I need to explain that particular euphemism) of Thonglor and Ekkamai, but predictably it’s the city’s least fortunate residents that are bearing the brunt of it. Khlongtoey, the city’s poorest district, has been hit particularly badly; official figures put the number of infections at around 1500, but insiders claim it’s a lot higher than that.
Last Friday I spent the afternoon with the team from Khlongtoey-based charity Duang Prateep Foundation, as they distributed aid to those struggling with the double whammy of COVID infections and economic crisis. Many residents have lost their jobs, and existences that were already precarious have been pushed over the edge, and so DPF’s distribution of food and other necessities is a real lifeline.
The legendary Khun Prateep and her team are out every day delivering parcels in different districts of Khlongtoey, and they rely on donations, so if you’d like to donate, check out this page to find out how.
In Thailand, the local wat (temple) is the heart of the community, and our afternoon began at a temple that is also serving as a quarantine centre for COVID patients where they can wait for hospital beds to become available. The DPF team began their afternoon aid distribution here before heading out into the community.
Khun Prateep started her foundation in 1978. It began life as a small unofficial school helping give kids in Khlongtoey an education they would otherwise have lacked; since then it has grown into a large organisation that provides education, drug rehab, food distribution and even fire trucks to the community.
And although she will turn 70 next year, Khun Prateep is still very hands-on, delivering aid packages every day and charging down narrow alleyways with sacks of food over her shoulder and leaving the rest of us to try and keep up with her!
The locals in this community were especially happy to receive DPF’s aid parcels. Their houses are slated for demolition soon as the landowner seeks to redevelop, and the tiny amount of compensation they’ve been offered won’t be enough to rehouse them. Their situation is particularly desperate.
The foundation also sets up aid distribution centres where needy locals can come to collect food packages. This centre was set up underneath a flyover just off Rama IV Road, and such is the efficiency of the team that it went from an empty space to a well organised distribution unit in a matter of minutes.
It’s an indicator of how bad things are for many in Khlongtoey that queues for aid parcels stretched around the block, with people queuing for over an hour in the searing mid-afternoon heat. Yet despite their situation, the locals remained cheerful, stoical, and happy for some weird foreigner to point his camera at them.
Opening time saw a tide of humanity descend on the distribution centre, with most of the parcels snapped up within the hour by grateful recipients. Tomorrow, DPF will do it all over again in another community.
Most communities in Khlongtoey are now protected by disinfection tents, which spray residents as they come in and out. For others, they’re a cool place for a nap…