Tourism workers are struggling in coastal Thailand. Here's how to help.

Island Watch #1

You’re reading the first installment of Island Watch, where I dig into consequential issues facing Thai islands and coastal areas. If you haven't yet, please subscribe to Thai Island Times. For more info on this newsletter, pop over to the About page.

Across coastal Thailand, the economic effects of the Covid-19 crisis have been more like a tsunami than a ripple. Right now, millions of people whose livelihoods depend on tourism urgently need help.

Efforts by the 24-year-old charity Sisters on Samui have been monumental. (Source: Sisters on Samui)

In big trouble

If you've ever spent time in Thailand, take a few moments to visualize some of the people who provided a service for you: The tuk tuk driver; the receptionist; the street food vendor; the bartender; the travel agent; the room cleaner; the masseuse; the bus driver; the shopkeeper; the tour guide; the chef; the dive instructor; the motorbike leaser; the musician; the server; and the longtail boat driver. And don't forget the unseen — the fisher who caught your dinner, the farmer who grew your mangos and the office worker who processed your booking.

Many Thai tourism operators started getting hit with cancellations in January. That seems like ages ago, doesn’t it?

More than three months later, I cannot overstate how devastating the economic impacts have been in Thailand, which relies on tourism for 15 to 20% of its GDP. Millions of jobs have been lost. So far, government aid has been minimal.

The pandemic has cast a light on the reality that, in one of the world’s most economically unequal countries, many tourism workers were struggling to make ends meet long before the crisis began. In fact, with the fishing industry also hit hard and rubber prices recently hitting a 10-year low, three of the primary industries that drive coastal Thai economies are in peril. The way out is far from clear.

My favorite Indian joint in Ao Nang is one of many restaurants that have offered free food to the needy despite losing most of their own incomes due to the pandemic. (Source: Bombay Palace)


Rising to the occasion

Whether it's an established charity bursting into action, a group of friends pooling their resources, or a restaurant owner offering a few dozen meals for free, many people are doing whatever they can to help those in need.

One such generous person is Ms. Aom Orathai, owner of Koh Lanta Guesthouse in Ban Saladan, where the ferries and dive boats dock in normal times. Along with local friends and a few guests, she has spent the last several weeks providing between 30 and 100 daily bundles of food, baby milk and other supplies to Ko Lanta residents whose livelihoods have disappeared.

Though Aom had little previous experience in charity, she has organized a streamlined effort that starts with donations of money and supplies from those who can afford to give — and ends with carefully targeted distribution in the places that need it most. “A lot of people really need help,” she told me.

"I started by sending food to people who normally work in hotels and had no money to buy food,” she went on. "Now I'm keeping a list of families to check on. One is a single dad near the old town who is caring for a one-year-old. Another is a woman caring for her four young kids by herself. She cried in front of me when we met, because she lost her job at a hotel and had no money left to buy food for her children.”

Sadly, stories like these are common. But there is hope.

On Ko Lanta, the group led by Ms. Aom is focusing on families with young children. (Source: Aom Orathai)


If you can help, do it!

Those with the means and desire to give will find terrific charitable options in all of coastal Thailand’s largest tourism centers, listed below.

If you already know your way around Thailand, consider directly assisting some of the people who have helped you have great travel experiences in the past. If there's a family-run beach bar or restaurant that you have fond memories of, don't hesitate to offer a donation or buy a gift certificate that you could use down the road. The same goes for any tourism-related small business or freelancer.

Otherwise, while the list below represents only a small fraction of everyone helping out around coastal Thailand, I have vetted every group on it and am fully confident that donations will go straight towards helping those in need.



Phuket

Help Phuket Today: This recently established grassroots organization “provides weekly food packages to those most affected, relying on the kindness of residents of each subdistrict to locate and feed the families that are in dire need,” reports The Phuket News. As of today, the organizers have identified and assisted more than 800 vulnerable families while distributing food to the masses.
More details: https://www.facebook.com/HELPPHUKETTODAY/
Contact info: helpphukettoday@gmail.com
Donate: https://www.weeboon.com/en/campaign/help-phuket-today…

Phuket Sunshine Village Foundation: Established in the wake of the 2004 Asian Tsunami, this NGO provides safe homes and educational opportunities for less-fortunate children. Donations have slowed considerably due to the pandemic.
More details: https://www.phuketsunshinevillage.org
Contact: info@phuketsunshinevillage.org
Donate: https://www.phuketsunshinevillage.org/Donate-Online.html

Good Shepherd Foundation: This established charity based in Phuket town has been providing low-income women and children with options for education, health care and job training since 2009. Now it’s working hard to feed them as well.
Point of contact: Sister Lakana Suksuchit
More details: https://www.goodshepherdcentrephukettown.com/
https://www.facebook.com/GoodShepherdPhuket/
Contact: Goodshepherphuketcentre@gmail.com / +66-85 908-6560
Donate: https://www.goodshepherdcentrephukettown.com/donate

Soul Food for Those in Need: Spearheaded by the well-known Chef Noi of Suay Restaurant, this group is providing food for out-of-work migrants.
More details: https://www.facebook.com/suaybychefnoi/
https://www.facebook.com/tammasak.chootong
Contact info: +66 93 339 1890
Donate: Contact for details.

Krabi

Sriphong Phukaoluan Foundation: Based in Krabi town, this 25-year-old foundation is distributing care packages to thousands of families throughout Krabi province, from Ao Luek to Khlong Thom. Prior to the pandemic it focused on providing scholarships for low-income students, and those efforts will continue as well.
More details: https://www.facebook.com/sriphongfoundation/
Contact info: +66 75 613 163
Donate: Contact for details.

Peace Church Ao Nang: If you want to assist a small church whose pastors and congregation are distributing hundreds of meals per day, this is a good option.
Point of contact: Pastor Jason Lewis
More details: http://www.peacechurchaonang.com/
https://www.facebook.com/peacechurchaonang/
Contact info: jason@sower.org / +66 98 010 7574
Donate: Contact for details.


Ko Lanta

The Koh Lanta Guesthouse crew: This group has been one of the most active so far, with an emphasis on helping needy families with young children.
Point of contact: Ms. Aom Orathai (quoted above)
More details: https://www.facebook.com/orathai.khrueakuna
Contact info: aom_orathai92@hotmail.com / +66 65 356 2422
Donate: https://www.paypal.me/aurabeauty18

Humankind: Through this new initiative, the owner of Silver Koh Lanta is organizing relief packages for Urak Lawoi people and others in need.
Point of contact: Ms. Jessica Schoeffer
More details: https://www.facebook.com/groups/678049489647120/
Contact info: Lantasilver@yahoo.com / +66 84 520 8764
Donate: Contact for details.

Ko Samui

Sisters on Samui: Founded in 1997, this venerable women’s group shot into action last month to assist thousands of migrant workers and other needy people all around Thailand’s second largest island.
More details: https://www.facebook.com/kohsamuicharity/
https://sisters-on-samui.org/
Contact info: sistersonsamui@gmail.com / +66 84 861 0817
Donate: https://gogetfunding.com/feed-samui/

Ko Phangan

Happy Food Ko Phangan: The island’s tight-knit community has rallied to provide some 2,500 meals per day via a new and seemingly very well organized charity led by a former monk and a former UN peacekeeping captain, with plenty of help from both the Thai and expat communities.
More details: https://www.facebook.com/HappyFoodKPG/
Contact info: happyfoodkpg@gmail.com
Donate: https://gogetfunding.com/help-with-essential-food…


Hua Hin

Hua Hin Covid-19 Community & Support: This group materialized spontaneously to distribute meals to out-of-work Burmese migrants and others in need. While Cherry Restaurant has been central to the effort, it’s all based on a Facebook group so check that out first if you’re looking to help out in Hua Hin.
More details: https://www.facebook.com/groups/144311410249248/
Donate: Contact for details.

Chonburi

Help Pattaya: This wide-reaching effort funnels donations to the people who need it most in Pattaya, a city that relies as heavily on tourism as anyplace in Thailand.
More details: https://www.facebook.com/HelpPattaya
Contact info: burdis@gmail.com / +66 80 040 0339
Donate: https://www.weeboon.com/en/campaign/help-pattaya

Father Ray Foundation: This foundation cares for orphaned and other vulnerable children in the Pattaya area. As with the Sunshine Village Foundation on Phuket and Cambodian Kids Care on Ko Chang, much of the foundation’s operating expenses comes from donations made by tourists, who can no longer visit.
More details: https://www.fr-ray.org/
Contact info: info@fr-ray.org / +66 91 717 9089
Donate: https://www.fr-ray.org/donate/

The Fabulous 103FM crew: Described to me by a local expat as “the most above board” of the many groups distributing meals in Pattaya, the folks behind this local radio station are leading a widespread food-distribution effort.
More details: https://www.facebook.com/fabulous103/
Contact info: +66 80 072 4609
Donate: https://gogetfunding.com/fabulous-103fm-food-funding…

Ko Chang

Cambodian Kids Care: Founded in 2008, this non-profit school provides education and care for children of some of the thousands of Cambodian migrant workers who typically live on Ko Chang. Now is a great time to help them.
More details: https://www.facebook.com/CambodianKidsCareCenter/
Contact: +66 85 994 5101
Donate: Contact for details.


Bangkok and beyond

An excellent article by Thisrupt spotlights the Covid-19-related efforts of several Bangkok-based charities, including some operating nationwide. One of these is Covid Aid Thailand, whose 340 volunteers are assisting vulnerable elderly people along with the homeless, the jobless and anyone else in need.

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