The following interview and text is an approved guest article/submission by Kristof Erkiletian.
The global spread of Sars CoV2 has created devastating impacts on economies worldwide, particularly in the tourism industry with international travel being reduced to a fraction of its former stature.
Thailand has been especially hard hit by this, with vast numbers of people working in the tourism sector finding themselves long-term unemployed or even forced into homelessness. As a foreign national (Dual Canadian/American) currently residing in Thailand, I was inspired by recent articles in local Chon Buri news illustrating ongoing efforts by expatriates offering assistance to Thai people in need during this pandemic.
There were multiple reports of an ongoing assistance system of food distribution for the homeless in the Pattaya area organized by Swiss National Olivier Gachoud and French National Jean-Pierre Barbier.
Based on their sustained effort, I offered my own help to extend their program and volunteer to distribute food/aid in the mornings. In working alongside Olivier and his team, I learned that this initiative has in fact been ongoing for almost 2 years now, beginning back in May 2020.
I also learned that it is funded/staffed entirely by volunteer donors/workers, with the majority of the financing coming solely from Mr. Gachoud. The following interview offers some insight into the people behind this effort and the motivations that prompted them to act. As a professional athlete who represents the USA in the World Championship competition, I am personally humbled and emboldened by these actions. It is my hope their endeavors will continue to inspire others and help Thailand to maintain a unified successful response in weathering the pandemic.
Dragon Boat USA National Team: 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019
Dragon Boat World Cup Champions: 2018, 2014
Kristof: What has prompted you to initiate food distribution to the needy in Pattaya?
Olivier: I don’t know if you are familiar with Greek and Roman history. I like the concept of the ancient Greek city: a collaboration of citizens living together. And now the question: “What can you bring to the City as a simple individual?”
Kristof: Which nationalities are represented among those who volunteered for this effort?
Olivier: I come from Geneva in Switzerland. We have French and Thai volunteers. Recently we had your assistance as a Canadian national with USA Residency. During all these days, everything has worked smoothly.
Kristof: How did you organize your food and aid distribution system?
Olivier: The organization of the team is simple. We need to purchase the food at the best price, bring it to the distribution place and share it. We wanted to reach the homeless, so the food needs to be cooked. We didn’t want to simply give 1kg of dry rice and cooking oil. The food also had to be healthy (aka with fresh vegetables) So we decided for Pad Thai on odd days and rice and curry on even days. We also wanted to provide them with water.
Kristof: What total expense was incurred?
Olivier: A meal with a bottle of water costs 24 baht. We shared about 56’000 meals, so the total cost is about 1.3 million bath
Kristof: What was your most memorable positive moment (or moments) during distribution?
Olivier: One day, a famous local bank came to help us. They provided big bags of food and made many pictures. We hope that they would help us on a regular basis. But we didn’t see them anymore.
Kristof: Are there any particular people or organizations you would like to thank?
Olivier: I want to thank all the donators, Jean-Pierre, our Webmaster and all the people who came every morning at 8:00 am to help us.
Kristof: Is there any particular message you would like to say to the people of Thailand?
Olivier: I hope that 2022 will be a great year for tourism and for Pattaya.
Kristof: Are there any other comments or thanks you would like to make regarding your charitable efforts?
Olivier: I have lived in Thailand for a long time. After the food distribution, motorbike taxis tend to offer me a free ride back home. I have never seen this, so: I want to say thank you for sharing.
The final day of the current charity effort took place at 8:00 AM (2nd road & Soi 6) on November 10th and marked the final day of food donations organized by Swiss National Olivier Gachoud and friends which began last year as the pandemic crippled the business community