‘I Live and Breathe Thai:’ Expat Volunteers Provide COVID-19 Aid

Greg Lange (left) and Friso Poldervaart (right).

BANGKOKA Bangkok-based foundation set up last year to alleviate COVID-19 economic sufferings of the needy declared that they are now fighting a two-pronged war. 

The first is to provide free food and basic necessities to affected people including migrant workers in Bangkok now affected by the lockdown of construction worker campsites. The second is to help infected people from poor communities self-isolate by giving them tents.

“I live and breathe Thai. I am a big believer of this country,” said Greg Lange, 63, a co-founder of Bangkok Community Help Foundation which was founded last April.

 Lange, originally from Florida has been in Thailand for 20 years and his background as owner of Sunrise Taco chain of Mexican food helps when it comes to handing out food. 

Everyday, 2,000 hot meals are distributed to 39 poor communities as well as some survival bags given.  

Ton, 35, a Burmese construction worker is one of the recipients of the “survival bag”. 

Speaking in Thai on the phone Thursday Ton, who has spent a decade working in the kingdom, said the foundation showed up on Wednesday at the lockdown workers’ camp on Sukhumvit Soi 22. This occurred after a kind Western expat who has been helping them before contacted the foundation.

Workers at a construction camp receive relief bags on July 14, 2021 at at Sukhumvit Soi 22.

“The relief bag contains 5 kilograms of rice, a bottle of one-litre cooking oil, fish sauce, soaps, cleansing alcohol, six packets of instant noodles, four canned fish and bottled water,” said Ton, adding that the Thai boss told them they would be not working due to the lockdown until the end of the month. “I heard we should be getting half our salaries but we haven’t received a single baht. I hope we can return to work soon.” 

Ton lives with his wife, and 40 other workers, mostly Burmese, at the camp. His two children back in Myanmar are in need of money to be sent back and the COVID-19 situation in Myanmar is also getting out of control, Ton said.

Friso Poldervaart, the other co-founder of the Foundation is a 29-year-old Dutchman who has spent a decade in Bangkok and is an entrepreneur in the hospitality industry. He seems preoccupied with helping slum dwellers now, particularly in Klong Toey, where some need to self-isolate after becoming infected but unable to secure a hospital bed.

“There’s no hospital beds now so we’re trying to get it up as soon as we can,” he said, referring to not just handing out 60 tents so far.

The Klong Toey District Office is reluctant to have tent colonies emerging, citing concerns about dangerous waste water from infected people. 

“We will make it happen, but can’t say when we’ll get the greenlight. People in Klong Toey are stuck in their homes, no hospitals to take them, some also require oxygen which is also hard to come by. We found one man gasping for air, having been having heavy symptoms for four days,” Friso said. 

There are around 280 volunteers, including some Thais. Poldervaart says it’s a multinational lot: Dutch, American, British, German, French, Myanmar, as well as some expats from Hong Kong and Russia.

Some are business owners but there are also airline pilots, bankers, lawyers and more. “We’re very fortunate, a lot of people help from all over the world. Generally speaking, of course we need more,” said Poldervaart, adding that both volunteers or donations are welcomed.

Donated tents for infected residents at Klong Toey slum in Bangkok.

Lange said the fast-deteriorating situation means they “have no idea that they would be buying tents so people can self-isolate,” Lange said, adding that it’s on top of the 150,000 hot meals distributed over the past 74 days. “And 500,000 eggs so the people don’t have to go out of the communities,” Lange explained. “We go where we have to go. There are some dark days ahead. People really need to take it seriously now,” he said.

Those interested in volunteering or can contact the Bangkok Community Help Foundation at 083-589-5414, or donate to the Community Help Foundation account at Bangkok Bank, account number 105-5-06287-9.