by Asaree Thaitrakulpanich and Sunantha Buabmee
Thai social media was abuzz Thursday when CNN ran an article about the environmental efforts of a half-British, half-Thai actor who has been a staple of Channel 3 soaps for decades.
Alexander Simon Rendell, known as Alex Rendell, is following in the tradition of actors-turned-environmentalists such as Leonardo di Caprio – if Leo held camps for kids to scuba dive in Krabi, that is.
The 29-year-old started working in the Thai entertainment industry when he was four, starring in commercials as the cute kid hawking toothpaste in 1994, and then as the cute, inquisitive kid in soaps. He continued appearing in soap operas and films until signing a contract with Channel 3 when he was 16, though he ended up typecast as the leading man’s best friend rather than the leading man. But no matter – Alex turned to co-founding the Environmental Education Center (EEC), an organization that raises environmental awareness among kids through camps.
The EEC is in its fifth year of operations and has hosted around 150 camps, with lengthy waiting lists of parents wanting their kids to go scuba-dividing with Alex in Krabi.
“I feel really fortunate that I get to both act and work in the EEC. Few people get to do two jobs that they love. I feel so lucky,” Alex said.
Khaosod sat down for a chat with Alex about his walk down the dual roads of fame and forest.
When Alex was 10, he met with environmentalist Alongkot “Kru Kot” Chukeaw to film a soon-scraped demo for a kid’s nature show. Though the show was canceled, Alex never forgot the memory of caring for an elephant named Tinglu with Kru Kot. As an adult, Alex reconnected with Kru Kot and found that he was working on a project getting blind children in contact with elephants.
“I thought it was a great activity. There’s just the teacher, elephants, and the blind kids. I wanted to be a part of something like that. I had participated in a lot of charities but I felt like this one was cooler because it didn’t need cameras, people clapping, or stuff like that. It was just people there, all heart,” he said.
So the pair founded EEC, alongside Kru Kot’s wife and actress Jarinporn “Toey” Joonkiat. Kru Kot, who has campaigned for environmental education in Thailand for more than two decades, took care of creating the camps’ programs and curriculum. Toey was in charge of media relations and marketing.
The master’s degree graduate in Environmental Social Sciences from Mahidol University says that he holds the camps to foster environmental consciousness in kids, to tackle the environmental crisis from the ground up.
“I want the new generation to be environmentalists without anyone telling them to,” Alex said. “They don’t need to be affected by problems before acting.”
EEC’s dozen-or-so camp offerings last from three to five days and take kids on various programs: from learning about elephant conservation in Khao Yai, diving in Koh Lanta, to even taking a wildlife veterinary course at Kasetsart University. Prices for a space in each camp aren’t disclosed – you have to request a booking in a notoriously long waiting list.
Alex says 85 percent of camp attendees are Thai kids who go to international schools, with the rest consisting of foreigners. Most are Bangkokians.
“You can already teach kids 3, 4, 5, 6 years old about the environment. They say they love turtles, fish, forests,” he said. “This generation should be more environmentally conscious than ours or the ones before.”
Running the EEC is an “emotional rollercoaster,” Alex says. The ups include seeing children develop green consciousness. He described one child whose parents brought him to a camp as a baby, then as a toddler, then as a four-year-old. Throughout those years, the child was always interested in drawing sea turtles.
“Even as a four-year-old, he wanted to tell the story of sea turtles. He will have the environment in his heart forever,” Alex said. “Think of him in 20, 30 years from now and how impactful he’ll be when he’s a manager…His daily decisions will benefit the Earth for sure.”
Alex says he’s seeing more and more people become conscious of the environment, and he hopes the numbers will only continue to snowball.
“When Thais care about the environment, then the big organizations will start to care too,” Alex said. Nowadays he’s lined up to give talks about going green to businesses too.
In Thailand, environmental concerns usually take a backseat to most other issues, with low awareness on how to properly dispose of waste or reduce plastic use. Government organizations limply suggest green guidelines which are often completely ignored. Sometimes the green schemes of big corporations appear as no more than lip service. For example, Tesco Lotus on Thursday announced a convoluted scheme where its smaller supermarket chains won’t provide plastic bags, but only if the customer is buying two items or less. Plastic bags will continue to be given for free if asked.
“I will do whatever it takes to make the environment a mainstream concern. It’s always been a secondary concern,” Alex said.
He gave Marium, an orphaned dugong in Trang who swam her way into the nation’s heart, as an example of how a cute face can get people interested in the environment.
As a showbiz veteran, Alex knows the value of a handsome face like his own. And he’s willing to use it for the environment.
“I’m an actor that people recognize. So people are ready to listen to me, even though I may not be an expert. I feel like one way I can be useful is to be a spokesperson for the actual experts,” Alex said.
Like many celebs, Alex is an avid Instagram user and has over 1.5 million followers. Compare that to Greenpeace’s 350,000 Facebook followers, for example.
“More people follow me than environment pages,” he said. “So instead of being stingy about using my fame, my name, or my image…I would rather be useful.”