At Wit’s End, Poorest Thais Turn to Charity for Survival in Pandemic

A woman on the Honest and Loyal Facebook page livestreams clothing sales on April 15, 2020.

BANGKOK — A grandma selling shirts on Facebook Live for 3 baht. Blind masseuses struggling to navigate the government website for cash handouts. A taxi driver breaking down in tears on the news when he admits he has no food to eat.

These are just part of the common experience that defines Thailand amid the coronavirus pandemic. With little hope of receiving government payouts, Thais hardest-hit by the epidemic are relying on charity and even pawning off their possessions to put food on the table.

Read: ‘Not Enough Money,’ Prayut Slashes 3-Month Relief Program

What little hopes of a relief were squashed when Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha said Wednesday that the cash handout initiative, originally intended to pay informal workers 5,000 baht monthly for three months, would be slashed to just one month. 

The program already came under fire by people who have had their applicants rejected on spurious grounds, which the government blamed on faulty “AI.”  

The website is also criticized for a lack of disability-friendly interface. Pairat Srinok, a blind masseuse, told the media he normally made as much as 1,000 per day but has since made zero money for a month now. 

“For us blind people, we have no other option and it’s very difficult to travel and register online. If we don’t get help, the only thing we can do is wait for death,” Pairat said.

Many are turning to doing whatever they can in the meantime. In a livestream on her Facebook page Honest and Loyal, a grandma sells shirts for as little as 3 baht to 5 baht, with netizens swiping up sales and sending her donations. 

“I would love for you to help out my clothes sales, but I will transfer back any charity money,” one post by her says. 

Neitzens also donated more than 8 million baht to Sitthichai Klaichit, a taxi-driver turned parcel deliveryman who broke down in tears on the news while saying he had no money to eat. Sittichai thanked his donors and closed his donation account Wednesday; he said he would donate a portion to hospitals. 

Some took acts of charity even further. Facebook user Milk Pochaisarn created a program in which she would solicit donations to pay street food stalls to offer free meals for the hungry. Participating stalls would offer people coupons to tear off for a free meal. Her coupon files are free to download. 

In Yala, one of the regions hardest-hit by the coronavirus, dozens lined up for donations of dried food without any regard for social distancing. All those who received donations were later asked to report themselves in for COVID-19 screening.

In Songkhla, a 78-year-old woman fainted while waiting in line for food donations from Pae Aroi restaurant that has been giving out 100 meals a day since Monday. 

Among those standing in line was a family currently unemployed from their laborer jobs. They said they had no food at home since they were declared ineligible for the 5,000 baht payout.

“Free. Unemployed, no money can have a meal and a drink for free,” says the sign in front of Piyanat Sawangsri’s food shop in Lopburi. The 37-year-old is giving out free dishes of krapao moo, stir-fired pork along with a free face mask for those unable to buy food, as many as 300 people a day. 

Some also resorted to asking celebrities for help. 

On actress Patcharapa “Aum” Chaichua’s Instagram account which has more than 11.6 million followers, a commenter wrote, “P’Aum, May I please have a bag each of rice, milk, and Mama noodles? I don’t have work right now. Thank you,” to which Aum replied, “May I have your address?” 

This was followed by many other similar comments asking for groceries, but some netizens replied that soliciting donations from celebrities wasn’t the way to go. 

“She’s not a bank or NGO. I think she’s helped enough, she can’t help every single citizen. It’s the government’s job,” a commenter wrote. 

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