CHIANG MAI — A local government office in Chiang Mai province took steps to ban donations, then reversed the controversial order two days later, after a YouTuber released a video publicizing poverty at a far-flung village.
The video posted by Pimradaporn “Pimriepie” Benjawattanapat ahead of the National Children’s Day on Saturday showed her donating solar cells and other necessities to Mae Kerb village in Om Koi district, 300 kilometers from the city center. But local authorities apparently weren’t happy with her portrayal of the impoverished village.
Wilailak Sooksai, the director of Om Koi’s Office of Non-Formal and Informal Education, issued an announcement Saturday telling the village teachers to not ask for any donations.
“Large amounts of information on online communities like Facebook, Line, e-mail, and Twitter are affecting the office in both positive and negative ways,” the announcement read.
They were also banned from expressing “any negative views on social media” and receiving “any donations from any outside sources.”
After much ridicule and criticism online, Wilailak issued a new order Monday saying that the previous announcement was voided, citing unspecified “miscommunications.”
Repeated calls to the education office went unanswered.
— ข่าวสด (@KhaosodOnline) January 11, 2021
‘Children Don’t Have Dreams’
Mae Kerb is a rural village in Om Koi district, located in the far southwest of Chiang Mai province. Pimrypie said in the video that the village has no electricity, no one finished their education beyond the middle school level, and there is no internet connection.
Mice are a delicacy to eat, and most people only eat chili paste made of salt, MSG, and chili, the YouTuber said in her video, which has been viewed more than 4.8 million times and is currently the top trending video on Thailand’s YouTube.
“The children here have no dreams. They cannot imagine it. They cannot imagine what it’s like to continue their studies,” village teacher Jet Sonthikun told Pimrypie. “They live in their narrow world.”
One interviewed woman said she had never eaten an omelette. Agricultural knowledge is lacking. Children shower with their clothes on as a way to do laundry.
“I thought I was just going to give them Mama noodles and canned fish, but this is a big deal,” Pimrypie, 30, said. “They are cavemen. They don’t have electricity. …I never thought there would be this kind of place in Thailand.”
The video then shows the blogger and her team donating solar cells, planting a vegetable garden, installing a TV, and handing out shoes and flashlights to the local children.
Pimrypie shared a Facebook post that said she donated 500,000 baht, while supporters pitched in an additional 290,000 baht, amounting to 790,000 baht.
“I never thought I would do something so worthwhile in my life. That 500,000 was so worth it,” Pimrypie says in the video.
Although the social media influencer received widespread praise for her video, some suspected that she was doing it for the views. In a Facebook live on her page Sunday, Pimrypie clapped back at the critics.
“Don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong, hia. If they didn’t want the stuff, they would just toss it away,” she said. “Donating to charity in your homeland creates drama. Why don’t I just stick a Portuguese or Turkish flag here?”
There’s also a blowback from transparency gadfly Srisuwan Janya, who said that the village Pimrypie donated to was infringing on Om Koi Wildlife Sanctuary.
“That village was built only five to six years ago,” Srisuwan said by phone. “I want to know from related government agencies, such as national parts and resources, how they allowed a group of tribespeople to build dwellings here.”
The activist said he had studied maps and aerial photographs ranging over the past several years. Allowing residential houses in national parks areas sets a bad precedent, he said.
Since the residential houses shouldn’t even be there in the first place, that could be a reason why there’s no electricity, said Srisuwan, who planned to submit a complaint to environment minister Varawut Silpa-archa on Wednesday.
But Srisuwan said that his criticism was all for the government, and he had only praise for the blogger.
“I’m not criticizing Pimrypie, she did very well. It doesn’t matter if they are there legally or not, she did her job for humanity, which is admirable,” he said.