By Christine Joy Sarmiento, Mulat Pinoy Community Manager
He entered the auditorium handing out USB flash drives shaped like condoms.
This is what former Thai senator and social entrepreneur Mechai Veravaidya did as he was welcomed in the Mulat Pinoy Lecture Series by broadcast journalist Che Che Lazaro.
Mr. Mechai recently spoke about poverty eradication and improving education at the forum organized by Mulat Pinoy, “Beyond Condoms: Nation Building and the Youth,” held at the College of Engineering Theater, UP Diliman, in September.
As he spoke in front of iskolars ng bayan, Khun Mechai promoted his new project, the Mechai Pattana School, also known as the Bamboo School. As he moved away from his condom projects, Khun Mechai established the school in Lamplaimat District, Buriram Province, four hours from Bangkok.
Since Thai education has generally concentrated on literacy and numerical skills, there is little to no emphasis on new ideas and creativity skills. The school intends to change this situation for underprivileged, rural students.
According to Mechai, “The school strives toward getting its pupils to perform at their full potential by focusing on developing the complete individual. The lessons at the school are focused on enabling students to analyze and create.”
The bamboo school’s term ends during rice planting and harvesting seasons to let students to participate and help their parents in rice farming, a major component of Thai culture. Students of the bamboo school need not to pay tuition in money. They just have to plant 400 trees and serve 400 hours of community service as payment.
Since the 1970s, Mechai has been affectionately known as “Mr. Condom”, and in that time condoms are referred to as “mechais” in Thailand. From the time he began his work in family planning, the average number of children in Thai families has been reduced from 7 to 1.5.
In 1973, he retired from politics and founded a non-profit service organization, the Population and Community Development Association, to “improve the lives of the poor.”
His programs included condom-blowing contests for school children, encouraging taxi cab drivers to hand out condoms to their customers, and a restaurant chain called Cabbages and Condoms where condoms, rather than mints or fortune cookies, are given to customers together with the bill.
Mechai also led in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Thailand, starting in the 1980s, by leading AIDS education in all school levels, government offices, and tourist spots. He used the mass media, as well as unconventional methods such as contests in schools and red-light districts, and even used the Christmas tune, “Jingle Bells,” but changed its lyrics.
In the 80s, Khun Mechai also helped solve the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Thailand. He lef information drives in schools, government institutions and public establishments. He convinced people to terminate the on-going discrimination among people living with AIDS and encouraging people to give them a chance to enter businesses, in this way empowering HIV patients.
Khun Mechai was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 1994.
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