It isn’t easy to meet your family just once a month and give the rest of your time to curing the societal evils. And it certainly isn’t easy to role out one great idea after another that restructures and reorganizes the life of the underprivileged. But Sombat Boonngamanong works effortlessly, uninterruptedly and successively in Thailand, thus setting an example for others to follow. And he certainly is followed, for as many as 2600 volunteers joined to help in his projects last year! Dive into his amazing movement with YL volunteer Payal Bhatnagar.
A theater personality, Sombat and a group of his friends formed the ‘Mirror Arts Foundation’ in 1991, which organized plays all over the country. Frustrated by Thailand’s educational system to respond to social needs and his encounter with Thailand’s societal problems during his plays, Sombat decided to concentrate his efforts towards curing the crisis in one area. For this, he established an NGO – the ‘Mirror Foundation’ in 1999. Its first office was opened at Ban Huey Khom, a set of villages in Thailand’s northern province of Chiang Rai (sub district Mae Yao). The Mirror Foundation has four offices now including one in Bangkok.
Sombat Boonngamanong, through this foundation and his team of volunteers, began helping the rural hill tribe communities in areas of citizenship, drug abuse, forced labor, sexual exploitation of women and children, education, and promotion of civil rights. His first project was of designing a new educational system that would address the local needs of the rural communities which had little or no access to formal education. Through an appeal by the children themselves (Sombat helped create a digital video), Sombat directed the community leaders to build schools in the hill tribe regions for rural children. He used the internet (through his website ‘www.thebangkok.com’) to appeal for donations of books and clothing from all over Thailand for the rural children. He also succeeded in receiving cash donations for the children’s fund which uses the money on projects beneficial for the whole village. He subsequently used the internet to gather around 100 volunteer teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers etc. to teach the poor tribal children. Sombat also dealt with one of the biggest crisis of rural Thailand: Poverty. For this, he channeled the women towards handicrafts making activities and these were then marketed locally and again due to internet-internationally.
Sombat’s next challenge was to gain citizenship for the hill tribe communities. Via the internet, he gained support from various citizen organizations, the general public and the required 50,000 signatures to back the hill tribe communities. The project won citizenship for 3000 people. However, this is Mirror’s ongoing project as it’s usually a challenging job to get citizenship for those who aren’t Buddhists, racially Thai or don’t speak Thai. Sombat’s project to help street children and combat trafficking dealt with creating awareness amongst the public about child trafficking and beggar operations.
Another project led by Sombat Boonngamanong was the setting up of tsunami volunteer centre (2004) through which volunteers helped the victims in repairing and building houses, clearing rubbish, running English language camps for children, training villagers in small scale jobs such as making furniture and other crafts. Sombat also helped in the setting up of a shop for selling the goods. Sombat’s new site for the tsunami volunteers (tsunamivolunteer.net) raked in volunteers, supplies and aid for the needy. A project of Mirror Foundation called ICT deals with teaching computers to local hill tribes and to those affected by tsunami in 2004.
The Mirror foundation functions to preserve the culture of the hill tribe regions through the Hilltribe Life and Cultural Centre (Ban Jalae) and the virtual museum at www.hilltribe.org. The Mirror Foundation also runs a guesthouse which supports the hilltribes who rather than being mere objects for the tourists’ eye, now themselves work as guides for promoting ecotourism and trekking. Lately this entrepreneur has found another cause – Red Shirts movement: Sombat took part in the bike ride for freedom in Ayutthaya on behalf of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.
The Mirror Foundation employs full time and part time volunteers and has received funding from various institutions like International Labor Organization, Asia and Rockefeller foundations, the Singapore International Foundation, Samsung, Save the Children and Microsoft. With Sombat’s ready to use ideas which are rolled out one after the next, you can expect help at any time if ever required. Sombat Boonngamanong has been elected as the ‘Young Initiator in Social Development by the National Council for Child and Youth Development’ in Thailand. His Mirror Art Group has been appointed by the United Nation’s Convention for Child’s Rights in the northern region of Thailand.
Sombat’s Mirror Foundation is in constant need of volunteers and funds. So if you are in Thailand or in any other part of the world and wish to be a volunteer with the Mirror foundation, here are four types of opportunities: Individual, NGO network program, group volunteer or internship. Check out the volunteering details at http://themirrorfoundation.org/cms/index.php?/Volunteering-with-Mirror.html and be a follower of Sombat Boonngamanong – one of the most respected leaders’ and cultural activist in Thailand.
Exclusive interview with Thai Red News’s JJ Sathon: ( in Thai language)
Interview with Red Sunday Leader Sombat Boonngamanong:
Twitter: Sombat Boonngamanong (@nuling)
Mirror Foundation: www.themirrorfoundation.org
Mirror Art Guesthouse: http://guesthouse.themirrorfoundation.org/
As a freelance writer Payal is passionate about making a positive impact in the society through her work. Her writing expertise lies in various subjects such as travel, education, careers, history, flora and fauna, health etc. With a Masters in Business Administration and corporate sector exposure behind her, she always had the desire to volunteer and help people which led to write for the YL magazine. A busy mother of a beautiful daughter, she likes to read in her free time.