If you remember in my last email, I was very
keen to make myself part of the furniture at Wat Suan Kaew, in order
to learn about the marvellous handy work of Pra Payom for the socially
disadvantaged. Well take your starting positions everyone because
here we go!
Firstly I met smiling Mrs DuangJai. Everyone who has anything to
do with this wonderful lady calls her 'Mummy' because she is like
a loving mother to everyone. Over twenty years ago when Pra Payom
was just starting his beautiful work, she went to interview him
as part of her job at the time to do a report for a magazine. Finding
him all alone, surrounded by mountains of paperwork, with no hope
of getting on top of it on his own, Mrs Duangjai shortened the interview
and got stuck into helping Pra Payom deal with it all. Of course,
after she had done such a great job, Pra Payom asked her to come
and work for him. But she declined and said she didn't want to be
paid for helping with such work and instead offered to come and
help out for free any time she had some spare time. A little while
later she found she liked her work for Pra Payom so much that she
became the fulltime secretary for the Suan Kaew Foundation. Next
to Pra Payom she is the other driving force behind this wonderful
I was very privileged to have Mrs Duangjai take me for a tour around
Wat Suan Kaew and well, words can be a poor means of sharing gloriously,
sensational goings on and experiences, but here we go!
First of all we came across some monks teaching a group of newly
released ex- prisoners. They were all sitting quietly, listening
intently to what the monks were teaching them. Mrs Duangjai said
"some of them, kill another, do many bad, bad things. Outside here
they have bad thoughts all time, do many bad things. We give them
food, somewhere to sleep and show them how to do job and give them
job. We never have any trouble with them when they are here. They
love us!" I said to her 'That's because you give them love.' She
said with a smile "Yes!"
At Wat Suan Kaew these two rampagingly, extraordinary champions
have set up a care unit for elderly people who have been abandoned
by their families, as well as care homes for terminally ill people
and mentally and physically disabled people. They even have an orphanage
and nursery for poor kiddies to get free care and education.
Pra Payom has also set up a free moral camp for disadvantaged young
kiddies to learn about good conduct and Buddhist principles during
their summer holiday period. During the normal school period he
also offers scholarship grants to children and homeless youth mostly
from the poorer countryside who would otherwise never have a chance
to go to school. He even gives poor youths the opportunity to earn
money for their education by running small businesses at Wat San
Kaew. This occurs during the summer vacation and they are given
space to sell what they make.
Nearby he has a Job training centre to provide occupational training
and support for any unskilled and disadvantaged people so they can
learn a skill to make an independent, honest living.
If all this wasn't glorious enough he has also turned his attention
to the ever growing problem of drug addiction in Thailand. To rehabilitate
addicts, he gives them food, shelter and teachings to help them
overcome their addiction. A lot of them in turn put the money they
would normally have spent on their addictions into bamboo piggybanks
made by the elderly people living at Wat San Kaew. This money is
then used for emergencies and disaster relief. Pra Payom has an
ongoing project to help any victims of floods, fires and other disasters.
To give you even more of an idea why Pra Payom has been called 'The
Monk who cares for everyone', he once witnessed a man fighting with
stray dogs for food scraps from a bin. His response to this was
to set up a 'Goodwill Project' to give rich people an easy way to
share their wealth with the most needy through donations. This venture,
in turn, was so successful that he was able to set up what's been
called 'The Poor Peoples Supermarket'. It is a large market where
donations and surplus products are sold to poor people at heavily
discounted prices. Bloody Magnificent!
In fact, so successful were all his projects that more and more
poor people kept coming to Wat Suan Kaew. So what did this little
champion do so he wouldn't run out of space and resources and have
to turn people away? He decided to buy more land and make the whole
operation completely self sufficient and environmentally sustainable.
Firstly, he gave lectures and sold books and cassettes of his teachings
to make enough money. The additional land which he then purchased
with that money was then used for planting all manner of agricultural
crops as well as providing training and new jobs to keep it all
going. The result is that now they grow nearly all their own food
and sell the rest. They even grow plants used in traditional medicine
to treat those who can't afford medical treatment as well as rare
plants to conserve their species. Astonishingly wondrous!
Speaking of which I noticed at one stage a smiling disabled man
on crutches pass by us. Mrs Duangjai pointed to a beautiful, perfectly
maintained herb garden. She said 'He does this, all by himself'.
At Wat Suan Kaew nearly everyone does something to contribute.
Currently, Pra Payom and Mrs Duangjai are working with the King
of Thailand on a model recycling plant to recycle everything. So
there you go champions, could you imagine what would happen to world
poverty if places like this started popping up all over the world?
I can! It would be magnanimously splendiferous! (Splendiferous is
a Don King word meaning more than amazingly amazing.) You might
have noticed I've had to reach for the Thesaurus in an increasingly
futile struggle to express everything adequately. But truly I can't
find any words good enough for this! Just thinking about it puts
a smile on my face that could well be permanent!
Finally, to end this email I will share a warming and very quick
little story. Loads of people once wanted to put up a picture of
Pra Payom to honour him at Wat Saun Kaew. He was so humble though,
that he didn't want them to do this and in the end a compromise
was reached. A lovely little shrine was erected that shows Pra Payom
as a small boy with his young brothers peaking out of a window late
at night watching their mum planting something. The story goes that
Pra Payom had asked his mother if she could buy him a sweet so he
could taste one for the first time but she couldn't afford it. So,
she made many sacrifices and in the end, snuck outside late one
night and planted a small banana palm in the garden. She did this
so that when it grew up she could give Pra Payom a banana so he
could taste what it was like to eat a sweet thing. Now Pra Payom
encourages anyone who passes this plaque to think of their mothers
and remember the love they have given us and the sacrifices they
have made for us all.
Till next week champions, take care and bye now.
here to view images from Wat Suan Kaew, Thailand
Other articles in the series:
Helping the Poor and Socially
Disadvantaged in 'Magnificent Thailand', Part 1, 30 June 2002
Thailand, Part 3, Helping Monks with English Practice, 28 July
Thailand, Part 4, Helping Monks Care for AIDS Sufferers, 14
Thailand, Part 5, Family: The Real Meaning of Being Human, 21