Research has shown that the elderly are at a higher risk of fatality from coronavirus than most. For entrepreneur Natalie “Bin” Narkprasert, that hit so close to home that she decided to do something to help. We talked with her about the journey behind her first altruism project, Covid Bangkok Aid
What sparked the idea to begin this project?
I have a 94-year-old grandmother, who is very strong and likes to interact with people. I began to worry about how to take care of her during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the grave risk of someone spreading the virus to her made me reflect on other senior citizens who may not have a family, or live alone, and how difficult it must be for them. So, I decided to do something that helps the elderly avoid having to go out. Once I started doing this on my own, more people asked to support and join, so I created Covid Bangkok Aid. I think people want to help in some way.
How is the project helping those affected by the COVID-19 crisis?
We have two parts to our initiative:
1. Free Covid-19 care package: it includes dry food, drinks, medicine and hygiene products. We try to customize packages case by case. For the elderly, we often include senior diapers. Some request specific medicine. The donations we’ve collected helps us buy more care packages for more people.
2. Volunteer network: to date, we have over 280 volunteers who help by buying things, delivering items, building partnerships or making calls to senior citizens to help them feel less lonely.
We started with the idea of helping the elderly. However, that scope has expanded a lot in the past two weeks. We’ve helped the elderly and people with mental disabilities; bought N95 masks and food for medical staff at hospitals, refugees and poor families. Everyone needs help. We don’t discriminate against who we help. We’re a proud buffet.
Have you ever run anything like this before?
No, I have no experience in running an NGO. I think I was very naive [at first], but I have entrepreneurial experience, having started two businesses. That has helped. My only NGO-related experience is volunteering at my aunt’s Simply Help Organization
, which helps homeless seniors in South America and Central America. It left a lasting impression on me that doing something is better than not doing anything at all. It inspired me to try.
What challenges have you faced?
The three challenges that I’ve faced are getting people at risk to know about this initiative. Most elderly people and young children do not have a smartphone. We rely on word of mouth and partnering up with foundations. The second is getting businesses to donate products. Getting masks at a reasonable price has been a pain as well. Why are companies hoarding products while lives are in danger? It feels so wrong to value profits over lives. Lastly, with social-isolation, we really have to become creative in finding ways to limit interaction. How do we not interact with the elderly yet ensure they receive their care package? We have tried to improve our safety precautions each time. It’s never perfect, but at least we are helping.
How many donations have you received so far?
B93,000 since Mar 17.
How exactly are these used?
Every satang goes towards buying more care packages or funding things like buying masks for medical professionals. The basic package costs B125, but we spend more for families or those with severe cases. When a volunteer buys items for a care package, we reimburse them that same day. We will use a big chunk of the donations to help more than 300 senior citizens in Klong Toey this Friday. Diapers are expensive, and for 300 people, we need a lot of them!
How many people have you helped already?
Around 350, but that number will be 1,050 by Friday evening. On Friday, we will help 300 more senior citizens and 100 children (we partnered with the Child Advocacy Center). We will also provide 300 masks for the poor. My goal is to help 100,000 people. We know this is a marathon. Even once the country reopens again, there will be people who will still be suffering months after. We just need to provide support however we can.
Why is it important to be proactive, especially in Bangkok?
I think proactivity is better than feeling helpless in a situation anywhere in the world. Bangkok has such an entrepreneurial spirit. There is no food shortage and people are keen to help. It’s so refreshing to see both foreign and Thais contribute to the cause. It shows that we are all humans.
What do you think about Thailand’s response to the virus so far? Are we doing enough, too much, not enough?
There are flaws and unnecessary delays in how things were handled. We shouldn’t rely only on the government but on ourselves. This is the first time they are handling chaos like this. However, as a nation, we are lucky that we take care of each other and our elders. All we can do is to think about how we can help others who are less fortunate or need more support. I hope people will extend a hand so we can get through this together.
What can readers do to help?
On Friday, we will help over 300 elderly people (many of whom are on bed rest) and young kids in Klong Toey. If you know businesses that can sponsor us or if you wish to help there are four ways to get involved. Donate; any donation will help us help more people. We have just launched a crowdfunding campaign on Taejai.com
. Nominate; It can be a neighbor, someone you’ve seen or a foundation we should partner with. Volunteer; we need all the help we can get. Lastly, spread the word about the Covid Bangkok Aid initiative.