|CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP
His Majesty braves the elements whenever help is needed.
Once a street dog, Thong Daeng was adopted by His Majesty to be a royal pet.
Kofi Annan presents His Majesty with the first UNDP Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award.
When UN Secretary General Kofi Annan presented His
Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyadej of Thailand with the first
UNDP Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award
two weeks ago, he said, "If human development is about
putting people first, there can be no better advocate for it
than His Majesty. As the world's 'Development King', His
Majesty reached out to the poorest and the most vulnerable
people of Thailand, listened to their problems, and
empowered them to take their lives into their own hands,"
said Mr Annan.
His words could not have rung more true. For six decades, not a single day has passed in which the Thai people have not felt His Majesty’s dedication to the poor, the vulnerable, the sick, the young, the aged and those faceless people on the street, and this affectionate bond between the 79- year-old King and his 62 million subjects grows stronger every day.
His Majesty the King is overwhelmingly admired not only as a sovereign but as a saviour whose dedication has maintained national stability, given the nation dignity in the eyes of the world and improved the livelihoods of the poor, ethnic minorities, and others who have been marginalised by mainstream society.
Be they rural or urban, literate or illiterate, young or old, the King's subjects all express their affection for their sovereign in one way or another. Some enshrine the King's portrait on an altar. Others show their support by wearing a “Tong Daeng” T-shirt (Tong Daeng is His Majesty's favourite dog) or a “We Love Our King” wristband.
Products like books, T-shirts and wristbands that have been sold to raise money for the King's charities have become bestsellers. The phenomenon only reconfirms the enduring and ever-increasing popularity of the "Father of the Nation" among his people.
"The public has strong faith in His Majesty because he is a giver," Dr Sumet Tantivejkul, secretary-general of the Chaipattana Foundation, explained. "Throughout his hardworking life, His Majesty has done all he could do for the people without asking anything in return. If a problem arose in the country, His Majesty would not be reluctant to work for a solution whether it is human, social, political or scientific. He would do it all, as long as it relates to his country."
Perhaps what makes this great King larger than life is his down-to-earth disposition. Those who have been to the King's residential palaces have often expressed their awe over his physical surroundings. What impresses them is not the grandeur or extravagance but the simplicity of the spaces he inhabits.
Rather than adding to the glamour of Chitralada Palace, His Majesty added a fish pool, a rice mill and a dairy farm. Rather than ordering the construction of a fancy garden at Klaikangwol Palace in Hua Hin, His Majesty permits students from Klaikangwol School to grow vegetables in the flowerbeds. Instead of raising a canine with a foreign pedigree, His Majesty adopted a street dog.
"In his lofty status, His Majesty can afford anything he desires, but he chooses to live a simple and frugal life," said ML Usni Pramoj, a privy councillor. "There is nothing luxurious in his palace. How he lives and eats are as simple as you and I live or eat. Nothing exquisite. Nothing excessive. There has never been a time that I have seen the King indulge himself in needless luxury. Actually, a lot of rich men these days live a far more lavish lifestyle than does our King."
His Majesty's simple lifestyle, Dr Sumet said, epitomises the notion that those who have attained the zenith of wisdom have fewer material needs in life. "Yet, what is abundant for them is virtue. But then a good man without wisdom might not be able to contribute as much."
His Majesty's virtue and wisdom have helped to create a vision for rural development that has saved millions of people from misery and the country from numerable crises.
During the fifth and sixth decades of his reign, His Majesty the King has crystallised his philosophy of effective development. New, revolutionary concepts referred to as New Theory and the Theory of Self Sufficiency have been hailed as solutions to the country's economic problems.
THE FIFTH DECADE: 1986-1995
By the beginning of the fifth decade of His Majesty's reign, older established projects had progressed by leaps and bounds and hundreds of new initiatives were being launched each year in conjunction with the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board (RDPB).
With RDPB assistance in coordinating the involvement of the appropriate government agencies, His Majesty's visualisations have been made reality. The intense and directed activity has had a tremendous effect on rural development. Still, as a government agency, the RDPB is restricted by bureaucratic rules and regulations that leave little flexibility in budgetary allocation and in providing aid in times of emergency.
"In order to fix this shortcoming, His Majesty established a non-governmental organisation to support the RDPB, particularly with governmental projects that are bound by rules and regulations, which may delay their timely implementation," Dr Sumet said.
The NGO, called the Chaipattana Foundation, meaning the "Victory of Development", was established in 1988 to coincide with the celebration of His Majesty the King's term as the longest reigning monarch in Thai history — two years longer than King Chulalongkorn's 41 years spent on the throne.
His Majesty the King took command as foundation president and HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn was appointed as executive chairperson. From its inception, the Chaipattana Foundation has served society by providing dynamic, innovative and prompt action in response to the urgent needs of the public.
Located in Huai Bong subdistrict of Saraburi province, the foundation’s first agricultural mission centre has allowed officials and farmers to work together to solve problems of agricultural development.
The Chaipattana aerator created by His Majesty the King was launched via the foundation as well. The low-cost, locally made Chaipattana aerator oxygenates stagnant water, making it habitable for living creatures. In 1989, the first model of the oxygen-enhancing aerator was installed for trial at Phra Mongkutklao Hospital and Wat Bowon Niwet Vihara.
The aerator has been continually improved and refined. At present, nine models have been developed. One of them, the Chaipattana Aerator Model RX-2, was patented under His Majesty's name in 1993. His Majesty's brainchild, the Chaipattana aerator is lauded for its innovative design, minimum technological investment and provision of maximum oxygenation to polluted water.
His Majesty does not, however, laud technology as the solution to every problem. In fact, modern technology is often his last resort.
"Rather than seek a technologically-based solution, His Majesty would prefer to give priority to the application of local wisdom to solve a problem while incurring relatively little cost," Dr Sumet said.
|LEFT TO RIGHT:
A huge crowd turns up to mark the Kanjanapisek Golden Jubilee in 1996.
His Majesty came up with the idea of using vetiver grass to prevent soil erosion.
Thais line up to buy Thong Daeng books and t-shirts.
His Majesty speaks to
officials about irrigation.
His Majesty is an expert on Thailand’s geography and topography.
His Majesty’s accumulated knowledge is vast.
An inspection of Klong Makkasan.
His Majesty examines a model of the elevated road over Borom Ratchonnanee Road in Taling Chan.
Developing solutions to the problem of flooding in Bangkok.
"His Majesty's solution to the problem of soil erosion is
a perfect example of this. Where technocrats would have
employed heavy equipment such as tractors to construct
erosion-preventing borders for terraced rice fields, His
Majesty grew vetiver grass. Tractors are a costly technology.
They consume oil and waste the limited resources of the
farmers. Vetiver grass is grown naturally and costs almost
The use of vetiver as a "living wall" to prevent soil erosion was tested in Pa Hadtsai Yai in Pran Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan province. The grass has proved to be cost effective and soil enriching. Easily grown, vetiver grass reduces the speed of water runoff, traps silt and prevents gully erosion. It also prevents water-borne soil and toxic substances from flowing into the groundwater.
His Majesty's use of vetiver grass for soil and water conservation earned him prestigious awards in 1993 from the International Erosion Control Association (IECA) and from the World Bank.
According to Dr Sumet, His Majesty believes in empowering people so that they can stand on their own two feet. His Majesty calls this process of empowerment "a burst from within". Community is strengthened, given the capacity to select appropriate mechanisms for change, while holding on to time tested and useful methods for surviving and prospering.
"Let them grow,” said Dr Sumet of His Majesty’s vision. “Wait until they are well prepared to take the next step of development. If one throws anything into their community — money, road access or technology — too much and too soon, the process of steady progress will be interrupted or spoiled completely. Villagers who have never seen a huge amount of money will use it on superfluous endeavours until they are left with nothing."
While others start by setting up a hypothesis — a theory that they assume and start working to the final solution — "His Majesty works the other way around,’’ said Dr Sumet. “With profound experiences made through trial and error, His Majesty gathers information first and then analyses, synthesizes and crystallises it into a theory that is effective."
His Majesty has revolutionised a new approach to development crystallised from nearly 50 years of experience actively engaged in development practice. He calls it the "The New Theory". He delivered a comprehensive definition of his concept to the Cabinet, government officials and the public in his 1994 birthday address. In it, he outlined a three-part agricultural plan designed to serve as a guideline for farmers to achieve self sufficiency.
The first stage operates at the individual level. Here, His Majesty stresses income diversification through division of each individual family plot to support a variety of economic activities. The ratio of 30:30:30:10 represents the rough proportions of land that should be allocated for a pond, a rice field, fruit and vegetable patches, and housing, animals' quarters and other purposes, respectively.
The nature of this numeric recipe shows His Majesty's inventiveness. Rather than being an inflexible set of instructions to follow verbatim, the 30:30:30:10 prescription takes the form of an adaptable strategy for farm and household management. Whereas cash crop farmers generally get paid only once or at most twice a year when they sell their produce to the market, farmers applying the New Theory can draw on diverse sources of income, with money coming in more frequently as different crops mature.
Also, he proposed a three-tiered irrigation system that utilises individual ponds, a community reservoir and a larger basin. These small and medium-scale water storage facilities act as "rain water regulators". When the water level drops too low in one of the water collection facilities, it is replenished from the next one up through extensive pipeline systems.
The next two stages of the New Theory scheme reflect His Majesty's holistic thinking. After each individual is empowered, His Majesty advocates shifting focus to the strengthening of the entire community and then to collaboration with sectors outside the community. The second phase proposes that farmers form themselves into groups or cooperatives to help one another in the areas of production, marketing, education, social welfare and development and religion.
The third and last stage envisions fair and equal partnerships between the private sector and the community. The King is hopeful that farmers, with their collective bargaining power, will no longer suffer from price manipulation when selling their produce or buying the consumer products they need.
Most farmers who have adopted His Majesty's New Theory approach of farming have experienced a signifi- cant improvement in their livelihood and financial security.
"Now I have fewer expenses, since most of what I eat comes from my own farm. I have to buy fish sauce, salt and a couple of other things I can't make myself, but that is all," Jantaphoon Sipamai, a farmer in Kalasin, said. Others expressed their gratitude not only for a new-found wealth but for a life philosophy as well.
Self-sufficiency is not just a matter of having enough to eat. According to farmer Wiboon Khemchalerm, when farmers become clear-headed, they often acquire a better insight into their own lives. He describes this process as sammaditthi( right understanding). Called the Eightfold Noble Path in Buddhism, it is a key element leading to the end of suffering.
"I think the main obstacle obstructing 'development' is that we run after desires all the time," Wiboon said. "We've been led to believe that life will become perfect if only we possess this and that. But in reality, it's never so."
Sawai Panyoyai, a Chiang Mai farmer who has switched to growing pesticide-free vegetables, explains that he may be making less money than before, but his family and community now enjoy better health and a more peaceful way of life.
"Before, my wife had to see the doctor every year," said Sawai. "Now things are much better, and our community no longer suffers from the effects of toxic residues. Our lives are much happier and more secure."
In the field of education, His Majesty revolutionised learning by bringing the classroom to the living room. By broadcasting teachers live on television, His Majesty has exposed more than two million people to distance learning education. The Distance Learning Foundation, launched on his birthday on December 5, 1995, now reaches 2,700 schools in Bangkok, and over 3,000 schools nationwide. It also reaches an additional two million people from neighbouring Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Vietnam.
|LEFT TO RIGHT:
The New Theory focuses on self-sufficiency for farmers.
When drought hit vast areas of the country in 2005, His Majesty personally commanded rain-making operations.
Sustenance in one’s own backyard is the philosophy behind the New Theory.
The King’s Rajaprajanugroh Foundation reached out to the victims of the tsunami.
|His Majesty the King has explored every nook and cranny of Thailand in order to gain understanding of the country’s needs.|
THE SIXTH DECADE: 1996-2006
The sixth decade of His Majesty's reign began with the unexpected and dramatic collapse of the economy following a rapid devaluation of the baht. Millions of Thais lost their jobs. Others were heavily indebted. The illusory affluent society crashed and hit rock bottom.
When the King first unveiled the comprehensive New Theory during his birthday speeches in 1994 and 1995, most listeners tended to interpret it superficially as a presentation of ideas suited only to assist backward farmers.
In the midst of the ongoing economic crisis, His Majesty's concepts seemed to be getting wider publicity, though not necessarily understanding.
Both the New Theory and self-sufficiency theory became instant buzzwords following his royal speeches in 1997 and 1998. Demonstration plots adorned with ponds that were precisely uniform in size and shape materialised nationwide as showcases of royaldevised farming techniques.
Millions of baht in funding, much of it borrowed from overseas, were donated in an attempt to translate the King's ideas into action. Politicians immediately incorporated the buzzwords "self reliance" and "sustainability" into their campaign platforms. In academic and business circles there was enthusiastic debate about a self-sufficient economy. Advertising campaigns on television and radio blared messages about the new approach to farming and managing the economy. In an article entitled "Selfsufficiency and Sustainable Development", Professor Saneh Chamarik emphasised the need to evaluate the concept of selfsufficiency from a holistic and integrated perspective.
"Shall we think about this self-sufficient economy as just another technique — an ad hoc measure for the times of currency devaluation, financial bankruptcy, soaring unemployment, poverty, and a host of other social problems — while waiting in belief that the economy will pick up and resume along the same path it followed?" the well-respected scholar asked.
"Or should we seriously carry out this concept as the principle of a genuine reform leading to sustainability? In fact, underlying the economic war we are witnessing now is a battle of ideologies."
In retrospect, His Majesty's proposals contain a succinct critique of dominant economic development strategies. From a Buddhist perspective, His Majesty's vision provides a fresh and intriguing diagnosis of what it was that brought Thailand to a state of crisis. Embedded in the analysis is a set of solutions that can help to alleviate the mass suffering that has afflicted much of society.
"I have repeatedly said that striving to become a 'tiger' is not our main concern," said His Majesty on December 4, 1997. "What's important for us is to have a decent standard of living and suffi- cient food to eat, as well as to maintain a self-sufficient economy. The key word, 'sufficient', here implies that one should aim at becoming self-reliant."
Basically, the New Theory with its philosophy of self-sufficiency differs from the mainstream thinking in three fundamental ways. First, His Majesty points out that the root cause of problems has more to do with worldviews than economic factors.
Second, the monarch's public emphasis on small-scale farming implies that restoring and maintaining the strength of the agricultural sector is a necessary condition for reversing the current economic downturn. And, finally, the idea of self-suffi- ciency indicates that the local community must attain a certain degree of financial autonomy before they enter the market economy.
As he emphasised self-reliance, His Majesty also explored potential alternative energy sources. In 1986, His Majesty set up a small refinery at Chitralada Palace to produce gasohol, a mix of petrol and methyl alcohol produced from plant-based resources. Continuous research has been jointly carried out with the Petroleum Authority of Thailand. Gasohol finally hit the market in 2005 at the same time as sharp rises in oil prices were shaking the market.
Another pilot project was launched in the year 2000 to experiment with the substitution of diesel fuel with pure palm oil at a prototype factory at Au Luek, Krabi province. The test was satisfactory and findings show that pure palm oil could provide a viable substitute for between 1 and 1.5 tonnes of diesel fuel a day. On the urban front, His Majesty launched several initiatives aimed at alleviating Bangkok's severe traffic problem. Among them were planned expansions of Ratchadapisek and Ratchadamnoen Nok roads.
One of the most successful projects was the construction of an elevated highway along the Boromratchonnanee Road, which was completed in two years (1996-1998), a record time for a project of that scale. The upper-level road is now handling about 6,000 cars a day, while the ground-level road has a handling capacity of between 60,000 and 70,000 cars a day.
When The Story of Mahajanaka, written by His Majesty the King, was released in 1996, it was noted that the metaphoric messages of the story held a special and timely relevance to the recent economic downturn. Scholars and social thinkers noted that the royal literary piece provided important guidelines for living in a society seemingly driven by greed, anger and ignorance. The story reinforces the King's visions of self-reliance and his formula for economic self sufficiency.
The Story of Mahajanaka is based on a jataka, a Buddhist religious tale from the Holy Tripitaka. It is a story about perseverance, one of the 10 principal virtues practised by a Bodhisattva, King Mahajanaka, and how it brought progress and prosperity to the city of Mithila.
"Every time I read this book, I don't just see King Mahajanaka," former prime minister Anand Panyarachun said. "I see the story as an allegory of His Majesty's life and missions. Our King has built his baramee [charisma] through his deeds. The basis of what has led His Majesty to the right and noble path are his patience and perseverance."
Mahajanaka's deeds, said the former prime minister, parallel His Majesty's in that both show us that fighting obstacles, whatever they are, must begin with pure perseverance, not praying for luck or help from deities. "His Majesty has done this every day, for his people's benefit."
The public expressed their appreciation of the King and his message by turning the book into a bestseller.
In February 2002, the public once again demonstrated its love for the monarch by rushing out to buy a T-shirt displaying a picture taken by His Majesty of his pet dog, Tong Daeng, and her litter of puppies. Public demand for the Tong Daeng T-shirt was ignited with the release of a picture of His Majesty and members of the royal family all wearing the shirt as they accompanied His Majesty home from Siriraj Hospital after undergoing prostate surgery. Ten months after the T-shirt was launched, the Tong Daeng polo shirt broke all sales records as 300,000 were sold almost overnight.
Apparently, the fact that His Majesty adopted a humble stray puppy as the royal pet dog touched the heart of the general public so much that when His Majesty wrote a book called The Story of Tong Daeng, late in 2002, it once again became a best-selling item with 200,000 copies of the animated version being sold in a single day.
In the book, His Majesty praises Tong Daeng's traits of gratefulness and respectfulness as "different from many others who, after having become important personalities, might treat with contempt someone of lower status who, in fact, should be the object of gratitude."
By adopting Tong Daeng, a puppy born in the street near the Medical Development Centre Clinic in Bangkok's Wang Thonglang district, His Majesty showed that with a little help, stray dogs can be taught all the commendable qualities one could expect from any pet.
"Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners, as if they are grateful for the kindness they receive. Moreover, they are not inferior to imported dogs in intelligence. Some are attractive or have a distinctive smart look, like Tong Daeng," he wrote.
The King added that if the authorities helped, more people would be willing to adopt the numerous strays roaming the country. In 2004, marathon cyclist Lance Armstrong, who has seven Tour de France wins under his belt despite being a cancer victim, began wearing a yellow wristband as part of his "Live Strong" cancer awareness campaign. Knock-off copies of the wrist bands started to appear in Thailand almost immediately as fashion accessories and to support various campaigns. The bestseller by far in Thailand have the words "We Love Our King" printed on it. One million wristbands benefiting the King's charity sold out almost immediately, raising a record 100 million baht within a few weeks.
Although in his late seventies, His Majesty is far from retiring from his commitment to help his subjects. According to Dr Sumet, with the help of modern technology, His Majesty still closely monitors over 3,000 projects administered under the Royal Development Project Board and keeps tabs on situations that might affect the well being of the general public.
His Majesty's contributions over the six decades of his reign go far beyond what would be required of any monarch. His Rajaprachanukroh Foundation was among the first organisations to reach the 2004 tsunami victims, especially orphaned children. When the drought devastated farmlands in 2005, His Majesty took command of rain-making operations and greatly alleviated the effects of the drought.
This year, following the disasterous floods in the North, His Majesty's Rajaprachanukroh Foundation has, in addition to providing other immediate relief, taken in young orphans who lost their parents in the tragedy.
The meaning of the name Mahajanaka is "Great Father". Like the main character in The Story of Mahajanaka, said Dr Prawase, "His Majesty is the great father of the Thai people."
His Majesty’s vision in rural development has steered government officials in the right direction.
HM the King’s Chaipattana Aerator effectively alleviates water pollution at a low cost.
Despite his royal status, His Majesty sets a good example for others with his plain clothing and camera that he uses for work.