Driven to succeed

Driven to succeed

A group of taxi drivers have turned their lives around on the tenets of good morals and dhamma

Life was once at an abyss for taxi driver Chitra Wangamonmit. She used to be a small-scale wholesaler for a popular energy drink. Her business collapsed when the company changed its production policy.

With all her savings gone, the pressure was taking its toll on her family. She couldn't talk to her two teenage children without a fight.

“There was no time to prepare when the business went bad. All of a sudden I had nothing. I was so desperate. I decided to sell two pickup trucks that I used in my business to pay for a deposit on a taxi. All I think of was how to survive,” she recalled.

Phra Pailin Siriwattano, the new abbot of Wat Sanghathan, standing, carries on the Moral Taxi Project to improve the lives of taxi drivers. PHOTOS: TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD

Driving a taxi is tough work that created plenty of stress for the mother of two. Then someone she knew introduced to her a “moral taxi” project initiated by Wat Sanghathan in Nonthaburi.

The project, a brainchild of the temple's late abbot, Luangpor Sanong Katapunyo, encourages participating taxi drivers to stay away from sins  -  smoking, drinking and gambling  -  and to follow the Lord Buddha's dharma guidance.

The temple also sponsors two-day meditation courses for those who join the project, aimed at producing morally-conscious taxi club members.

“I was really not a religious type, but decided to give it a try,” the 55-year-old driver beamed.

After attending a dharma camp in which she observed the eight precepts and meditated, her life turned over a new leaf.

From dharma, she attained level-headedness which helps ease pressure in the family. Her children behave and, with better communication, there is no more family bickering. She is also more financially secure.

Other club members attest to improvements in their lives since they joined the project.

Member Charoen Suwannathong said proudly that he used to earn a living as a tuk-tuk driver. After he joined the club, he was able to save some of his earnings and could afford to buy a taxi.

“The late abbot had great compassion for us taxi drivers. When he set up the project five years ago, he wanted us to have a better life and improve our well-being materially and spiritually,” Mr Charoen said.

Chitra Wangamonmit, a member of the Moral Taxi Club at Wat Sanghathan in Nonthaburi. Dhamma has enriched her life since she joined the club four years ago.

Since the abbot died last year, his successor, Luang Por Pailin, has continued the project.

By kicking the habits of smoking, drinking and gambling, members have cleared themselves of debts. By sticking to dharma, they find true peace in themselves.

The club members meet at the temple every month for a tor boon (continuing merit) ceremony. They also hand over donations made by passengers in the past month.

“We leave a monk's alms bowl in our taxi, and when we tell passengers about our club, most want to make merit with us by depositing a one-baht coin in the bowl. We offer the donation to the temple at the tor boon ceremony. The donation helps pay for the temple's utility bills,” member Saiyood Nootcharoen said.

Mr Saiyood said passengers are impressed by the club members' honesty.

Outstanding members will have their names posted in the temple's media channels that passengers can visit.

There are nearly 1,400 Moral Taxi Club members now, including more than 200 women. Some club members have attended a first-aid workshop, organised in collaboration with Ramathibodi Hospital.

The workshop, which began in 2010, enables drivers to deal properly with emergency situations such as pregnant passengers entering labour, and help those suffering from sudden illnesses in their taxis.

“Without such a workshop, we would be reluctant to take sick passengers.

“One of my colleagues helped deliver a baby in his cab successfully,” Mr Saiyood said.

“At the club, we treat one another like brothers and sisters. We set up a fund to help members who are sick,” Ms Chitra said.

As the club membership grows, plans are afoot to introduce a zoning system where member taxis agree not to drive too far from their homes to find customers.

This can save on fuel and leave more money in drivers' pockets, she said.

Phra Warin Narinto, who oversees the Moral Taxi project, said the good that each member performs as a club member is the real dividend of the project.

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