Rocker's run can inspire a whole generation
Bodyslam singer Artiwara 'Toon' Kongmalai has captured Thai hearts with his 2,191km charity marathon, not least in the violence-plagued deep South
Bodyslam lead singer Artiwara "Toon" Kongmalai brought smiles, laughter and peace to people in the deep South when he spent the first five days of his longest charity run to raise funds for 11 public hospitals passing through several districts of Yala and Pattani, two of the three violence-plagued provinces in the region. His run started on Nov 1 and will end on Christmas Day.
Toon, the 38-year-old rocker, received a warm welcome from dozens of his fans and people from all of walks of life and all age groups who had waited to greet him along the way.
Some stood in front of their homes, farms, mosques, hospitals and schools for hours just to catch a glimpse of Toon and give him bottles of drinking water.
Broadcast and social media reported that many well-wishers and cheering locals asked Toon for selfies and offered donations.
Among them, several small children accompanied their parents to greet Toon and contribute from their own piggy banks towards new equipment for the 11 hospitals.
Toon paused along the way to greet people, shake hands and take selfies with them before they uploaded images and videos of the Samaritan rocker on their Facebook pages and Instagram accounts accompanied by sentimental hashtags and words of moral support.
On these social media platforms, I found many people describing how they felt when they saw Toon running tirelessly on scorching roads in the restive South where violence has been commonplace since 2004, claiming thousands of lives and injuring civilians, soldiers, police, civil servants and insurgents.
Over the past 13 years, violence has ravaged Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. Incidents have included bombings, the burning of houses and schools, and shootings that have all had a cumulative effect on the morale of locals, especially children who witnessed brutal incidents in their communities. Some people have become afraid even to go outside unless necessary, daring not to strike up new relations with people for fear of reprisals. They have lost faith and trust in one another.
However, when Toon ran through their locale, I did not hear any news report about violent attacks. Since the violence began 13 years ago, I have never seen such a moment of pure poetry in the region. Some people have dubbed him the "the peace ambassador".
Many residents, both Buddhist and Muslim, wished Toon luck and hoped that he succeeds on his longest charity run project.
Anucha Charoenpo is News Editor, Bangkok Post.
They were happier and more joyful than they have been in a very long time. Toon has already made history in the deep South with this charitable feat of endurance, and I am certain he will be remembered fondly there forever more.
Toon accommodated the people's requests, even though his medical team has asked them to wait at checkpoints so that their euphoric embraces would not pose a risk of minor injuries or force him to repeatedly stop and start on his quest.
Toon said he was willing to pause along the way to greet members of the public and take selfies with them because he wanted to make them happy and laugh.
He added that this once a once-in-a-lifetime event for both himself and the people he was encountering on his journey, and he just wanted to create a lasting memory of the event for everyone along the way.
Toon has so far received more than 150 million baht in donations for hospitals from his marathon 2,191-kilometre charity run from Yala's Betong district in southernmost Thailand to Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district in the farthest north of the country.
He began his run in Betong on Nov 1 and expects to arrive in Mae Sai on Dec 25.
He is determined to complete the longest run of his life and hopes to raise up to 700 million baht to devote to his noble cause.
Since he started the run, many people have taken part in helping to make the project a success. Army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad ordered his soldiers in the deep South to help facilitate the run, and he also gave Toon moral support with his strong words of support.
Back in December 2016, Toon undertook his first charity run, a 400-kilometre, 10-day marathon from Suankularb Wittayalai School in Bangkok to Bang Saphan Hospital in Prachuap Khiri Khan, receiving 85 million baht in donations in the process.
He said he organised that charity run project to inspire people to realise the importance of physical exercise and good health in the hope of spreading the idea that prevention is better than cure. His aim was to alleviate some of the strain currently placed on hospitals by people who haven't looked after themselves as well as they might have.
I have closely monitored every step the rocker has taken since he kicked off this second drive to raise funds for 11 hospitals nationwide. They are Yala Hospital, Surat Thani Hospital, Ratchaburi Hospital, Chaophraya Yommarat Hospital (in Suphan Buri), Saraburi Hospital, Khon Kaen Hospital, Chaopraya Abhaiphubejhr Hospital (in Prachin Buri), Nakornping Hospital (in Chiang Mai), Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital, Nan Hospital and Phramongkutklao Hospital (in Bangkok).
I admire his commitment to helping society as well as his spirit and thoughtfulness. His resilience, courage, determination, strength and public-mindedness should be a lesson to us all.
Moreover, I praise Toon's parents and teachers for their role in raising him to act not only for the good of his of life but also for the benefit of other people and Thai society as a whole. With this legendary feat, I'm sure Toon will become even more of a role model for the young and hopefully inspire others to dedicate themselves to helping their communities in a similar fashion.
Bangkok Post News Editor
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