Doing it for the kids

Teenager Martin Brekke is creating smiles for disadvantaged children

Teenager Martin Brekke has proven through his life that where there's a will there's a way. A burning desire to tangibly assist Thai children in need of medical attention played a pivotal role in a joint effort by both his family and himself to establish Kids Action for Kids _ an independent organisation that raises funds to aid children with facial deformities, cleft lips and cleft palates _ since 2009.

An 11th grader at the International School of Bangkok (ISB), Brekke says he has always had a passion for community service. He attributes his strong desire to help unfortunate people to his family upbringing, Norwegian culture and school, where he devotes much of his free time assisting in charitable projects.

Like most 17-year-olds, he leads an active social and academic life, putting in 20-25 hours of swimming practise a week. He is also passionate about travelling, which he does to experience cultures and traditions different from his own.

Having resided with his close-knit family in Thailand for most of his young life, Brekke comes across as a go-getter with a heart for the downtrodden. He explained how it all started for him, saying: "It was on a sixth grade class field trip to Mae Sot [Tak province] that I had the opportunity to see for myself how by paying 15,000 baht, considered not that big an amount of money, an operation on a cleft lip or cleft palate could drastically change the life of a child whose family doesn't have the financial means to pay for it. I returned from this trip inspired to help.

"I got my school clubs involved and when I went for my summer break to Norway, I spoke with my cousins about how we could collectively help to raise money to support such cases through the Operation Smile foundation.

"Community service is not new to me and my family. In the past, my cousins helped us to generate funds for the renovation of Phayathai Babies Home in 2007 by setting up fun activities at a flea market.

"This time around it was no different. We put our young minds together to find ways to generate funds to pay for patients with little financial means [to have] an operation on their cleft lip or cleft palate."

After deciding to work with Operation Smile, Brekke said they decided to join hands with dtac, which they had prior connections with, to work out a deal with them whereby every baht they made, dtac would match the same amount to pay for operations.

Concurrently, they launched the Kids Action for Kids organisation, which is officially registered in Norway, with friends and family which have worked largely in Norway to raise funds.

For Brekke, hard work paid rich dividends in the first year when they were able to raise enough support to pay for 15 operations, with dtac matching for another 15, bringing the total to 30. Since 2009, a total of 300 cases have been addressed.

Share a couple of your most memorable fund-raising moments.

Once I organised a triathlon for charity with two friends. We made it a little bit funny by putting on costumes, and after the swimming event, we made it a must that everyone eats four Big Mac sets.

To add a bit more fun to it, we wore costumes and walked around the school requesting people to sponsor either one of us for 20 baht. If I managed to get more money than my friend, I would automatically get a head start in the race.

We think it is rather dull to just walk around and ask for donations. Instead, we try to make it more fun and interesting. Three teenage boys running around in dresses and skirts can generate a lot of attention, so we decided to try it out.

As it was for a good cause many people turned out to see us. We could raise 75,000 baht from staging a four-day event, which we did last year. We felt that was fantastic, with just a few boys running around.

This shows that it is possible to do so many different things to raise funds if you desire to help, and the kids can also get involved.

What inspires you to keep going?

Charity work has always been part of my life from since I can remember. However, what keeps me going is the personal satisfaction of being able to help someone.

There have been numerous encounters I have had that keep me going. Once when I was on a mission with a group to conduct cleft lip/cleft palate surgeries, one of the kids who had previously had surgery with our organisation the year before had also come to thank us for changing his life.

Prior to his surgery, his life was a mess because he was totally dependent on his mother to help him. Not only could he not eat properly, he had problems speaking.

To make things worse, he had few friends in school. His mother had to be there to assist him with basically everything.

In the little English that he knew, he said thank you very much and explained how thankful he was for having a new life after the surgery.

This was a memorable moment for me, and is what keeps me going.

How much of a support have your parents been so far?

They have been very supportive because they also believe it's a good cause. My parents have passed on to me Norwegian values that emphasise the need to give back to the less fortunate, and that community service is extremely important, and is what truly drives societies forward.

What future goals do you have for this project?

We set goals every year with dtac to raise money for such surgeries, so people in need continue to get help. This year we hope to raise enough funds to help 130 new cases.

I've also set a personal goal for myself to never drop this cause, and keep it going as long as long as I can. I always push myself to find time in my life for it. It is my desire to see more children get involved.

We want to keep the organisation small, we don't want to pay people for administration costs as we want to keep it 100% for the surgeries. So we don't expect to branch out.


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About the author

Writer: Yvonne Bohwongprasert
Position: Senior writer