Being human

Behind the sultry, bad girl persona of actress/model Praya “Pu” Lundberg beats the heart of a compassionate young women who desires to make a difference in the lives of people who don’t have the means to return the favour.

The straight talking, no-nonsense Thai/Swedish soap star has always supported charitable objectives, but up till last year, never gone out of her way to personally volunteer for a social cause. 

After reading about the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in the news, she wrote to the UNHCR’s (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) Thailand office about her desire to lend a helping hand, the rest is history. 

As a leading television actress, whose famous link-ups, love life and rebellious nature are unfortunately more often documented than her down-to-earth side, Praya comes across as a well-rounded personality and an eloquent speaker.

“On my return to Bangkok [from studying in England] a couple of years ago, I realised that there were a lot of social issues in the world, not just about refugees but others, that people in my position could do something about. I have the ability to sell products, people endorse me to sell their products. Apart from that, we also have a voice to enlighten issues in society and bring people to be aware of them,” said the 26-year-old.

“Then a year ago the news of the Rohingya dominated the news, it was very traumatising to see people facing such atrocities. There were cases of rape and people being injured, while others were separated from families and had lost loved ones. I couldn’t imagine having to go through anything like that.

“I felt disturbed by what I saw, so I Googled organisations that worked directly with refugees. The UNHCR was the first one that popped up. I went into the Contact Us section and introduced myself, penning a paragraph about how I felt and if they had time to reach me. The next day they called. After our phone conversation, I was invited to their office to discuss how I could help. A year later here I am speaking with the media to drum up support for the welfare of refugees who have left their homeland due to all sorts of persecution,” she added.

Ever since becoming UNHCR Thailand’s “high-profile supporter”, Praya, whose role model is her Thai mother, has taken the initiative to speak to the public on a number of occasions about the plight of refugees and how everyone can do their bit to contribute to their welfare. She acknowledged that while her efforts have so far borne some fruit, there was still a lot ahead to accomplish.

One of Praya’s main responsibility is fund-raising. Having visited refugee camps and observed for herself their suffering, she deduced long-term donations were required to enable them to have basic health care, education, food and shelter. She also uses personal contacts to raise awareness.  

The UNHCR-initiated “Namjai for Refugees” campaign is the latest drive to showcase the refugee predicament that Praya, together with other seven high-profile Thai personalities from the arts and entertainment world, are involved in. They have teamed up to create artworks to raise funds for refugees in Thailand. The public can pick their favourite team and support the campaign by visiting www.unhcr.or.th.

Praya, who describes herself as being eclectic, credits her passion for reading for her grounded knowledge of the refugee situation sweeping the globe.

“News of refugees fleeing their countries is huge and is a global predicament. A lot of people say it does not hit close to home, it has nothing to do with them, so why should they bother getting involved with helping them. I beg to differ,” she said.

“As I view it, they are human and we are the human race. We need to have humanity, that is how we will survive the generations ahead. I decided to volunteer because I saw these people weren’t being helped. I wanted to do something more than just donate, even though donations are the backbone of their ability to survive.”

Praya seems grateful for having the opportunity to meet enthusiastic grassroots level staff that have dedicated their life to a social cause that is close to heart.

Speaking like a true social advocate, she remarked that working with organisations like UNHCR makes one question why people are put on Earth. For her, the answer to that is to better humanity. She doesn’t endorse the theory that the human race’s sole purpose on Earth is to accumulate material goods, but rather to work together to preserve nature and humanity.

When Praya was asked how she developed a passion for the less fortunate, she ran her fingers through her hair, saying: “I probably can’t pinpoint one reason. However, I do think it could be because I am a compassionate person. My parents and maternal grandmother are compassionate people.

“However, there was nothing in my life that made me more sympathetic to the plight of people in distress. I come from a rather privileged background, I studied at an international school and have had a diverse education.

“I started working from a young age, but that was out of personal choice. However, I work in an industry that is about vanity, and from a young age I felt that it was very competitive and that suited me fine. When I returned from my studies in England, I found there was so much more to life than being the most successful actress or person with the most endorsements.”

Deciding to raise awareness through her celebrity status gives her a sense of deep satisfaction.   

“I felt it would be sad to throw away the privileges I have as an actress. An actress has a lot of power in saying things, we have the press in our hands,” Praya said. “We have so many communicative tools in front of us. It would be a shame to throw it all away by not stepping out of your comfort zone to help the less fortunate. It is really about being aware of the needs around you and to get up and do something about it.”

However, dealing with negative press is always a bummer. Part of society questions whether her dedication towards refugees is a front. Praya doesn’t seem fazed over such accusations, because  primarily she does not give two hoots about how people judge her. 

“When you are doing a good deed, and you know others will benefit from it, you do it with a clean heart,” she said. “Deep down in your heart you know it makes you feel good and others as well. That is when you no longer care what anyone else thinks. By making others happy, I am happy.”

Praya said life for her is about being happy. For the moment, this is derived from the feelings and experiences she encounters from helping refugees. Giving is an act which comes with a deeper sense of fulfilment than achieving monetary success, she reiterated. 

“Visiting the refugee camp was a memorable moment for me. Watching their smiles, the hospitality and warm vibes will stay with me for a lifetime,” Praya revealed.

“Such life-altering encounters will never fade away, and whenever I think of it, it will definitely put a smile on my face.

“A car and house will one day become antiquated, making us unhappy, but moments we share with people that we help will always make us feel good. You live for moments like these.”

Praya Lundberg.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Yvonne Bohwongprasert
Position: Senior writer