Battling the odds
The popular Sai Mai rescue services webpage has gone way beyond its original aim of helping locals during Covid, write Songdatchakorn Meewaen and Apichin Chitviriyakul
published : 6 Feb 2023 at 10:09
newspaper section: News
The Facebook page Sai Mai Tong Rod (Sai Mai District Must Survive) has gained fame locally for helping arrange emergency responses, bridging the gap between people in need and state authorities, especially the police.
As Covid-19 took hold in late 2019, Ekkaphop Luangprasert, a rescue volunteer, and eight friends founded the rescue community Facebook page.
"I started Sai Mai Tong Rod with my friends to help those in need," he said, adding: "Our job is to help people coordinate with state agencies for assistance and action."
It began as a small rescue page focused solely on a 44-square-kilometre area: Sai Mai, a district of Bangkok. The idea was to help get people to quarantine safely. However, the team eventually expanded to assist those in need from across the nation, said Mr Ekkaphop.
"Initially, we only focused on assisting people with Covid-19 concerns in the Sai Mai area, but after that, people came and ask for assistance with other issues as well," he said.
One example was when a woman sought help for her daughter who went missing after falling victim to human trafficking. "It turns out that the police were in cahoots with a human trafficking gang transporting people across the border. "At that moment, I realised that society is uninformed of many things, and I intended to reveal them," he said.
Over three years, according to Mr Ekkaphop, some 3,180 out of 3,540 reported cases have been solved with the team's involvement. "I didn't want people to focus too much on the number; my main goal was to make sure those in need get help," he said.
One recent case featured the rape of a 13-year-old girl by a drug-addict. Mr Ekkaphop took the victim to the police.
In July last year, Mr Ekkaphop helped file a complaint to the Anti-Trafficking Division on behalf of 50 Thai women duped by a South Korean job agency scheme, which drew interest from the public and the Ministry of Labour.
Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin warned the public in response that "when the victims arrived in the country, they'd be forced to do other jobs such as sex work or gambling jobs, and their passports would be seized".
Although the group has expanded the scope of its assistance, it still focuses on pandemic patients; during the peak of the pandemic in January 2022, the group transported Covid-19 patients to hospitels and performed ATK tests for Sai Mai townies who returned from other areas.
In July, the team also provided preliminary medical aid to people infected with the virus at the Ban Eua Arthon housing estate as hospitals struggled with an overload of patients, and helped find hospital beds for severe cases.
Mr Ekkaphop said one of his big concerns was with the call centre gang. "I want it to be on the agenda for parliament to fix: what I do is only treat the symptoms, not the root cause," he said.
The webpage administrator also highlighted flaws in the system, say bureaucracy should move faster because "people's hardships cannot wait for government agencies".
Mr Ekkaphop is also an assistant to Gp Capt Anudit Nakornthap, Sai Mai MP for the Pheu Thai Party. However, he says he has no interest in politics and does not intend to stand for office.
"That is not my intention, I just want to help people. "I want my page to be a role model for aiding society, encouraging those with connections and a volunteer mindset to step in, especially politicians."