Moving forward by giving back
Late founder of 'Thai Rath' remembered for his dedication to improving access to education
A common man from humble beginnings, Kamphol Vacharaphol, has attained a place in Unesco's pantheon of world-famous figures.
Back in 2017, he was named by Unesco as an eminent personality of the world for his role in promoting education and developing journalism in Thailand. Kamphol's nomination was also backed by Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam.
He was lauded by the organisation as an individual of great importance for his role in establishing the Thairath Vithaya School network and the Thairath Foundation.
Kamphol, who passed away in 1996, devoted the last part of his life to promoting access to formal education for those living in Thailand's remote, rural areas.
He did this by building schools in Thailand's 76 provinces. His work continues to provide opportunities for many people to learn -- a total of 111 schools now form the Thairath Vithaya School network.
He introduced civic studies as a school subject, along with media literacy, in an effort to promote a sense of civic responsibility.
Kamphol is the only Thai national to be honoured by Unesco in the field of education and journalism. To date, 28 Thais have been recognised by the organisation for their contributions to various fields.
On Aug 19, privy councillor Surayud Chulanont, representing His Majesty the King, presided over a ceremony held to honour Kamphol's recognition by Unesco at Thai Rath's head office on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road.
The "Kamphol Vacharaphol Hall of Fame" was also opened on the same day.
At the event, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said, "Kamphol's monuments are everywhere."
"They aren't statues or pictures, but the 111 Thairath Vithaya schools, Thai Rath's publishing house, Thai Rath newspapers on newsstands across the nation, and the inscription of his name at Unesco's Paris headquarters.
"Those are all monuments to his achievements."
He was a self-made man who came from a humble family background in Samut Sakhon, said Mr Wissanu.
As a child, Kamphol spent a lot of time on a boat with his parents, rice traders who plied their trade along the area's canals and rivers.
His parents could only afford to send him to school until Prathom 4 level, but Kamphol was always very keen to learn new things, said Mr Wissanu.
When he turned 21, Kamphol served in the navy and was recruited to fight in the Indochina War, and then in World War II.
After WWII, he left the navy and began his journalistic career as a reporter at Lak Thai newspaper in 1947, before launching his own newspaper Khaopap (The Weekly Pictorial).
The newspaper was closed down in 1958 -- along with other leading newspapers at the time -- by the military government under Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.
At the time, the government did not allow the launching of new newspapers, so Kamphol had to pay for the rights to use Siang Ang Thong's ("Ang Thong Voice") banner to continue publishing and distributing newspapers in Bangkok. Unfortunately, the operation was shuttered by the government in 1962.
Kamphol then founded Thai Rath in 1962. It went on to become the country's biggest-selling Thai-language newspaper and has now diversified into television and online media platforms.
That year also saw Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, the son of King Rama IV, become the first Thai to be recognised by Unesco as an eminent world personality on the centenary of his birth. The news was greeted with joy by Thais nationwide and was widely carried by media outlets, including Thai Rath.
"Who knew that 55 years later, Kamphol would become the 28th [Thai to be recognised by Unesco]," said Mr Wissanu.
Kamphol only received an elementary education as he had to leave school to help with his parents' business. As such, he sympathised with needy children who had little or no access to education or opportunities to further their studies, said the deputy prime minister.
In 1969, Kamphol and his friends organised a charity football match in Lop Buri to help fund the construction of a school in the province. The school, built with support from the Education Ministry, became the first school in his Thairath Vithaya school network.
The school's success spurred his determination to build more schools across the country to help improve access to education in rural areas.
When he turned 60 in 1979, he founded the Thairath Foundation, which aims to support education by granting scholarships and funding research and development on media and publishing. It also works with other charity organisations to further a number of public causes.
"A newspaper's existence depends on people's trust. Therefore, when opportunities arise, it should give back to society," Kamphol once said.