Hero of the Sanam Luang Homeless
By Sanhaporn Manoharn
She comforts her growling stomach by rummaging the bin for anything edible, and then rests on the dirty pavement wearing torn clothes. Strong smell of garbage came from his body while he begs for spare changes to buy necessities that will at least make his life a little bit better. These are some of the daily lives of more than 600 homeless living in Sanam Luang area. Passersby take no notice of these people, or even if they do, they look at them in disgust and not as equal human beings. But one guy proves that there are people with decent heart out there who are willing to lend a hand. Natee Saravari, 41, has spent half of his life caring for less fortunate children and the homeless around Sanam Luang area.
Saravari grew up in a family where his mother always taught him to never take advantage of others, especially the minorities, but rather to help the society get better. During university he went camping, at the camping base he saw a group of less fortunate kids staring at him
and his friends from outside the fence. This triggered what his mother has always taught him, soon after he got back from camp he gathered a few friends and formed a small group to start working with less fortunate kids.
“When I see that the people we help are relieved from suffering I feel good,” says Saravari who has been helping less fortunate people and homeless for over 20 years.
One day, Saravari slept over at Phra Meru Ground in Sanam Luang. To his surprise, homeless people who were nearby put on the incense to scare away mosquitoes for him, and that was when he started thinking about lending a helping hand to the homeless around Sanam Luang area.
“I never helped them with anything else other than giving back there human pride and pointing out ways to stand on their own feet.”
Problems of homeless people developed from many factors, from being raised in a broken home to severe financial situation. Some moved to Bangkok from rural areas in search of a better life because they believe that the capital city holds better opportunities for them. But when they got tricked by their employers such as taking away their ID, not paying them and firing them, they ended up living on the streets of Sanam Luang area.
It is difficult being a volunteer, money is no question one of the most important aspects in keeping the voluntary group going. Saravari eventually formed a private voluntary organisation, “Issarachon” (literally means people with freedom), with friends and people who decided to join the voluntary group after seeinghis work through Facebook, his website and other media. He also formed “Issarachon Foundation” to fundraise and use the money to help homeless people who depend on him. Saravari wants his organisation to be the “bridge of hope”, bridging the volunteers who hope to offer help to the society and homeless people who hope to learn how to live a better life.
“I’m very proud of what I do and I enjoy every moment of it, but I really don’t consider myself a hero.”
The organisation coordinates with Bangkok Health Centre to issue their new IDs and help them get basic healthcare. They also encourage homeless couples to prenatal care and to deliver baby at hospitals rather than on the street. They help find relatives for sick homeless and unidentified dead bodies. The main goal for Issarachon is to empower these people to sustain themselves as well as get public awareness to respect their human rights. Moreover, they motivate homeless people to return home and improve their quality of life.
When asked whether he gets tired or stressed to the point that he wants to stop or not, Saravari said what makes him tired is the fact that he is faced with people who thinks working together is not the solution, people who do not collaborate and does not appreciate teamwork.
Photo Credit: Natee Saravari Facebook
“I always tell others who asked me this question that work is life, life is work, life brings you happiness and work brings happiness,” he also went on saying, “The most important thing I had heard from them that keeps ringing in my ears are the words ‘Please don’t abandon us’, with these few words it assures me that I won’t abandon this job, instead I will make others see what I see in them.”
He also holds a Buddhist motto, “Love your work, be deliberate with your work, always remind yourself and it will bring you happiness and success.” This motto is his belief and it sums up just how passionate he is towards his work as a volunteer.
Saravari suggests that the society should treat all people with equity and accept the diversity. Everyone should learn to be more open-minded. Also, public sectors should provide social welfare sufficiently and equally to everyone. He also believes that everyone in the society has an important part that can make Issarachon happen and become successful.
Saravari’s effort in trying to improve the quality of life for homeless people and less fortunate children have been recognized by the media and was awarded twice as “Good Person to the Society” by UBC TrueVisions, Thailand’s leading cable satellite television operator. iTV, a television station in Thailand (already closed down) also awarded him as “Voluntary Person”. Furthermore, he has received a certificate for “Innovative Work in AIDS Prevention, Bangkok”.
Without Saravari and his private voluntary organisation, Issarachon, homeless people living in Sanam Luang area would never know that life could get better. He proves to the society that there are people out there who are willing to lend a hand to these people and are ready to listen to their stories. He is indeed a local hero for the many homeless people whose lives are much better after knowing this man.
Mr. Natee Saravari