Toh's Postcard from Home

27th June 2020

Upon arriving back in Bangkok, the harsh reality of a 14-day self-quarantine struck me as I faced lockdown inside my bedroom. Thailand imposes this as a public health measure for those arriving from highly-contagious countries affected by COVID-19. At the same time, Thailand announced its Emergency Decree measures, which meant that all public gatherings were banned and a curfew from 10pm – 4am was imposed, as well as a nationwide partial lockdown. As restaurants shut down, going out for meals became impossible. Nevertheless, I embraced this exceptional change and instead challenged myself with new recipes to cook. So far, I have succeeded in cooking over 20 new dishes, some of which I had only expected to eat in a restaurant!

For me, the emergency decree was nothing more than a minor inconvenience. This was not the case for the millions of informal workers around the country who, overnight, lost their jobs. It made me wonder how these people would manage to survive through a crisis like this as many relied on their daily income to pay their rent, bills and other essentials, including food. My mum, who works closely with many community-based organisations (CBOs) in Thailand, told me about the suffering from COVID-19 faced by some of the most vulnerable communities served by these CBOs. One organisation, Service Workers In Group (SWING), set up a fund to prepare hot meals every day for service workers who had been severely affected by COVID-19 in Bangkok. However, the fund had its limitations, and SWING were only able to prepare a certain number of meals per day, nowhere near enough to feed the whole community.

Since I was on school holidays, I took the opportunity to find something I could do to help alleviate the situation. Simply donating money and supplies to SWING was not enough. Therefore, I decided to start the ‘SandWiches for SWING’ project: producing nutritious sandwiches for marginalised populations. I created a wide-ranging menu and selected foods that could be kept for a few days.  My first batch of Fried Chicken Tonkatsu sandwiches were highly received by the service worker community and over the following weeks I developed new combinations like Ebiko Mayo, and Egg Salad with Crispy Bacon.

Over the past two months, I have made nearly a thousand sandwiches. I even got the chance to leave the house finally in order to help SWING distribute food and supplies to the community.

Balancing this with my schooling has been possible as the food preparation and deliveries happen around noon, whilst the time difference means my virtual lessons don't start until later in the afternoon.

Virtual UK schooling from Thailand has been a unique experience. The atmosphere of being taught in a classroom and boarding with my housemates is something that cannot be reproduced 6,000 miles away through Skype. However, looking on the bright side, I definitely would not be able to wake up at noon and still have a few hours to spare before heading down to lessons, if I was at Winchester.

Although the situation in Thailand has improved significantly, with no new transmissions for almost two weeks now, the economic impact on vulnerable populations will certainly continue for many months, or even years, to come. I am very glad to be able to utilise the unexpected convenience of time difference and my passion for cooking to contribute in relieving the suffering of others over these past few months. I hope that everyone reading this is staying safe, wherever you may be. Do enjoy finding and following your passion, empowering, and inspiring others, especially during these difficult times!

Location of SWING, the charity helping vulnerable Thai communities

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