On 12th of August 2009 Chiang Mai University (CMU) hosted a gathering of students and academics from all four regions of Thailand to raise awareness of student volunteering activities.
The event was sponsored by the National Health Commission Office’s (NHCO) ‘Humanized Thailand’ programme, one goal of which is to revitalise the relationship between students and the wider community. The event began with a panel discussion about volunteering and the ‘Humanized Thailand’ programme. The panel was made up of a number of highly respected figures in medicine in Thailand including the former Health Minister Dr. Mongkol Na Songkhla, Chiang Mai University’s President Prof. Dr. Pongsak Angkasith, CMU’s Vice President Associate Professor Amnat Yousukh, CMU Alumni’s President Associate Professor Theera Visitpanich, Chair of CMU Promotion Committee Mr Thamrak Pitchayagul and Deputy Secretary General of NHCO Dr. Chatree Charoensiri. Dr Chatree described the goals of the NHC’s Humanized Thailand programme explaining that ‘just like rain there are people doing good deeds all over Thailand. But like rain there is a risk of it being washed down the drain.
At the NHCO we seek to collect these stories and share them so that they can nourish our society which is driven to frustration by the media’s focus on negative stories. These trainee doctors and nurses are the heart of our society in the future. It is important that they have a strong connection to the community at large and that they see patients as people not just illnesses’. Dr Mongkol, former minister of health for Thailand, added his support to the ‘humanized Thailand programme and went on to explain the way that positive stories and the attitudes that can be induced by them can actually improve people’s health by causing the release of endorphins.
By contrast, the hormones associated with bad news and negative emotions can actually prevent our organs from functioning at their optimum and can thus damage our health. One member of the panel outlined the way in which a volunteer programme, which he had helped to run thirty years ago when he was a student, had supported the training of a physical therapist who had ended up treating him after a recent accident. The scheme at that stage aimed to provide financial support for able and dedicated students on low incomes to continue their studies.
Ten student representatives from CMU outlined the current work of their respective volunteer groups. The groups tackle a range of different issues although with many of the students drawn from the faculty of medicine there was a clear trend towards work in health. Whilst the ‘A little Dr project’ focused specifically on the issue of improving the relationship between doctors and their patients as well as the community at large, there were also projects relating to littering and the environment, working with homeless animals and helping children without citizenship. The students were open and self-deprecating about their motivation for joining the volunteer groups with two of the representatives joking about how they had only signed up to meet girls.
Once it came to the actual volunteering they found that they couldn’t find suitable girls but they enjoyed the work and found it rewarding in itself. Despite the serious and selfless work being done by these groups the event was light-hearted and fun. The older students visibly enjoyed the chance to share their work with the students from younger years. The day was also a chance for students from different groups and support staff from different Universities to come together and exchange ideas and best practice. If the new students coming through can build on what is already a very impressive set of achievements, then the social irrigation of the Humanized Thailand programme will indeed have succeeded in conserving the goodness that is in danger of draining away.