As she made her daily rounds across the school grounds a few years ago, Ms. Anong became acutely aware of an alarming trend – Thai children cannot get enough sweets. While this may seem harmless at first glance, Ms. Anong believes that childhood obesity can be difficult to shake, and if children are neglected, then they risk a lifetime of poor physical and even mental health. And it raises an important question – how can they be expected to provide effective support for their parents, when they do not know how to care for themselves?
Throughout her 30 year career as a teacher at Rattanakosinsompotch School in Bangkok’s Bang Khun Tien district, Ms. Anong Puatrakul encouraged her students and fellow teachers to stay physically and mentally strong. Ms. Anong believes that it is incumbent upon schools to teach and encourage students to eat well, adhere to proper sanitation, and maintain emotional wellness. This is truer than ever because Thailand is entering a hyper aging demographic phase, and today’s students will play an important role in supporting their family members to maintain and achieve a quality life.
When Ms. Anong looked closer at the issue, she realized that it was not only students who needed health support, but her fellow teachers as well. Most of these teachers fell squarely into the pre-retirement age range (50-59), and many already suffered from chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes.
“It is time for Thailand to educate people about physical and mental healthcare, otherwise the country will struggle to handle aging society,” Ms. Anong explained.
A woman of action, Ms. Anong was not going to sit idly and watch her colleagues and students continue on the creeping decline towards poor health. And so, to raise awareness for the importance of healthcare, Ms. Anong began a school-wide health promotion campaign. All activities encouraged members of the school community to monitor their health regularly, identify issues, and develop plans of action.
Ms. Anong also began providing consultations to those in need. For example, if someone suffered from obesity, Ms. Anong would advise him or her on how to eat a healthy diet and develop a regular exercise routine. By embedding game mechanics and creating friendly competitions, Ms. Anong motivated teachers and students to put knowledge into action. Recognizing the change brought about by Ms. Anong’s campaign, the school principal began allocating budget to strengthen the activities.
Eager to do and learn more, Ms. Anong seized the opportunity to work with Kenan Foundation Asia and the Pfizer Foundation when they brought the Pfizer Healthy Aging Society project to Bang Khun Tien in 2017. The Pfizer Healthy Aging Society project is a three-year initiative to establish a preventative and scalable healthcare model for pre-senior and seniors that will lead to healthy aging in Thailand. Through the project, Ms. Anong received training from nutritionists and medical professionals, which increased her knowledge and introduced her to new ideas to apply in her school. Furthermore, through a sub-grant from the project, Ms. Anong was able to go beyond the schoolyard to lead a new health promotion campaign in the wider community. This has enabled Ms. Anong, who recently retired, to continue following her passion for helping people improve their health. The only difference is that now Ms. Anong supports the elderly rather than students and teachers.
“Kenan’s work is unique because it focuses on following up after training to ensure that the project truly benefits people, rather than just delivering a one or two-day workshop and leaving. For example, Kenan staff make regular visits to see the elderly at home to closely monitor their health and advise them about finance. Kenan’s goal, like my own, is to see community members have a better quality of life.”
Ms. Anong hopes that her own work will inspire other seniors to continue following their passions.
“Age is just a number, but work is a valuable pride of life. There are still many people in the community that I can help. If seniors have good physical, mental, and financial health, they will see value in themselves and won’t feel that they are a burden to others. Thailand is becoming a hyper aging country, a major turning point for us, and I believe that we should encourage seniors to take part in the labor market.
“I already retired, but I still want to benefit the community. Even if I reach 80 years old, I still want to work unless my body tells me to stop. I believe Thai people don’t like to see people left behind. We are a generous country.” Ms. Anong said with a big smile of happiness.