What defines a hero?

Thailand has embraced one more hero who made big headlines in the media last month.

No, I’m not talking about Weerawit Rungruangsiripol, or Uncle Sak, a 62-year-old redshirt notorious for punching and kicking Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution, three weeks ago.

Right after the assault that, fortunately, left Srisuwan with only minor injury, he expressed his pleasure saying that he had long waited to give him “this lesson”.

He claimed that he felt annoyed to see the “master complainer” file petitions on nearly every issue. And his last straw was when Srisuwan went to the Central Investigation Bureau to file a complaint against comedian Nose Udom for his recent anti-government standup comedy show.

His violent act was heavily criticised by the public. Still, many applauded his successful attempt and some even praised him as their hero.

The unlikely incident made me wonder if those supporters were having a problem distinguishing between a heroic and crazy act. For people with right minds, a person who vents his irritation through violence is simply dangerous.

However, I believe that many of them would have come to their senses if they learned the story of singer-actor Pakin “Tono” Kumwilaisak who, a week later, successfully swam 15km back and forth between both sides of the Mekong River.

The endeavour was the highlight of his charity swim campaign, “One Man And The River”, that aimed to raise 16 million baht for the procurement of medical equipment for two hospitals on either side of the river — Nakhon Phanom Hospital in Thailand and Khammoune Hospital in Laos. It ended up raising 80 million baht.

I also donated money to the campaign on the day Tono plunged into the river even though the total donation amount at that time already far surpassed the original goal.

Like most people who showed their moral support to him at the river and on social media, I was impressed and inspired by his big heart and I believed that other donors felt the same as well.

The 36-year-old actor who loves swimming is known to have contributed to the conservation of the environment and marine ecosystem for years. He has also used his celebrity status to help raise public awareness on the issues.

Two years ago, he was one of seven swimmers who joined forces in the “One Man And The Sea” campaign to raise 50 million baht to purchase equipment for the treatment of rare marine animals.

Their mission was to swim a distance of 82km on Koh Samui with stops at 12 islands within 18 days. However, the challenge was scaled back because of Covid-19 after it ran for six days.

Still, it raised 15 million baht that was spent on necessary equipment for three marine research and rescue centres and a hospital in Rayong, Trat and Phuket.

Despite his effort for the sake of the public this time, the new campaign drew many negative comments that sparked a series of debates on social media for weeks.

Not long after the campaign was announced, many people including some in showbiz voiced their strong disapproval citing that the challenge was too dangerous. They also blamed him for putting a burden on many people who had to watch his back and provide security.

Even though Tono tried to clarify their misunderstandings and showed how well planned the mission was, many didn’t seem to be satisfied and turned to question the necessity of fundraising, citing that it was the duty of government to provide budgets to hospitals.

After Tono finished the swim, a celebrity doctor who is also his friend stoked another round of heated debate when he commented that the campaign couldn’t help ease the workload of medical staff in any way, as the real problem that lay in the government’s policies had never been tackled.

I don’t know how Tono felt about all those remarks. In my eyes, he has done a beautiful thing with a pure heart and in his own way to give back to society. He’s also a role model who inspired many to care about others and do what they could without having to wait for others to take action.

I think it’s ridiculous to downplay his well-intentioned efforts just because they couldn’t solve a problem in the healthcare system. This matter has nothing to do with him at all.

The drama over Tono’s charitable campaign shows us that doing a big thing for the benefit of others in this country takes more than a good heart.

Tono should be admired not only for his selfless act but also his strong spirit to brave through the storm of discouraging words. These are the qualities that a real hero has.


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