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Saturday, October 16, 2010

How Mr. Condom made Thailand a better place

Talk by Mechai Viravaidya

Interactive transcript:

What do we do for the other 80 percent -- leave them alone and say, "Well, they're not medical personnel"? No, we decided to do a bit more. So we went to the ordinary people that you saw.Actually, below that yellow sign -- I wish they hadn't wiped that, because there was "Coca-Cola" there.We were so much bigger than Coca-Cola in those days. And no difference, the people they chose, were the people we chose. They were well-known in the community, they knew that customers were always right, and they were terrific, and they practiced the family planning themselves. So they could supply pills and condoms throughout the country, in every village of the country. There we are. We went to the people who were seen as the cause of the problem to be the solution. Wherever there were people -- and you can see boats with the women -- selling things -- here's the floating market selling bananas and crabs and also contraceptives -- wherever you find people, you'll find contraceptives in Thailand.
And then we went to teachers. You need everybody to be involved in trying to provide whatever it is that make humanity a better place. So we went to the teachers. Over a quarter of a million were taught about family planning with a new alphabet -- A, B for birth, C for condom, I for IUD, V for vasectomy.And then we had the snakes and ladders game, where you throw dice. If you land on anything pro-family planning, you move ahead. Like, "Mother takes the pill every night. Very good, mother. Move ahead. Uncle buys a condom. Very good, uncle. Move ahead. Uncle gets drunk, doesn't use condom. Come back, start again." (Laughter)Again, education, class entertainment. And the kids were doing it in school too. We had relay races with condoms. We had children's condom-blowing championship. And before long, the condom was know as the girl's best friend. In Thailand, for poor people, diamonds don't make it.So the condom is the girl's best friend.
We introduced our first microcredit program in 1975, and the women who organized it said, "We only want to lend to women who practice family planning. If you're pregnant, take care of your pregnancy. If you're not pregnant, you can take a loan out from us." And that was run by them. And after 35/36 years, it's still going on. It's part of the Village Development Bank. It's not a real bank, but it's a fund -- microcredit. And we didn't need a big organization to run it. It was run by the villagers themselves. And you probably hardly see a Thai man there. It's always women, women, women, women. And then we thought we'd help America,because America's been helping everyone,whether they want help or not. (Laughter) And this is on the Fourth of July. We decided to provide vasectomy to all men, but in particular, American men to the front of the queue, right up to the Ambassador's residence during his [unclear]. And the hotel gave us the ballroom for it. Very appropriate room. (Laughter) And since it was near lunch time, they said, "All right, we'll give you some lunch. Of course, it must be American cola.You get two brands, Coke and Pepsi. And then the food is either hamburger or hotdog." And I thought a hotdog will be more symbolic. (Laughter) And here is this, then, young man called Willy Bohmwho worked for the USAID. Obviously, he's had his vasectomy because his hotdog is half eaten, and he was very happy. It made a lot of news in America, and it angered some people also. I said, "Don't worry. Come over and I'll do the whole lot of you."
Then AIDS came along and hit Thailand, and we had to stop doing a lot of good things to fight AIDS.But unfortunately, the government was in denial, denial, denial. So our work wasn't affected. So I thought, "Well, if you can't go to the government, go to the military." So I went to the military and asked to borrow 300 radio stations. They have more than the government, and they've got more guns than the government. So I asked them, could they help us in our fight against HIV. And after I gave them statistics. They said, "Yes. Okay. You can use all the radio stations, television stations." And that's when we went onto the airwaves. And then we got a new prime minister soon after that. And he said, "Mechai, could you come and join?" He asked me in because he liked my wife a lot. So I said, "Okay."He became the chairman of the National AIDS Committee and increased the budget fifty-fold.
Every ministry, even judges, had to be involved in AIDS education. Everyone. And we said the public, institutions, religious institutions, schools --everyone was involved. And here, every media person had to be trained for HIV. And we gave every station half a minute extra for advertising to earn more money. So they were happy with that.And then AIDS education in all schools, starting from university. And these are high school kids teaching high school kids. And the best teachers were the girls, not the boys. And they were terrific.And these girls who go around teaching about safe sex and HIV were known as Mother Theresa.And then we went down one more step. These are primary school kids -- third, fourth grade -- going to every household in the village, every household in the whole of Thailand, giving AIDS information and a condom to every household, given by these young kids. And no parents objected, because we were trying to save lives, and this was a lifesaver.And we said, "Everyone needs to be involved."
So you have the companies also realizing that sick staff don't work, and dead customers don't buy. So they all trained. And then we have this Captain Condom, with his Harvard MBA, going to schools and night spots. And they loved him. You need a symbol of something. In every country, every program, you need a symbol, and this is probably the best thing he's ever done with his MBA.(Laughter) And then we gave condoms out everywhere on the streets -- everywhere, everywhere. In taxis, you get condoms. And also, in traffic, the policemen give you condoms -- our "cops and rubbers" programs. (Laughter) So, can you imagine New York policemen giving out condoms? Of course I can. And they'd enjoy it immensely. I see them standing around right now, everywhere. Imagine if they had condoms, giving out to all sorts of people. And then, new change,we had hairbands, clothing, and the condom for your mobile phone during the rainy season.
And these were the condoms that we introduced.One says, "Weapon of mass protection." We found. You know, somebody here was searching for the weapon of mass destruction, but we have found the weapon of mass protection -- the condom. And then it says here, with the American flag, "Don't leave home without it." But I have some to give out afterward. But let me warn you, these are Thai-sized, so be very careful. (Laughter) And so you can see that condoms can do so many things. Look at this. I gave this to Al Gore and to Bill Senior also. Stop global warming; use condoms.And then this is the picture I mentioned to you --the weapon of mass protection. And let the next Olympics save some lives. Why just run around?(Laughter) And then finally, in Thailand we're Buddhist, we don't have a God, so instead, we say, "In rubber we trust." (Laughter) So you can see that we added everything to our endeavor to make life better for the people. We had condoms in all the refrigerators in the hotels and the schools,because alcohol impairs judgment.
And before, you can borrow the money, you need to be trained. And we believe, if you want to help the poor, those who are living in poverty, access to credit must be a human right. Access to credit must be a human right. Otherwise they'll never get out of poverty. And then before getting a loan, you must be trained. Here's what we call a barefoot MBA teaching people how to do business so that, when they borrow money, they'll succeed with the business. These are some of the businesses:mushrooms, crabs, vegetables, trees, fruits, and this is very interesting -- Nike ice cream and Nike biscuits. This is a village sponsored by Nike. They said, "They should stop making shoes and clothes. Make these better, because we can afford them." And then we have silk, Thai silk. Now we're making Scottish tartans, as you can see on the left,to sell to all people of Scottish ancestors. So anyone sitting in and watching TV, get in touch with me. And then this is our answer to Starbucks in Thailand -- "Coffee and Condoms." See, Starbucks you awake, we keep you awake and alive. That's the difference. Can you imagine, at every Starbucks that you can also get condoms? You can order your condoms with your with your cappuccino.

About the speaker:
Mechai Viravaidya is the founder and chair of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA). He's a widely acclaimed leader in the fields of public health, education and community development.
Since 1974, Mr. Mechai has initiated community-based family planning services, innovative poverty reduction and rural education programs, large-scale rural development and environmental programs, as well as groundbreaking HIV/AIDS prevention activities throughout Southeast Asia.
"When I first met Mechai Viravaidya, Thailand's "Condom King," 15 years ago, it became clear that he places a high value on action and impact, even if it means making some people uncomfortable. "
Dr. Helen Gayle, TIME magazineCourtesy: TED.com

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