Dr. Puey and the rural and social development

Dr. Puey Ungphakorn began planning for the rural development work around the end of the first National Economic and Social Development plan. At that time, he held the positions of the Governor of the Bank of Thailand and the Dean of Economics Faculty, Thammasat University.

  • He was instrumental in establishing three projects concerning the rural development during 1967-1976 as follows:
  • Foundation for Thailand Rural Reconstruction
    Movement (TRRM);
  • TU Graduate Volunteer Center (GVC);
  • Mae Klong Valley Rural Development Project.

1. Foundation for Thailand Rural Reconstruction Movement

The Foundation for Thailand Rural Reconstruction Movement under the Royal Patronage (TRRM), was the first non-government organization registered in Thailand. In 1967, Dr. Y.C. James Yen, The Chairman of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), came to Thailand to publicize the concept of establishing the non-government rural reconstruction organization. On April 17, 1967, Mr. Suratern Bunnag, who was at that time a senior official at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (F.A.O.) office in Bangkok, and also husband of Dame Maneerat Bunnag (Her Majesty the Queen’s principal secretary), has taken Dr. Yen and entourage to have an audience with His Majesty King Bhumibol at Piamsuk Royal Residence, Klaikungwol Palace in Huahin beach resort.

The entourage in the audience consisted of Prof. Puey, Mr. Sanoh Nilkumhang and Dr. Shake Dhanasiri, M.D., from 15:00-18:00 o’clock for a total of three hours. H.M. the King was very much interested in the rural development project and asked about the concept on rural development of IIRR in details from Dr. Yen. During the return trip from the audience with the King, Dr. Yen was deeply impressed by His Majesty’s compassion and said that

“In my life, I have never come upon any ruler who was so much in love with his people as much as this King.”

With the inspiration received from the work of Dr. Yen, Prof. Puey persuaded scholars, educators, businessmen, treasurers, politicians and royal descents to jointly establish the Foundation for Thailand Rural Reconstruction on December 14, 1967. On that occasion, Mr. Chao Chaokhwanyuen, the chairman of Thai Oil Refinery Company has made a start-up donation as the registered capital of the foundation.

Dr. Puey was elected the first chairman of the foundation by unanimous resolution, Mr. Sanoh Nilkumhang, his comrade-in-arms in the Free Thai Movement days during World War II, who donated the land in the capital district of Chainat Province for the coordination office of the foundation, became its first director and Dr. Shake Dhanasiri as its secretary. All of these positions were volunteer assignments without any remuneration.

The board of directors of the foundation has selected Chainat Province as the target area for performing the development work. After one year of preparation work in many areas, including dispatching the first group of personnel to attend the training on rural development at the IIRR in the Philippines, the foundation commenced its operations on January 1, 1969.

After the first phase of performance by the foundation in rural development, the board of directors deemed it expedient to file report to H.M. the King and petition for royal permission to accept the foundation under royal patronage. In this respect, H.M. the King has graciously accepted the foundation to be under royal patronage on October 31, 1969 and moreover on June 4, 1991, the emblem of royal crown has been royally permitted to be placed over the seal of the foundation.

In summary, the principal concept of IIRR and TRRM was the “blended form of rural development” by emphasizing the development in four areas, namely, occupation, education and learning, health and sanitation and community organization in order to raise the quality of life of rural people. The emphasis was made on developing the “people” and “community organization”, promoting “self-reliance” and “cooperation” of the community residents as the main point as well as coordination with the state agencies on the matters beyond the means of the community. They were in contrast with the old ways of emphasis only on the patronization.

For the novice developers who began their careers performing work and gaining experiences from the TRRM, after leaving the foundation and moving on to other agencies, they have also introduced the concept of blended form of rural development for dissemination and expansion in other agencies. It may be said that the foundation had profound influence on the idea of rural development over the public sector and non-government organizations alike.

The work of the foundation was just a part of the reflection of ideas and efforts of Dr. Puey and his colleagues of common ideal in order to help developing Thai society to the desired condition. (The calendar of Hope: From womb to tomb).

Dr. Puey’s last activities on rural development prior to his departure from Thailand on October 6, 1976 were giving lectures and overseeing the seminar of international volunteers in Thailand during October 2-3, 1976 at the office of TRRM in Chainat Province. He dedicated his limited time for the foundation to the very last minutes.

the newspaper “Dao Sayam” published the photos of Dr. Puey being taken with participants to the seminar at Chulabhorn dam and made distortion with extreme prejudice that he participated in the seminar with communists leaning to Russia.

2. TU Graduate Volunteer Center (GVC)

The project of graduate volunteer was established with an aim of allowing college graduates of various university disciplines an opportunity to learn and obtain real life experiences, especially in Thai rustic regions. It was also aimed to train the project participants to be responsible for the society on the whole, to be fair minded, not to take advantage over others and to rightfully work with fairness.

In his capacity as the Dean of Economics Faculty at Thammasat University, Dr. Puey established the project of Diploma for Graduate Volunteer by attaching this project to the Faculty of Economics during its first three years (1969-1972). In the first year, bachelor’s degree graduates of Thammasat University were recruited to join the project. The selection was made by “strict” interview and accepted 18 volunteering graduates, 14 females and 4 males. This first group of volunteers were sent to work as secondary school teachers, in various regions all over the country. The northernmost location was in Mae Sariang District, the westernmost was in Mae Sot District, the southernmost in Sungaikolok District and Buri Ram Province in the northeast.

Dr. Puey spent a lot of his time with this first group, made visits to all of them and personally answered their letters by direct mail to them and by printing letters in the “Buddy” Newsletter. The second group of volunteers was expanded to include graduates from all universities.

In 1972, this project was transferred from Faculty of Economics to Thammasat University and renamed as “TU Graduate Volunteer Center” and its activities were expanded further, namely, apart from teaching in secondary schools, they also included teaching in primary schools especially those located in villages in arid areas, both on low land and on elevated areas. In addition to teaching in accordance with the formal education, other knowledges on sanitation, nutrition and agriculture were also imparted and at one time, personnel from the armed forces and police force were admitted to participate as well.

It is the first-fourth groups of Graduate Volunteer that Dr. Puey devoted a lot of time working closely with. As for the following groups, even though Dr. Puey did not work with them, he still scheduled himself to visit them once while they were staying in the rural community. Volunteers living in arid locations would receive extra encouragement from him. Some villages were inaccessible by roads and must be trekked on foot through muddy trails for another three or four hours and thus a roundtrip of six to seven hours. For such journey, Dr. Puey often led the hike with gleefulness.

“Dr. Puey possesses the personality more appropriate for being a ‘teacher’ than that of a ‘professor’ for the fact that the teacher is working many times harder than the professor, i.e., Dr. Puey not just only teaches the students but he also conducts himself as the prototype of a decent man with high morality. He is always anxious and solicitous about the living conditions of his students and he will attentively ask them about their working and living and give advice on solutions to the problems. Thus, the students feel the warmth as if it is given by a father to his children and they miraculously gain more willpower”.

3. Mae Klong Valley Rural Development Project

During 1972-1973 when Dr. Puey went to University of Cambridge for teaching and doing research on the study of rural development, he started making contact and prepared to begin a new work which was to seek for the solution on the pattern and process of rural development that would suit the characters and problems of each community.

He persuaded group of scholars in many Thai universities to come together in analyzing the past problems of operations for rural communities by the public sector and came to the conclusion that even though the government had carried out many operations to raise the living standards of the people in rural areas, however, the real benefits obtained by the public from activities of the public sector were still much lower than expectation. Many problems were still prevalent in many areas, for example, farmers lacking revolving funds, dissemination of new technologies to the people not being well received, rural people living in poverty, having poor health and sanitation, insufficient education and unable to help themselves. It showed that actions to solve problem in one particular area separately from problems in other area were not successful in improving the living conditions of the community.

Dr. Puey and the said group of scholars thus agreed that the rural development in Thailand should adopt the pattern of blended or all-inclusive development, i.e., the agency duty bound to look after the rural development should take into consideration all aspects of development activities to be in conformity with each other and with the way of living of that rural community, such as, group formation, occupation, education and learning, health and sanitation, etc., with an aim for the rural people to systematically solve problems by themselves starting from selection of problems, analysis of the cause and solution, planning and collective implementation to solve problems which eventually should lead to become self-sufficient.

Dr. Puey then invited the rectors of Kasetsart University, Mahidol University and Thammasat University to jointly established the “Mae Klong Valley Rural Development Project” by mobilizing faculty members and staffs from the said three universities, each having its own line of skills, to jointly work in the field to gather information for further study and research, in order to identify proper solution as regards to the appropriate pattern and process for rural development by taking into consideration the unique social structure and culture of each region in Thailand. They chose the Mae Klong Valley area in central Thailand as a starting point, with an intention to forward the process of the study and the pattern of rural development to the government to be used for the rural development in Thailand in larger scale.

The project implementation plan was divided into three phases as follows:

  • Phase 1: (January 1974 to May 1975) Surveying basic information in economy, agriculture, public health and sanitation, and society by making random surveys throughout the Mae Klong valley region, including surveying characteristics of soil used for cultivation in each locality. The objectives of survey and research in Phase 1 are for use as information for the planning and implementation in Phase 2.
  • Phase 2: (June 1975 to June 1977) Being the performing period of rural development in six selected localities to study the rural development process and to find the most efficient procedure as well as an in-depth detailed study of the problems and procedure of solving important problems occurred in the localities with the aim to present the pattern and rural development procedure in Mae Klong valley region to the government for further implementation.
  • Phase 3: (From 1977) Presenting the study process and the pattern of rural development of the Mae Klong Valley region for approval by the government and to be prescribed as the government policy. Thereafter, the various relevant ministries, bureaus and departments had to cooperate with each other and carry out serious implementation, whereas the three universities shall render cooperation on technical matters, specialists as well as continuous periodic assessment.

This project commenced its implementation since January 1974 by rectors of the three universities, namely, Mom Chao Chakrabhand Pensiri Chakrabhandhu, Rector of Kasetsart University, Dr. Adul Wichiencharoen, Acting Rector of Thammasat University and Professor Dr. Kasan Jatikavanich, M.D., Rector of Mahidol University, who co-sign the agreement.

The organization of the project consisted of the policy committee with representatives from the three universities, the steering committee for administration of the project with Dr. Puey as the project director.

In each locality experimenting the blended rural development work, there shall be the locality team consisting of one team leader, a professor from either one of the three universities and three team members, each one comes from each university. The said team shall live in the village with the villagers. Two principal duties of the team are coordination between the villagers, the government agencies and the steering committee of the project and gathering information from the field work for further study and analysis by project researchers.

“Dr. Puey once told me that Mae Klong valley is our rich and prosperous land and yet people still left the land to live in overcrowded areas of the city to the point of becoming slums. If we fail to solve this problem, there is no future for our home country. We must make this rural area to become self-sufficient instead of relying on help from the capital city”

This project was implemented shortly prior to Dr. Puey assuming the position of rector (He started his tenure as Rector of Thammasat University on January 30, 1975 but it lasted only on October 6, 1976). From the beginning of his tenure, Thailand was already in chaotic situation owing to the waves of political conflict between the Student Center of Thailand and conservative groups in Thai society which gradually developed to be more and more intense. Dr. Puey, in his capacity as the Rector of Thammasat University at that time, became the target of attack from both sides of political extremities. The burden of the position already weighed on him a great deal, yet he still had to bear the burden of looking after the implementation of Mae Klong Valley Rural Development Project and a lot of other burdens at the same time

In accordance with the plan, the implementation of Phase 2 would end in June 1977. The political turmoil of October 6, 1976 happened sooner and caused the project to be immediately terminated and the hope of finding a good solution for appropriate pattern of rural development for Thailand has also gone away.

Had the Mae Klong Valley Rural Development Project the chance of implementation until Phase 3 and if Dr. Puey still had the opportunity to work on the rural development further, the policy of rural development of the public sector should have been continuously developed and the rural people might be able to be more self-reliance and the patronage system in rural areas could be diluted. The rural people would thus be independent in casting votes for their representatives at various levels and democracy in Thailand should have been developed in a proper direction.