YouTuber Pimrypie’s controversy shames many

Poverty-stricken Omkoi village in Chiang Mai sparks controversy

By | Fri 15 Jan 2021

Famous YouTuber Pimrypie’s fame has expanded beyond her channel after visiting a remote village in Omkoi this past Children’s Day to donate goods for the needy. This was a good thing. Until it wasn’t.

Her YouTube post titled, ‘Happy Children’s Day, Pimrypie gives big love to children in the mountains,’ has been viewed nearly six million times.

Pimrypie, or Pimradaporn Benjawattanapat, started her career selling goods online, soon becoming an internet icon and celebrity. She is also known for her social works, often donating goods to various causes and calling on her millions of followers to also do so.

In the ten-minute clip posted to YouTube, Pimrypie travels nearly 300 kms from Chiang Mai city, along rough mountainous roads, to the Omkoi village of Baan Mae Kerb where she meets villagers and interacts with them. She soon learns of their many challenges in life such as lack of electricity, poor education and bleak future prospects for their children; even the terrible diet that barely sustains them.

Pimrypie was visibly distressed by what she saw and learned.

“People have only plain rice, chilli and MSG to eat. They have never even tried an omelette,” she said, causing more than an eyebrow to be raised.

During her visit Pimrypie pledged to donate 550,000 baht of her own money to set up solar panels, buy a television and provide a few other items she deemed necessary for the village.

Once the video was posted she was lauded by society for her good deeds.

However, as tends to become then norm with social media these days, the commentary soon turned dark. People began to accuse the government and local officials of not doing their jobs to care for society’s most marginalised. Seeing the government insulted, pro-government commentators began to push back and accusations began to fly. Many named and accused various politicians of neglecting their duty at best and corruption at worst. It was when matters turned to insults of King Rama IX’s Royal Projects that things got nasty. Accusations were thrown at the Royal Projects for failing to alleviate the circumstances of remote norther villages, a rather unfair accusation considering the great number of Royal Project stations which have been proven to do the opposite. While the Royal Project has been a force for good for hundreds, if not thousands, of remote northern villages, it is true that it has also been criticised for its many failures. But to say that it hasn’t been effective in its aim is disingenuous at best.

Lecturers at Chiang Mai University soon waded in with another supposed outrage, with Professor Pinkaew Laungarammsri saying of Pimrypie and her ilk, “…the urban middle class, who have never cared about inequality of minorities are playing saviour to the lower classes.”

One good deed by one woman was soon turned into a political cauldron which touched on many of Thai society’s vulnerabilities and nerves.

Insulted by accusations that they were not doing enough for their poor, Omkoi district’s non-formal and informal education office made an announcement last week that it would no longer be accepting donations from the public, implying that it could do its job without any help, thank you very much! This announcement created an instant backlash of accusations of hubris in face of much-needed charity. One day later the office rescinded their announcement, citing ‘misinformation’.

Feeling the heat, Chiang Mai’s deputy governor held a press conference yesterday to clarify some issues. He said that Ban Mae Kerb has in no way been neglected, but the village is very hard to get to and there are often logistical challenges due to steep and rough roads.

The deputy governor went on to say that he had looked into the matter and Pimrypie had misunderstood much of what was in fact happening in the village. He asked the public to do their own independent research before believing anything they see on the internet, reminding the public that sharing false information is illegal.

Ban Mae Kerb, said the deputy governor, is set in a national forest and consists of three villages comprising 177 households with a population of just under 1,000 people. The village, which is 82 long kilometres from Omkoi is administered by many departments and organisations including many development projects under royal patronage and under various government agencies. He went on to name all the agencies involved and explained their roles. It is more than likely that Pimrypie was ignorant to all the facts and challenges of ensuring all remote villages across the north are elevated out of poverty.

But instead of coming out to thank Pimrypie for shining a much-needed spotlight on a very serious issue and pledging to do something about it, our government officials do what they do best: parse blame, deflect and threaten. While it is not the sole responsibility of the Royal Project to lift every northerner out of poverty, nor is it expected that any one government agency can singlehandedly solve the problems of poverty in remote mountain villages, this typical government knee-jerk response is getting tiring and no one is impressed. Pimrypie quite rightly pointed out, and personally did what she could to alleviate, a problem which should be addressed. But instead of finger pointing and threats, perhaps it is far past time that government agencies took some classes in how to communicate with the public and learn that admitting faults and flaws is not tantamount to admitting failure. Just listen to the problems, take it on the chin, find solutions and do better.

The press conference ended with another admonishment to the media for reporting fake news and warning to the public about spreading disinformation.

As you can see, I am chastised…