The story begins at Tha Song Yang in Tak Province, the secluded border between Thailand and Myanmar. Children in this village rarely ate three meals a day. Often it was one meal, if that. “I always wanted to help,” says Indian-born Kilang Pongen. “When I found out about the number of displaced children in need [in Tha Song Yang], I knew that that was where I could really help.”
In 2009, Pongen established HelpLive, a charity aimed at improving the living conditions of at-risk children, like those in the oft-neglected border town in Tak. The charity helps villages and orphanages obtain greater access to education, housing, clothing, hygienic needs, and medical care. HelpLive also sends them a monthly supply of food.
At first, HelpLive sought contributions from various groups in Bangkok, in particular from fellow members of the Christian community. Money from donations proved inconsistent, though, and so Pongen sought creative solutions to increase funding. Three years later, in 2012, he and his friend, Warong “Yo” Niwedrangsan, came up with the idea of running an affiliated business that would send a portion of its profits to the charity. “We saw how much people were drinking coffee, and we thought, ‘Maybe this could work,’ ” says Pongen. And so HelpLive Coffee was born, its first kiosk set up in from of Adams Organic, the owner a friend who wanted to help the mission, as well.
HelpLive Coffee gets its beans directly from a plantation in Chiang Rai and roasts them in Bangkok. The menu is simple—just six choices: espresso, americano, cappuccino, latte, mocha, cocoa, and green tea. Today, there are three kiosks located in Bangkok: Sala Deang Road, BTS Chong Nonsi, and Farm to Table Organic Café (Pak Klong Talad). A portion from each purchase, amounting to one simple meal, goes to the charity.
A year after launching the coffee project, Pongen organized HelpLive’s first teacher training programme. So far, there have been five, and there are more in the works. The project sends volunteers from international schools in Bangkok upcountry for a weekend, where they train local Thai and Burmese teachers, also volunteers, in formal education practices. HelpLive has also hired a farmer to plant different kinds of fruits and vegetables in the villages to support their food supplies. The driving idea is to empower the communities to lift themselves up despite dire straits, working toward independence and self-sustainability.
Since 2012, HelpLive has constructed houses, classrooms, and playgrounds; provided electricity and water systems; arranged dental check-ups for children; and founded the HelpLive networking centre. It has even organized charity concerts to raise funding for and awareness of kids in need.
So far, HelpLive has built homes and provided food to over 80 children directly, serving in a sense as caretakers, and has impacted the lives of nearly 1000 others. Pongen also plans to expand the charity to India, where there are many thousands of children in need of help.
HelpLive is always on the lookout for donations and volunteers. To get more information about the programmes, visit helplive.org or e-mail [email protected]. Of course, you can always add to the cause by purchasing a cup of coffee at any of the kiosks on your way home or to work.