Renouncing professional and
material attractions that draw so many doctors to city practice, KRASAE
CHANAWONGSE chose service in Muang Phon, the rural municipality where he was
born. Prospects were not promising for his home—in Khon Kaen Province some
336 kilometers northeast of Bangkok—is in the bleakest region of Thailand.
Red, infertile, salty earth bakes hard in the long, searingly hot summers.
Farmers in this Thai-Lao border area live precariously, raising mainly rice
and jute with little irrigation. Per capita annual income is about US$55, or
less than half the national average.
Classmates and relatives expected KRASAE to seek escape from hardship. One
of eight children of a poor family, he left school at age 13. Apprenticed in
a lumber shop without pay, he earned cash after hours selling rainwater for
drinking to passengers at the nearby railway station. Befriended by the
school principal, he later completed secondary school while working as a
delivery boy. With his brother paying the tuition and the assemblyman from
the Province allowing him to live in his house, KRASAE continued his studies
in Bangkok. He graduated from Siriraj Hospital, University of Medical
Sciences, in 1960 at the age of 26.
In medical school, thinking of 140,000 people in Phon District with endemic
illnesses, treatable diseases and infections, and no doctor, he determined
to serve them.
KRASAE found the official health building in Muang Phon dilapidated and ill
equipped. He first cleaned and whitewashed the old building, gave good
service, and encouraged people to discuss their problems with him in and
outside the clinic. Then, by example of his hard work, attention to their
larger welfare, and persuasion, he set out to induce every citizen to
contribute one baht (five U.S. cents) toward construction of a new health
center. Municipal councilors, village headmen, teachers and policemen
helped. Even poor people he had treated responded with more than asked.
Merchants joined in giving. Today the community has its own First Class
Health Center with a small hospital and modest, modern facilities. Unpaid
volunteers enlist for training and for regular service, preparing clinic
patients for examination and other non-medical work. The Muang Phon family
planning program, with similarly wide community participation, is a model
for the kingdom.
In his 12-year crusade for sanitation, preventive medicine and curative
treatment within the means of his Health Center, KRASAE has established a
rare rapport with his remote community and has educated the people to a new
and vital awareness of what they can do for themselves with meager means. He
has earned their love and pride by his ennobling example.
In electing KRASAE CHANAWONGSE to receive the 1973 Ramon Magsaysay Award for
Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes him for demonstrating
that a doctor dedicated to service can overcome the most stubborn of
obstacles in bringing effective health services to neglected and
impoverished rural people.