Monday, 24 May 2010

Fire guts consumer group HQ amid political unrest in Thailand

Saree Aongsomwang, Director of Foundation for Consumers (FFC) reports back on the devastating fire in Bangkok that has destroyed her organisation’s offices.

 
Thailand’s political unrest, which began in March, has now escalated to violence and riots in several areas of Bangkok. The offices of CI member, Foundation for Consumers (FCC), are in the centre of one area of protest around Victory Monument. Sadly they suffered serious fire damage last week.

I’m glad to tell you that all of us are safe, and I’d like to take this opportunity to give you a summary of what happened.

At around 5 am on 20 May smoke was spotted coming out of FFC’s office building. We immediately called the BMA (Bangkok Metropolitan Administration) to request a Fire Unit. On arriving at the office around 6:30 am, we went upstairs to the second floor and found the wall adjacent to the Center One building was about to collapse, allowing the fire to enter the FFC office space. As the Fire Unit was yet to arrive, we attempted to extinguish the fire ourselves and save what we could.

We were able to rescue the Center for Consumer Rights Protection’s documents and files - mostly on the on-going legal cases - and some of the computers. Unfortunately, we were not able to take anything from the second floor - where the Foundation’s admin office, the organisation’s empowerment section, and the Renal Disease Patients Group are located - because the fire was spreading and most of the equipment had already been damaged by the heat.

The third floor, where the editorial office of SmartBuyer Magazine and the studio for the TV program “Kra-tai-tuen-tua” are located was the worst damaged. Some of the staff went in there with the firemen to retrieve TV cameras and some of the data backup units. We were not allowed to go up to the fourth floor, and were asked to leave the building before we could take out any more of the office equipment.

We decided to let the fire brigade break the wall on the 3rd and 4th floor to facilitate the attempt to extinguish the fire in CenterOne because CenterOne building was about to cave in. The foundation’s building is surrounded by five wooden houses. If they caught fire, it would allow the fire to spread faster and would be more difficult to control.

The fire was eventually put out at around 3 pm. However, there is still smoke in Center One as I write this the following day.

The damage has seriously affected the FFC’s work. The physical damage can be summed up as follow:
  • 1st Floor: There was no fire, but the floor is flooded with water from above
  • 2nd Floor: 70% was damaged
  • 3rd Floor: 90% was damaged
  • 4th Floor: An assessment was not possible at time of writing.
Our office was renovated with the donations from guests at our fund-raising party in 2007 as well as The Foundation’s savings of 17 years. It took more than 6 million Baht to turn the building into a work space. The office equipment was also bought with FFC savings.

The Foundation’s employees have worked here for almost two years. Currently, the building is accommodating 42 people: 32 FFC employers, four Renal Disease Patients Group social workers, and six volunteers.

There are at least four important tasks carried out by The Foundation, which will be badly affected by our losses:

1. Assisting people whose rights as consumers have been violated. We provide legal assistance to at least 10,000 Thai people a year through the hotline number 02 248 3737
2. Empowering the consumer organisations throughout the country. We do advocacy work such as campaigning for the establishment of an independent organisation overseeing consumer issues
3. Publishing consumer magazine SmartBuyer to provide consumers with information to help them choose goods and services
4. Producing a TV program to encourage youngsters to become informed consumers. The weekly program is on-air on Sunday between 10:05 and 10:30 am.

We need urgent help concerning the following:

1. A work space for 36 employees and volunteers
2. Computers for the employees. (Only a few were saved from the fire)
3. Office equipment such as printers, scanners, and a photocopier
4. Help raising funds to make the building ready as a work space again.

If you would like to find out about ways you or your organisation can help, you can contact Saree and FFC through Consumers International at consint@consint.org

1 comment:

  1. This is terrible thing to hear. The problems that are going on in bangkok are known to everyone by now but still it does not permit them to burn down th FFC building, after all they were just helping consumers to know about the ongoing market prices and so on. what is happening to all the ethical thing we learn about everyday?? where does ethics lie now?

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