Published on July 16, 2007
Foundation records show low-income drinkers in 203 households in five villages in Tambon Tra Saeng in Muang district of Surin spent more than Bt500,000 on alcohol in a three-month period last year.
The data showed 47 cases of battery and illness related to drinking in a one-year period.
Housewife and drinker Anong Sanusant said the statistics were an eye-opener.
"We would have gone broke if everyone still indulged themselves with vice, consumerism and materialism," she said.
Anong is one of 44 women and 159 men registered as alcoholics at the local ThaiHealth office.
Heavy drinking is common in Surin, so much so it is often commented on in other provinces. A local limerick translates to "if you go to Surin, drink or become a dog".
Anong's husband and village chief Rerm is angry at his drinking habits over the past 30 years. "I spent about Bt50,000 a year. If I hadn't, it would be a lot of money now."
Rerm viewed drinking as "tradition". His parents distilled moonshine. "There was always plenty of liquor and moonshine at village head and kamnan meetings," he added.
ThaiHealth is encouraging the villagers to replace alcohol with coconut milk at rituals and other celebrations and this has been accepted by the elders.
The drinking culture is fading at funerals, ordinations and merit-making events, too.
Suphaphorn Thongsuk, 70, said she could never have dreamed of a funeral without alcohol.
"Now, alcohol-free funerals end up without the families getting into debt like before," she said.
ThaiHealth has successfully used "family love" as a tool to combat domestic violence in the five villages. A total of 130 participating men have received certificates.
In Tambon Chiang Khrua of Sakhon Nakhon province, ThaiHealth is battling a tradition where every household provides a bottle of whisky at funerals.
Thin Jaila, a former village head of Na Kham Hai who started the idea of the "liquor fund", wants it abolished following fights and crime in the aftermath of funerals.
Village head Aphaiwong Hardsaikarn is always busy driving drunks home and settling fights after funerals - and he is growing tired of it.
Aphaiwong suggested giving money instead of whisky, but men opposed his idea. "Then I turned to the housewives and their girlfriends for help. And it worked."
A funeral a few months ago saw just four bottles of whisky on offer. Aphaiwong believes he will soon succeed in having alcohol-free ceremonies.
Aphaiwong has also seen success in programmes dealing with youth misdemeanours - ranging from gaming addiction and smoking to motorcycle street racing. All of his programmes are funded jointly by ThaiHealth and the To Be Number One project.
Suphada Tami, a programme supervisor, said Aphaiwong uses his expertise in fishing craft to encourage youths to compete in boat races.
"Victories have given us unity among families and community members, as well as prize money and a cabinet full of trophies," she said.
A "Massage for Desserts" initiative sees children learn traditional massage and practise on their parents or elders in exchange for dessert or money. "This project builds closeness between parents and children," Suphada said.
Residents of Na Kham Hai village are now turning to non-chemical farming using herbal insecticides and organic fertilisers, with funding from ThaiHealth.
Na Kham Hai and Aphaiwong recently won a regional To Be Number One competition and will now introduce a development plan based on the sufficiency economy theory.