Before I begin itemizing my two months of unbridled generosity, it is important to note that during this period Sontaya and I never really got back together. After she’d come over that first evening in early October, we only saw each other twice again before I’d decided I’d done enough for her. (A nagging health issue kept me from getting out more often.) However, we were able to stay in touch using FaceTime after I spent a couple hours on the phone with her one night to help set up an Apple ID — another convert to the world of Steve Jobs.
The only hard and fast rule for this new project of mine was that there would be no penny pinching. If I saw a way to help, or Sontaya asked for something that sounded like a legitimate need, I’d ante up the money with no further questions. It would be an experiment of sorts to see if it was possible, given nearly unlimited coffers, to truly assist someone in improving their situation.
There were four areas I ended up making contributions to:
1. Sontaya’s personal budget. Instead of feeding her a fixed amount every month and then having to make up the difference for surprise expenses, I simply gave her an even one hundred thousand baht (call it $3,000) with instructions to make it last into the new year. No problem.
2. Sontaya’s son (Natee). Her idea was to someday purchase a car, then if something happened to her, Natee could sell it and use the proceeds to help support himself for awhile. This was a wacky idea, though perhaps not by Thailand standards where a car is seen as a luxury by most. In any event, I had Sontaya open a savings account for her son and transferred one hundred thousand baht ($3,000) into it. (Afterwards Sontaya offered to show me the bank book periodically so I’d know she wasn’t dipping into the funds. I didn’t care — it would only be stealing from her own flesh and blood.)
3. The home place. The roof on Sontaya’s mother’s house had seen better days and needed replacing. After being showed a couple pictures of it, I decided a new one was a fine idea: fifty thousand baht ($1,500).
4. Older sister. When Sontaya went back to her home village for a visit in early December, she discovered that her sister (who is raising Natee) was ill and needed to be taken to the hospital. Ended up spending over a week there. I didn’t get the specifics of her ailments, but knew she had been suffering from poor health. (This led to a new experience for me: saying hello to a bedridden patient on FaceTime.)
The total cost for the stay was over thirty thousand baht ($900). It turns out there is a special assistance program for Thai families facing large medical bills, which Sontaya was looking into. I told her there was no need for that and instead gave her forty thousand baht (almost $1,200), the extra money to pay for medicine and any more visits to the doctor.
Part 2: Unfortunately, the sister had to return to the hospital only a couple weeks later. By this time I was winding things down with Sontaya, so I was out of the loop. However, I did chip in twenty-five thousand more baht (@$700). Felt like the right thing to do.
In case anyone is curious, my total expenditures for this noble idea came to nine thousand four hundred dollars, give or take a hundred. Besides the benefits for her mother, sister and son, Sontaya was able to move out of the ratty apartment building she’d been living in for a number of years into a modern, comfortable abode in the same area of Bangkok (her old neighborhood, I guess you’d call it). Though I never actually visited her new digs — and she did let me know I was welcome — from what I saw via FaceTime it all looks very nice. A sure sign of progress!