The Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation
Story by Kathleen Pokrud (Honorary Columnist)
The Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation recently unveiled its new book: Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation, an album celebrating years of projects nurturing good relations between Thailand and Belgium and helping the society. This quite impressive book of over 700 pages retraces 15 years of activities since the establishment of the foundation, with hundreds of photographs of their many events and the distinguished guests who attended. Elite+ sat down with Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz, its founding chairman, to learn about why and how he set up the foundation and its remarkable contribution to Thai society.
Count Gerald has lived in Thailand for 20 years and recalled how he was drawn to the country. “I was living in Barcelona, Spain at the time and initially planned to move to Mexico City. By invitation of a Thai friend, I decided to visit northern Thailand and experience the robust countryside lifestyle. I was immediately mesmerised by the beauty of Doi Tung and decided to build a house in Chiang Rai, which took two years. During that time, I learned Thai, immersed into the local culture and made friends through the Rotary Club, which was heavily involved in assisting the hill tribe communities.”
He went on to say, “I learned later that one of my ancestors, Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, was a trusted advisor to King Rama V and his government between 1892 and 1901 not only in the field of Law, but also other aspects related to the modernization of Siam. Chao Phya Abhai Raja Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns is the only foreigner to have the title of Chao Phya bestowed upon him in the Rattanakosin era.”
When asked the objectives of the foundation, Count Gerald said, “Besides preserving the memory of Chao Phya Abhai Raja Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, we also focus on helping society and contributing to the good relations between Thailand and Belgium. Since its creation, the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation has organized many projects and activities to help disadvantaged youngsters. These projects are all detailed in the book, such as the “People of the World Ceramic Project”, done in collaboration with a French sculptor; the “Hill tribe Violin Band”, organized together with a Belgian professional violinist; and the construction of the Chiangrai Hills Stadium to promote football and sports among Thai youth.”
To strengthen relations between Thailand and Belgium, The Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation has hosted members of the royal families of Thailand, Belgium and other countries at many of its events.
Count Gerald recalled, “An important chapter of the foundation retraced the visit of HRH Princess Maria-Esmeralda of Belgium when she was invited by the foundation to Thailand in 2015 to participate in the Thai-Belgian Friendship Celebrations. Several events were organized, including an exhibition presided over by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and a charity gala dinner hosted by the Foundation that was honoured by the attendance of HRH Princess Soamsawali Krom Muen Suddhanarithana as well as numerous important guests of Thai society.”
When asked what events he is particularly proud of, Count Gerald shared, “I am very proud of the two visits of HRH Princess Lea of Belgium to Thailand, first in 2018, which is covered in this book. The Belgian princess was invited to attend the events celebrating the 150th anniversary of Belgian-Thai bilateral relations to further contribute to building closer ties between Thailand and Belgium and between the Thai and Belgian royal families.
“HRH Princess Lea subsequently made a second visit to Thailand in 2019. This time she attended the Simply Exceptional Gala Dinner, a glamorous event that celebrated the diamond and jewellery industries of Thailand, Belgium and Lesotho. Royals from no less than six countries, including the king and the queen of Lesotho as well as princes and princesses of Malaysia, Bhutan and Russia attended this event. On this occasion, ML Sarali Kitiyakara represented HRH Princess Soamsawali. Besides the gala dinner, HRH Princess Lea visited the provinces of Chiang Rai and Nan.”
Count Gerald went on to say, “I am happy that we have initiated artistic, musical, medical and sports projects that include awarding university scholarships. Some of the foundation’s projects have helped give disadvantaged youngsters access to a brighter future while others have been focusing on the environment. In 2020, the foundation initiated or participated in various projects aimed at helping people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Despite the continuous pandemic, Count Gerald has plans for another remarkable project in the pipeline for January 2023, which will combine the efforts of the Prostheses Foundation of HRH the Princess Mother (Chiang Mai, Thailand) and The Prince and Princess Alexander of Belgium Aid Fund (Belgium). He explained, “We will organise a fund-raising gala dinner to be attended by Thai and Belgian royals to benefit amputees. We will partner with fashion designers and photographers to produce a fashion photo book. The Chef Care Foundation has also offered to train some amputees to be chefs. Some amputees will also be invited to model in the fashion show at the gala. The foundation will again invite HRH Princess Lea to preside over this special charity evening. The next day, HRH Princess Lea will fly to Chiang Mai for a sports competition and talent show by the amputees.”
As our interview drew to a close, Count Gerald said he is quite pleased with the current direction of the foundation and does not foresee any changes in this decade. He expressed appreciation for all the support he has received from his friends and partners. “One of the greatest symbols of Thai-Belgian relations is the friendship between the two royal families and especially between the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and late King Baudouin of Belgium. This historical relationship is also presented in our book, with articles and pictures of the commemorative events organized by the foundation. Our book about the activities of the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation is very unique in more than one aspect. It is a non-commercial, commemorative book that will be distributed by the foundation as a gift only. It is for everyone who has been part of the foundation’s story. Elite+ readers are welcomed to reach out to us for a copy if they would like to know more about our activities.”
Elite+ readers who wish to obtain a copy of the book about the activities of the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation, please write directly to email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Foundation has prepared 25 free copies to be given out on a first-come-first-serve basis.