Mechai Viravaidya – Mr. Condom and restaurant chain “Cabbages & condoms”

“Mr. Condom” or “The Condom King” are nicknames for Mechai Viravaidya, who devoted his life to family planning in Thailand. During the years of his active work the average number of children in Thai family had reduced from 7 to 1,5. But it also had a great effect – the amount of poverty in Thailand decreased, f.e. from 2003 to 2013 by 20%.

Biography

Mr. Viravaidya was born on 17.01.1941. His parents (Thai father and Scottish mother) met in Edinburgh, where they were studying medicine. Mechai Viravaidya was raised as Thai, though he was educated in Australia. In 1966 he began to work in National Economic and Social Development Board. The more he worked, the more obvious was the correlation between poverty and population growth in Thailand to him. As part of his job, Mechai Viravaidya was visiting rural areas, and he discovered that many Thai women were not aware of any means of birth control.

In order to draw attention to the problem of family planning, Mechai began writing weekly column in a newspaper, leading night radio show, teaching in Thammasat university and even played a role in Thai soap opera. This is the way he gained his nicknames in early 1970s.

Since then condoms got a nickname too: Thais jokely name them Mechais.

After 8 years of hard work Mechai became frustrated: the government was not capable to implement family planning policy in Thailand. Then, Mr. Viravaidya decided to found the Population and Community Development Association (shortly: PDA, a non-profit non-governmental organization) that was aimed to educate people in rural areas, where government programs could not reach. As creative person, he continued attempts to educate in his unique manner, with unforgettable events:

  • Condom blowing contests for school children – who blows the biggest balloon out of condom, is the winner.
  • Various campaigns like “Condom is the girl’s best friend”.
  • He encouraged taxi drivers and police officers to hand out condoms to people (“Cops & Rubbers” campaign).
  • Persuaded Buddhist monks to bless condoms by sprinkling holy water on them.
  • And founded a restaurant chain “Cabbages and Condoms”, where condoms are a part of interior design and instead of mints, customers receive condoms with the bill. (Next to Bangkok restaurant Mr. Viravaidya opened a clinic, where poor women can have a free termination of unwanted pregnancy – to save them from unsafe abortions).

The idea was to make condoms a part of every day life, so no one would be ashamed of them. I would say, Mechai Viravadya made a kind of revolution – in Thailand, where discussing sex, contraception and family planning had been a kind of taboo, he taught people how to talk and take care of sexual health. Thanks to his efforts condoms are available today everywhere – from the tiniest rural 7-Eleven to a huge hypermarket.

Condom machine
Condom vending machine in toilet of Tesco Lotus hypermarket in Pattaya

In 1980s Thailand faced the danger: AIDS had arrived to the kingdom. Mr. Viravaidya was the first to recognize how much was the population endangered. When attempts of the PDA to affect government appeared to be unsuccessful, he asked the military for support. Royal Thai Army permitted broadcasting of a 3-year educational campaign via 326 radio stations nationwide. PDA’s vans with free & anonymous HIV-testing laboratories on board had been driving across the country, and in red light districts HIV/AIDS education theme nights were held.

The achievement of the PDA and Mr. Viravaidya: Thailand became one of the first countries to achieve a decline in HIV infections. New cases of HIV decreased by 90% from 1991 to 2003.

Mechai Viravaidya and the PDA have involved Thai government in their activities. Along with work in the PDA, Mr. Viravaidya was several times elected to be a senator and served in other important positions. Even today he knows – educational programs have to be continued: new generations are growing up and they need it.

In 2007 the PDA was awarded by Bill & Melinda Gates foundation in recognition of its pioneering work in family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention. Mr. Viravaidya himself was awarded many times in Thailand and worldwide:

  • 2 times with the Order of the White Elephant of special and first class (Thailand).
  • 2 times with the Order of the Crown of Thailand of special and first class.
  • International Health Award for Outstanding Leadership (USA, 1990).
  • The Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service (Thailand, 1994).
  • United Nations Population Award (1997).
  • Prince Mahidol Award for Public Health (Thailand, 2009) etc.

P.S. Khun Viravaidya has 1 daughter and 2 grandchildren.

“Cabbages and Condoms”, chain of affordable restaurants

The idea of the name is easy: condoms should be as plentiful as cabbages in Thailand. And the motto is: “Our food won’t make you pregnant”.

The profit of restaurants and Pattaya’s “Birds & Bees” resort is spent by Mechai Viravaidya Foundation on the support of rural education.

In every restaurant you will see mannequins dressed in clothes made of condoms (the thing that attracts the most tourists that come here intentionally). Well, Mr. Viravaidya knows how to have fun, once he even had presented a cap decorated with condoms to father of Bill Gates.

In restaurants you can choose dishes of European and Thai cuisines for affordable price, f.e.:

  • Fruit shake – 117 THB.
  • Bottle of water – 47 THB.
  • Spirits from 175 THB.
  • Som Tam Thai salad – 117 THB.
  • Soups Tom Kha Gai/ Tom Yum Kung – 175/258 THB.
  • Traditional fried rice from 152 THB.

Note: prices in menu don’t include 17% tax. The prices I’ve given you include all taxes.

Unfortunately I’ve got no pictures for you today, next time I’ll be there, I’ll make them for you. But still I can share GPS coordinates with you (in the most popular destinations), if you wish to visit a restaurant –

Bangkok: 13°44’11.7″N 100°33’28.5″E (13.736573, 100.557909)

Pattaya (Birds & Bees resort): 12°54’54″N 100°51’30.7″E (12.914998, 100.858523)

I’ve borrowed the first picture from GatesNotes of Bill Gates, hope, Mr. Gates won’t be angry with me.

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