In Thailand, there are plenty of household names, but not many of them bring a smile and a twinkle to the eye the way that “Mechai” does. If you’re unfamiliar with Mechai Viravaidya, you’re missing out. Known as Mr. Condom, Mechai’s career began in the 1970s when he became famous for traveling around the country giving out condoms – a truly unconventional (even controversial) thing to do at the time. His tireless promotion of condoms, family planning, and community health have made him a household name in every corner of the Kingdom; indeed, if you ask for a “Mechai” in 7-11, you will be given a box of condoms – a distinction he’s thoroughly proud of.
Khuh Mechai also founded the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), one of Thailand’s largest NGOs, twice served as a senator, as Minister of Tourism, and a number of other high profile private and governmental roles too numerous to list here. In 2007 the PDA was given the Gates Award by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in recognition of its pioneering work in family planning and AIDS prevention.
In part one of our interview with Khun Mechai – delightfully feisty and sharp as a tack – we chat about his condom nickname, how Thai culture’s views on sex and family have changed over the years, the best way to handle the ubiquity of porn, and how he got help from the Buddhist clergy to support his condom campaign.
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