Keep them afloat

Thailand-based Swedish actor Kjell Bergqvist helps underprivileged Thai children learn a vital survival skill – swimming.

“Do you know how many Thai children drown every day?” Kjell Bergqvist, a famous Swedish actor, asked. “Seven! Every day, seven kids in Thailand loose their lives simply because most of them cannot swim,” he said. “We Swedes teach our children to swim at a very young age. It’s scary to think that just because of the lack of swimming lesson, these tragedies occur.”

This is the main idea behind Family Bergqvist Foundation, established in 2017 by Kjell and his wife Karin, to give children free swimming lessons and engage in other charity works. The foundation is currently run on a non-profit basis by the couple and their three children. “It is in or best intention to and give back to the wonderful people in our little village. It has been something that we longed to do,” Kjell said.

Known and loved for his portrayal of odd and brutal characters, especially in his latest 2016 series, The Springflood (Springfloden), the actor-turned-philanthropist first came to Thailand in 1985 to shoot a movie. Charmed by the pleasant climate of the country and the smiling people, Kjell decided to spend half his time at home in Sweden, and 4-5 months a year in his house by the sea in Huay Yang sub-district, 10 miles south of Hua Hin in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, where most locals support themselves working within the hospitality and service sector. Kjell and his wife have a son, Leo, and together they also live with two daughters from his previous marriage.

The Bergqvist family, through their foundation, employed Thai staff to construct a pool and swimming teachers to set up a swim school that runs four days a week every year and gives out swimming lessons for free. But merely a good intention is not enough to complete the task, and the way to achieve their goal was long and winding. Lots of paper works had to be filed and series of heavy discussions with the authorities must be made before the project materialized, not to mention the challenge of finding workers in the countryside that can communicate in English.

They finally found a gem, Puay or Mr. Storm as he is known colloquially, to be the head swimming teacher. Already devoted his life to teaching both children and adults to swim, Mr. Storm came to the village and taught other instructors to give swimming lessons and helped set up the project. With his unique approach to swimming lesson that eases the fear of water in most of the children, the school has to date taught hundreds of children to swim and helped them discover the fun in the water in a safe way. A true haven for learning, the school is known among local children as a place for both education and fun, where every swimming class finishes off with an ice cream.

The Bergqvist family intends to keep this initiative rolling, quite literally, as they have financed a “mobile swimming pool” where Mr. Storm and his team can drive around to different parts of Thailand to teach children to swim.

The Family Bergqvist Foundation does not only give free swimming lessons but also contributes to the society in many different efforts. Since 2004, they support Barnhem Muang Mai, a care home for children in Phuket that was established by Swedish mother, Susanne Janson, who lost both her children in the tsunami.

At their home in Huay Yang, the family provided bicycles for underprivileged children to help them get to school easier, while the adults received gasoil kitchens. Around the schools, the family also placed much-needed road signs to ease traffic and increase road safety. The family also organized fun activities and gave away scholarships for the kids on Children’s Day.

During the floods in the southern Thailand, from December 2016 to the early months of 2017, the family managed to rally more than 440,000 baht in donation to aid the relief effort and help rebuild houses. Most recently, last spring, the foundation provided 20 sets of hearing aids to students at Thepparat School for the Deaf in Bang Saphan district of Prachuap Khiri Khan province.

“The works of the foundation is a group effort of not just our family but many other people,” Kjell said. “People contribute money, time, knowledge and expertise to benefit the causes and they want nothing more than to make a difference.”

Using fame to benefit his good cause, Kjell reaches out to his famous peers for support through his project, Kjelles Travelresa. Celebrities like Björn Borg, Ingemar Stenmark, Håkan Hellström, Zara Larsson and many others lend support. Renowned artist Emil Grönholm also helped raise funds with sales of portrait paintings of famous people, signed by the painter and the models.

In Thailand, the effort of the Family Bergqvist Foundation does not go unnoticed. Last October at the regional meeting by Swedish Women Educational Association (SWEA) in Bangkok where Kjell and Karin gave a talk about their foundation, the association chipped in with yellow towels to be used at the swimming school. With their humanitarian works expanding, Karin is working full time for the foundation while their kids are also helping in many ways to support.

“Our future plan for now is getting another mobile swimming pool for Mr. Storm to give swimming lessons to children in Chiang Mai and other cities,” Kjell said.

“We also look to work with a school, which is run by a Swedish gentleman a few miles out of Huay Yang, to give English lessons to children. With better knowledge of English language, the children will have better opportunities to find good jobs to support themselves and the families. It’s wonderful to see that a small foundation like ours with relatively small funds can make a difference and change people’s lives for the better,” Kjell said.

Facebook: @Familjen Bergqvist Insamlingsstiftelse

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