The organisers of the Elephant Festival have been pilloried for trying to set a Guinness World Record at the expense of students made to sit in the scorching heat for hours on end.
The annual festival in Surin province, which runs from Nov 9 to Sunday, added a twist this year: apart from the famous elephant show over the weekend, the hosts on Friday assembled students and volunteers in Elephant Show Arena in an attempt to set a world record for the number of elephant dolls folded from Surin fabric in one sitting.
“Be part of the historic moment,” the Provincial Administration Organisation in Surin, which was one of the co-hosts, posted in a Facebook message inviting people to take part in the programme.
They were asked to gather at 12.30pm for the opening ceremony followed by a practice session before the doll-making activity started at 3pm.
If successful, it was to be Surin’s second Guinness World Record; the northeastern province was previously acknowledged for the longest buffet line for elephants on Nov 14, 2003. Surin is best known as Thailand’s home of elephants, but it is also famous for its weaving.
Sudents use fabric to shield themselves from the scorching sun while waiting to make dolls on Friday. (Photo from Spirit of Surin Facebook page)
Pictures posted on social media showed students from high schools, higher institutions and even primary schools sitting under the sun in temperatures that at one point reached 39C. Other photos show the organisers and supporters cheering them on from under a roof.
Although the organisers said students had volunteered to join the world record-settaing bid, a short video clip filmed by Benjamin Punson, a Move Forward Party candidate for Surin in the next election, showed otherwise. “We were forced to come here,” many students said together when asked whether they were participating of their own free will.
Supporters of the doll-making world record event sit in the shade at the arena. (Photo from Surin Public Relations Office Facebook page)
“Many young students were there and the weather was very hot,” the administrators of the Spirit of Surin Facebook page said. Many children passed out because of the heat, it added.
The administrator of the page praised the students for showing spirit by getting the job done, but asked the organisers whether they had given an adequate explanation to the young participants of why they had to endure such conditions.
Kueakul Phiensamue, who wrote on the Facebook page of Mr Benjamim, said she was a student from Sirindhorn School in Muang district attending the event.
“A friend of mine fainted as we were walking from the school to the stadium,” she said. “Around 3pm, an emcee told us to fold our umbrellas so that the event would look beautiful when it was recorded.”
“It was a very bad experience for me,” she said, adding that teachers also sat by the students.
Pictures on other Facebook pages captured nurses helping boys and girls in a medical room.
People voiced their disapproval on numerous Facebook accounts, including that of the provincial public relations office, which had promoted all events at the festival.
“It was very hot and many suffered heat stroke. What was this event for?” a person using the name of Soraya Phothiphan commented on the PR office page.
“The organisers said the kids volunteered to do it but Line groups of their parents said their kids were forced to take part,” Kit Jungyoonrasert wrote.
The model of an elephant doll made from fabric made in Surin. (Photo from (Photo from Surin Public Relations Office Facebook page)
Surin governor Pichit Boontun on Sunday defended the activity, saying it would benefit the province, according to Daily News online.
“Nothing is easy to achieve. We have to fight for it,” he said, urging critics to look at the benefits of the programme instead of trying to damage the province’s public image.
The province did not say how many fabric dolls were made on Friday – or how many people sat in the hot day to make them.