The Odessa Record -

Meet Tay Tantivirum from Thailand


August 30, 2018

--Photo for The Record by Terrie Schmidt-Crosby.

Tay Tantivirun of Bangkok, Thailand stopped in Odessa on his way by bicycle from Seattle to his alma mater in Ann Arbor, Mich. last Thursday. As he travels, he publicizes a fund-raising effort to provide cleft lip/palate surgeries for those in need in rural Thailand.

Tay Tantivirun stopped in at the office of The Odessa Record last Thursday on his way via bicycle from Seattle to Ann Arbor, Mich., where he recently finished up a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan. Tay is a native of Bangkok, Thailand and is 22 years old.

So why is he biking from Seattle to Ann Arbor? Tay had some crucial decisions coming up in his life. He faces a decision on whether to begin working toward his master's degree at the University of Munich in Germany, where he has already been accepted, or to work for a year in the U.S. developing a product that he came up with as part of his senior project at U of M. His project combines elements of mechanical engineering, robotics and programming to provide enhanced uses of Braille for the blind that allow those without sight another avenue of learning and using senses other than sight to engage productively in the workforce.

It is a difficult decision to face, but not being the kind of person to make a snap decision or to take a short, leisurely ride to think things over, Tay laid the groundwork for his ride in several ways. As the first step in what he calls Operation Smile Thailand, he established a "gofundme" page dedicated to raising funds for paying the medical expenses for surgical cleft lip/palate repair in children, especially those living in the more remote rural areas of Thailand where families rarely have the money to afford such care.

Tay's interest in helping such children stems from accompanying his father, a rice merchant, on business trips to rice farms in the countryside in Thailand. From a young age, Tay has seen first hand the difficulties faced by children born with cleft lips/palates. Some of them develop serious breathing problems due to the condition and may have trouble eating in addition to the obvious obstacles of being "different" from their peers. In more developed countries, children with cleft lips/palates are operated on routinely as babies and as they get older face far fewer health challenges as a result.

So this healthy young man who grew up in his country's capital city with all of its advantages in terms of available health care and education has devoted his ride across the American West to raising money for those of his fellow countrymen who are less fortunate than he, while he also makes plans for his own future. And of course, his own future will be in the creative use of technology to help the physically disadvantaged all over the world to live happier, more productive lives.

Tay's grandfather was an ethnic Chinese who fled to Thailand after the revolution that made China a communist country. The grandfather established a steel-making company that became quite successful. Tay's father worked in that same business for a time, but ultimately became instead a rice merchant, buying up land on which to grow the crop and then selling it to domestic and foreign buyers.

Tay's sister and only sibling is four years younger than he and has finished secondary school in Thailand. In the fall, she will begin attending college in Savannah, Ga.

Tay began learning English when he was six years old. His family was also acquainted with native English speakers who helped him learn to speak English very well. The family speaks Thai at home, but Tay also took classes in Mandarin to learn more about his grandfather's culture. He also developed a keen interest in learning German and was thrilled to learn that Odessa was settled by many German-speaking farmers. We suspect he will do very well studying in Munich, whether he gets there this fall or waits until sometime next year.

Anyone interested in helping Tay in his quest to raise money to provide surgery for children with cleft palates can visit\cross-country-cycling-for-smiles on the Internet. Talking with this delightful young man brightened our day and made us feel more optimism for the future than we have felt for quite some time. We wish him every success, and we applaud his very positive outlook.


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