‘’WHO (World Health Organization) revealed that in Bangladesh the number of death is 21,000 per year by road accidents. I think the number is actually more, however, even a single death is serious’’, said Ratanawadee Winther, a Thai- born Canadian citizen also known as the ‘Helmet Lady of Thailand’ in her previous interview. Ratana is the wife of Mikael Himiniti Winther, outgoing Danish ambassador to Bangladesh. She is the Chairperson of Asia Injury Prevention (AIP) Foundation Thailand, an international NGO primarily focused on road safety advocacy. Tarique Choyon spoke with her:
Tarique Choyon: Hello how are you? Where are you now?
Ratanawadee Winther: I am fine Choyon. Thank you. We are in Copenhagen, Denmark now.
Tarique Choyon: What are you busy with right now?
Ratanawadee Winther: We just moved to Copenhagen from Dhaka after residing two years in Bangladesh.
Tarique Choyon: Do these years have made any impression on you?
Ratanawadee Winther: Since Bangladesh is a great and busy place, so it certainly makes great impression on everyone’s life. I am not the exception!
Tarique Choyon: What are the worst & best about Bangladesh in your eyes?
Ratanawadee Winther: Life is difficult for most of the people in Bangladesh. I mean people have to fly almost everyday from one place to another for work, to survive. The worst things are- over population, poor road condition, unviability of public transport, struggling lifestyle...
At the same time people is the best thing too! But the government should value the people by ensuring their happiness. When everything is adequate, you can get the best thing from people.
Tarique Choyon: You are the Chairperson of AIP foundation in Thailand. Aren’t you?
Ratanawadee Winther: You are right. It’s a global organization. It works globally. I work globally too. But, specifically I am responsible for Thailand.
Tarique Choyon: What is AIP? What are the core functions of AIP?
Ratanawadee Winther: As I said AIP is an NGO, it works globally. It was registered in USA around 20 years ago. Our very first campaign was to decrease the number of death in road accident in Hanoi, Vietnam. We promoted helmet for kids and children. It was named ‘Helmet for Kids’/HFK program. In the year 2000 President Bill Clinton inaugurated the HFK program while visiting Vietnam.
We have very good monitoring and evaluation system regarding road safety, capacity building in government officials and organizations. Currently we are working in China, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam along with representative offices in Uganda and Tanzania. We have plan to expand our activities in all developing countries. AIP works together with NGOs through skilled advocacy campaign and actively works in social media where people can write and express their feelings. Our ‘Lower Speed Limit’ campaign in Thailand made 44 provinces (out of 77) to maintain speed limit.
Tarique Choyon: Congratulations! Are you thinking to initiate it in Bangladesh too?
Ratanawadee Winther: In Bangladesh, situation is quite different and here involvement of stake holders is important. I tried to work in this area. I worked with some people, took ideas, involved in BRAC road safety program, participated in TV dialogues. We (AIP) talked with the ‘’Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety’’. They have published articles on Bangladesh road safety issue.
Tarique Choyon: How do you evaluate the role of media?
Ratanawadee Winther: I think in Bangladesh media is very much interested in it. But they should be more strategic about publishing road accident related articles. You have to report with a purpose, not just a regular report.
Tarique Choyon: What is your observation about the students protest on road safety issue last month?
Ratanawadee Winther: The recent tragic incident followed by unprecedented protest by young people in Dhaka is a manifestation of a paramount problem of the road safety situation in Bangladesh. It was such a huge protest, a mass demonstration! I was on the road one day during the protest. It started with an accident, but many things are involved here: no maintenance in speed limit, corruption in the process of road building, low quality of vehicles, driving without license, driver with no qualification, unavailability of public transport, weak traffic control system, poor medical response and so on.
They were facing these problems for a long time and they protested for their rights. The people in power are safe in beautiful cars. But other people cannot even find a vehicle to ride! That doesn’t make any sense.
The government has to make sure that, every citizen gets safe road, gets their rights. But when you want to maintain quality of vehicles and check license of the drivers, there comes the political interference. Government should stop these irregularities.
In Denmark people use bicycles more than cars and they use public transport as the system is very good there. They are rich, they have money but they don’t expense their money by buying expensive vehicles. Getting a driving license is very difficult there.
Tarique Choyon: As we know your husband Mikael Hemniti Winther, Ambassador- Head of Department in the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (former Danish Ambassador to Bangladesh) is a musician…
Ratanawadee Winther: Yes, my husband is a musician. He played with some famous guitarists in Bangladesh. He also played in the ‘Folk Festival’ before thousands of people. I support him in music.
Tarique Choyon: Do you have any interest in music too?
Ratanawadee Winther: No. But my passion is in painting. I talked with many artists in Bangladesh. I went to Chittagong Hill Tracks & met Chakma community. I have my own paintings about their lifestyle and culture. I love the time when I paint. Because that’s the time I am only with me. It keeps me fresh & happy in the busy life.
Tarique Choyon: Before concluding have you anything to say about Bangladesh?
Ratanawadee Winther: Yes, of course! Bangladeshi people are of so much potential. The government should see the potential in its own people. The life of every citizen should be valued.
Tarique Choyon: Thank you Ratana.
Ratanawadee Winther: You are welcome Choyon!
Tarique Choyon is a Dhaka-based journalist.