This is the third in a series of interviews with the major players of the fight scene on the island of Phuket, Thailand. These are the stories of survival during the Covid pandemic and its rippling effects.
The Covid-19 pandemic has provided intriguing case studies into how humans respond in the face of a never-seen-before illness racing across the globe.
Phuket is no different, as the island’s tourism-heavy economy all but ground to a halt because of the government’s Covid restrictions. In the fight industry, some gym owners closed their operations and left Phuket for greener pastures. Others, like Nando Barralho, stayed – to help.
As the pandemic raged, the head jiu-jitsu instructor at Gracie Barra Phuket witnessed first-hand how Thais struggled financially, physically, and psychologically. Wanting to support the island he has called home for four years, Barralho and a friend, Shaun Stenning, started handing out food parcels to locals.
That simple act of charity now delivers up to 5,000 parcels a day and has given birth to a new foundation supporting underprivileged communities in Phuket.
“With the pandemic, everything, every government, every man is going through this unprecedented event,” Barralho told The All Star.
“No one has been through these things. We only heard about the Black Plague, where they locked people in their houses and if you die, you die in there. It’s not those times anymore.”
Gracie Barra Phuket
The origin of Nando Barralho’s charity in Phuket stem from a chance Tinder encounter the Brazilian had in England, where the BJJ black belt lived for 12 years.
During that time, he matched up with the mother of his child on the dating platform. But she had a life in Thailand and was ready to return after her sister took over care of their sick mother. Barralho went with her.
“I come from Brazil. I lived in England for 12 years, so, for me, it was very easy to adapt,” explained Barralho.
Barralho had grappled for over a decade and, upon arriving in Phuket, partnered with Sutai Muay Thai to bring Gracie Barra jiu-jitsu to Phuket. He started building ties to the island communities that have now compelled him into action, as they have Shaun Stenning.
Giving back to the people
Stenning owns 5 Star Marine, which gives private boat tours around islands in the Phuket region. But with the pandemic came suffering across the country that Stenning now called home, he joined with Barralho to do what they could to ease the pain.
Stenning began delivering Barralho truckloads of food. Working out of a rented house, the Brazilian and other co-conspirators bagged up hundreds of parcels a day to deliver.
“We would pack 300 bags, and be like, ‘amazing, 300 families are going to eat today. But we were so tired, one day we rest, then we deliver,” Barralho said. “This is going on for 20 months.”
Both men put their own capital into the project, with Stenning donating a substantial amount. They, along with friends and family, gave their time. Everyone involved toiled long hours on top of their daily duties.
Barralho took pictures of the deliveries and their work for social media. Detractors asked him why he felt he had to “give and show,” instead of just giving, but the grappler was thinking ahead, to inspire others.
Now, they are supported by a team of over 200 individuals who have distributed 5,000 Life Bags in a single day. They’ve branched out and today serve multiple local islands.
“We started from here and now go all around the islands. There was no action from Shaun to become this big, but now we’re to the point that we have to become a foundation,” Barralho said. “Shaun wasn’t into charity, but he said, ‘he wasn’t going to give up on a community where he built his business.’”
Living Waters Phuket Foundation
Thus, the Living Waters Phuket Foundation was born, with Stenning at the helm. The dream to give back had grown larger than anyone could have imagined.
It already lists many completed projects on its site even though it’s only been around since November, and hopes to build a sustainable force that continues to nurture the region.
“We’re looking to help local charities stand up because they all lost their money. With COVID, everyone is tight. It’s hard to make a charity event when people don’t have money. So, yeah, that’s what we’ve been doing here in Phuket: jiujitsu, charity, and enjoying this beautiful island,” Barralho said.