AWS Public Sector Blog

Student training program tackles Thailand’s air pollution with help from AirGradient, AWS

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Mechai Bamboo School in rural Thailand has an unconventional approach to help alleviate poverty and give back to the community. Its students pay no fees, instead helping with tree planting and assisting the elderly in nearby villages in return for enrollment. The innovative school serves as a lifelong learning hub in one of the nation’s poorest areas, empowering students and villagers to become active stewards of their society and fostering social and economic progress.

The community also faces another issue: air pollution. Widespread crop burning and forest fires are an annual occurrence in Thailand. In parts of the country, air pollution reached some of the world’s deadliest levels in recent years, with 1.6 million Thai citizens seeking treatment for pollution-related illnesses at the start of 2024 (up 23 percent from 2023, according to data from the country’s National Economic and Social Development Council).

To help tackle the issue, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is supporting AirGradient, a manufacturer of affordable and accurate air quality monitors, to launch an air quality tracking program with Mechai Bamboo School. The program—which will see 100 monitors donated to the school and its partners, part of a wider donation of 200 monitors from AWS to non-government organisations across Asia via AirGradient—will teach students about the science of air quality, the consequences of air pollution, and how to use the monitors.

“AirGradient started as a volunteer project for a school impacted by the burning season, and our collaboration with AWS to support Mechai Bamboo School definitely embodies our early spirit,” said Achim Haug, CEO and co-founder of AirGradient. “By working alongside the educators and facilitating the students, we are not only raising awareness about air quality and its health impact, but most importantly, inspiring future generations to advocate for cleaner air.” 

Making air quality data more accessible to everyone 

The deployment of AirGradient monitors will provide important insights into the air quality across Thailand, most crucially for areas like Buriram province, where the Mechai Bamboo School is located, which have less publicly available data. For example, they enable early alerts of possible forest fires if a sudden decline in air quality is detected, allowing for a faster response by firefighters.

Besides the AirGradient Map, the data is also fed to open source platform OpenAQ, which provides real-time access to air quality data globally. This data empowers global researchers and policymakers to make informed decisions and develop targeted strategies and advocacy efforts that mitigate the harmful effects of air pollution.

OpenAQ is part of AWS’s Open Data Sponsorship Program, which aims to democratise access to such data by making it openly available for analysis on AWS. The program covers storage costs for publicly available, high-value, cloud-optimized datasets from data providers who seek to develop new cloud-native ways of lowering the cost of working with data, and who encourage the development of communities that benefit from access to shared datasets.

“Open data empowers marginalised communities by providing them with data-driven proof of air pollution, enabling them to advocate for solutions,” said Chris Hagerbaumer, executive director at OpenAQ. “AWS’s Open Data Sponsorship Program accelerates our ability to help these communities and others—with or without technical experience—to have access to the data and tools they need to address air inequality.”

four students are seen in a selfie photo at the school and one student is holding an air quality monitor in her hand

Students from the Mechai Bamboo School pose with one of the air quality monitors.

Opening opportunities for students 

For students, the air quality tracking program, which will involve a series of in-person workshops and online sessions by AirGradient, offers an opportunity to future-proof their livelihoods by helping them build a portfolio of skills to support clean air advocacy and their general professional development. The program will include insights from AirGradient’s CTO and co-founder, Dominik Schraner; a representative from Thailand’s Clean Air Network; and other experts.

“At Mechai Bamboo School, we believe that education goes beyond textbooks, and we encourage students to acquire practical skills and become changemakers,” said Mechai Viravaidya, school chairman. “We are grateful to AirGradient and AWS for their support. For the first time, Thai rural schools have access to air quality monitors. These devices enable students to actively engage in the collection and analysis of air quality data, equipping them with essential skills to address environmental challenges.”

Mechai Bambo School chairman Mechai Viravaidya poses with his arms crossed and smiling with a tree-line road behind him.

School chairman Mechai Viravaidya.

Continued investment into community 

AWS is the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud, and we believe that cloud-powered technology can drive positive change by addressing some of the world’s most complex challenges, particularly around environmental equity, disaster response, health equity, and education and skills training.

“AWS is committed to investing in the communities where we live and work, helping to generate economic growth, while working alongside community partners to build impactful programs and create solutions to pressing challenges,” said Vatsun Thirapatarapong, country manager of AWS Thailand. “Supporting customers who are utilising cloud technology through AWS for social good is one example of how we contribute to do so.”

Since 2015, AWS has made major investments in Thailand, serving customers and unlocking transformation across industries. We hope to drive more community impact across Thailand once the new AWS Region in Thailand goes live by early 2025, making it easier for organisations and businesses in the country to access emerging technologies for public good.

Learn more about the Open Data Sponsorship Program and how you can share your datasets.