Samui Wining & Dining
Local Hero
The story of Ritchie Newton’s crusade to help others.

 

Local HeroTo see him now you’d never guess. Today there’s an intensity about him. He’s wound-tight, and almost shining with purpose. But there’s a humility, too. His eyes are steady and luminous but now and then fix themselves into the distance for a moment, as if he’s being swept along by currents beyond his control. His name is Ritchie Newton. He’s been a resident and well-known personality on Samui for a long time now. He was once a heavy rocker with a German band called Mass. He was also known throughout Thailand for his Elvis act and show. Then he became a filmmaker. But today he’s a different man. The once-brilliant tattoos on his arms seem to have faded into the past. He’s changed. Today Ritchie Newton has become a man with a mission.

 

A poet once observed that people don’t progress gently through life; they pitch from one trauma to the next. And it’s only the upheavals in their lives that cause them to grow; to develop and move on with a new awareness. And so it’s been with Ritchie.

 

 

Ritchie has a son, Rino (that’s pronounced Reeno). In June, 2010, Rino was diagnosed with a rare and congenital heart condition known as Ebstein’s Anomaly. It’s a fatal condition if left untreated and even operations aren’t a guaranteed cure. This news hit Ritchie like a brick. “Instantly, immediately, it changed my entire life,” he told me. “Everything I’d known and believed in suddenly became unimportant. I became unimportant. The only thing that mattered was that this dear, sweet boy be given the chance to have a life.”

 

Ritchie immediately dropped everything and began a fundraising campaign that spanned continents. He called on his friends in the French and German music industries and arranged concerts and tours. He broadcast his appeal in the press and on television. He appeared again in Thailand with his resurrected Elvis show. He composed an anthem for Rino called ‘Together We Are Strong’. And two things happened as a result of all this.

 

The first was that he raised all the money needed for Rino’s operation, which was successful, enabling Rino to look forward to life as a comparatively normal child. The second came in the form of an epiphany for Ritchie. “I think it’s like what must happen with Born Again Christians,” he told me with a smile. “My life took on a meaning that it didn’t have before. I realised that my reason for being here was to spare these helpless children from their suffering. My purpose in life is now to raise money and do all I can to help deserving cases.”

 

Ritchie is the first to acknowledge that he’s no accountant. He has no experience of managing money, funds or trusts, nor does he want to start learning now. Plus the fact that it’s far too time-consuming. He’s got the energy and contacts to organise events and the personality to push them all together. And so he’s formed a project by the name of ‘Powerhearts’. The funds that are raised go directly to Powerhearts and are held in an escrow account by the international charitable organisation, ‘Comboni Missionaries’. Leaving Ritchie to dedicate himself to new projects, the current one of which is ‘Alex’s Life’.

 

Ten year-old Alex Sufeida suffers from Muscular Dystrophy. His German father, Michael and his Thai mother, Khun Sakhon, now have to dedicate themselves full-time to taking care of Alex, and his condition is worsening almost by the day. But Ritchie’s dynamo is now spinning at maximum revs and already a substantial amount of money has been raised. Probably the most momentum here came as a result of a documentary that was specially made for television and aired on networks across Germany in February, 2011. The significance of this event didn’t truly come to light until some time afterwards, when Ritchie’s YouTube visits for ‘Together We Are Strong’ leaped suddenly from 800 to 10,200, almost overnight.

 

“But there are two problems with Alex,” Ritchie continued. “The first is that treatment for ‘MD’ is highly specialised and involves the use of stem-cell treatment and therapy. The pioneer in this field is working at a hospital in Cologne, so there are both the operation costs and the transport costs, too, but in this case the family is paying for the flights. The operation alone is going to cost €10,560 (approximately 450,000 baht) and we are well on the way to raising this. We have already had to book a time-slot for the operation,” he added, “there’s a long waiting list, and so by October it will have to happen, one way or another!”

 

But Ritchie’s already committed himself to another deserving cause and is fully-immersed in a new bout of fundraising. The ‘Micheal’s Eyes’ project is dedicated to easing the suffering of a seven year-old Indonesian boy who has had to live with cerebral palsy since birth. In this case the situation is inoperable. Micheal (yes, that is the correct spelling) was born paralysed and blind and totally dependant on his care-givers, but Ritchie’s donations will help with the daily level of professional supervision that has now become imperative.

 

Once again Ritchie has composed a haunting song, in this case entitled ‘It’s So Hard When My Blind Boy Cries’. You can find it on both YouTube and also on the Powerhearts website, plus it’s on sale through Amazon. And, as well as the other funding, all money raised from this will go towards care for Micheal. Check it out and listen to feelings behind the harmonies, especially in the last chorus: you’ll understand the passion and energy that is now driving Ritchie.

 

It’s a movingly humanitarian story and one that’s ongoing. This has now become Ritchie’s life. It’s what he does. But it’s also had a happy and unexpected spin-off. For several years now Ritchie’s ‘Elvis Show’ has been something that he’s grown away from. A great shame, as many of his fans will tell you. But that bouncy and powerful presence is back! ‘Elvis’ has returned, this time as a part of the continued fundraising that Ritchie’s dedicated himself to. And you can see him live on stage in a ‘Vegas-style’ series of ticket-only performances at the Tropical Palm Resort & Spa, in Lamai. The dates have yet to be finalised, so keep an eye out on his website at www.ritchienewton.com.

From a studded rocker to a sequinned Elvis, from a musician to a care-giver; it’s been a chequered career and one with some surprising turns. It’s an unusual story and a humane one, too. But all of these roles are wrapped up together at the core of the man we know as Ritchie Newton. And we wish him all the very best in his endeavours.

 

Rob De Wet

 


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