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Improving quality of life for children and youth in Asia-Pacific: Interview

04.11.2012

Sub-lieutenant Kitti Khanthamit, Grand Chamberlain, Office of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhon’s Projects (OPSP) gave a special interview to UNESCO Bangkok about “Improving the Quality of Life of Children and Youth in the Asia-Pacific Region project under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand”.

What is the key principle of this project?

“Children are the key to development; they are the resource that will develop the future of a nation. His Majesty the King of Thailand has a number of initiatives to improve the quality of life of Thai people, mostly focusing on families’ household income generation among male earners, while Her Majesty the Queen has been promoting occupational opportunities for women. Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is herself an academic with an interest in education and children’s education in particular. She saw how children’s poor health and hygiene was negatively impacting their education, especially those in remote areas who did not have enough [to eat]. 

Sub-lieutenant Kitti Khanthamit, Grand Chamberlain, Office of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhon’s Projects (OPSP) In response to this, Her Royal Highness began the Agriculture for School Lunch project for rural Thai children in 1980. The project initially emphasised improving children’s health and hygiene to better their educational outcomes and overall well‑being. Since then it has expanded to build children’s capacities in living a healthy lifestyle, which has equipped them with knowledge as well as vocational and life skills acquired through learning by doing. The project also encourages conservation of the local environment, traditions and culture.”

How has Her Royal Highness supported the expansion of this project to neighbouring countries? 

“Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is always concerned about the well-being of children. She has implemented her project on children and youth development in Thailand since 1980. When UNDP Myanmar found out about it and asked to visit the project in Thailand Her Royal Highness kindly granted permission to a group of teachers and educational officials. The Princess also supplied seeds and other materials as well as on-going assistance to the group so they could implement their own project in Myanmar, which has been very successful.  

“As part of this project children are not only given more food and have better nutrition, they also learn what a healthy lifestyle is.”

In her capacity as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Empowerment of Minority Children through Education and through the Preservation of their Intangible Cultural Heritage, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has collaborated with UNESCO on pilot projects using the Thai model in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam. The context of these countries  in terms of living conditions, weather, culture, and occupation (mainly agriculture), as well as the challenges they face are quite similar to Thailand so the knowledge and experience gained by the Thai project could be easily adapted and applied to their situation.”

What has been your impression of this project?

“Firstly, this project has generated good relationships between people in the pilot countries and Thailand. During the recent floods in Thailand, schools that are part of this project in Vietnam sent donations to Her Royal Highness to help Thai flood victims. It may not have been a lot of money but their help and solidarity was significant and comforting. 

Secondly, all parties involved in this project, including government officials and teachers, are committed to work together for a better future for children. This has led to some great results: children have enough food to eat, they become healthier, they learn more about nutrition, hygiene and agriculture, they have better living conditions, and most importantly they are more aware of all of these issues.”    

“Her Royal Highness stressed the need for more follow-up, and to ensure teachers participating in this project have opportunities to exchange their knowledge and experiences.”

What are the challenges or obstacles?

“As the project implementation sites are in remote locations conducting follow-up visits can be difficult and costly.” 

What were Her Royal Highness’ reflections on the project? 

“Her Royal Highness stressed the need for more follow-up, and to ensure teachers participating in this project have opportunities to exchange their knowledge and experiences, for example, through an exchange visit to schools in neighbouring countries. She also shared her knowledge of other countries’ practice in terms of working and management styles, coordination, location and surroundings, and potential partners.” 

How has Her Royal Highness worked with the pilot schools she visited in neighbouring countries? 

In Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand’s capacity as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Empowerment of Minority Children through Education and through the Preservation of their Intangible Cultural Heritage, her own initiative the ‘Agriculture for School Lunch’ project has been expanded to Asia-Pacific countries, entitled “Improving the Quality of Life for Children and Youth”. UNESCO has had the honour of cooperating closely with Her Royal Highness’ Office since 2006 in implementing the project in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Viet Nam, with the strong support of the National Commissions for UNESCO and Ministries of Education. To date, the project operates in 21 schools in these three countries.

“If there is a need, there will be support from the Princess. For instance, one of the participating schools in Vietnam asked for Her Royal Highness’ support for a water filter; the school is located on the sea, and fresh water is needed. After visiting this floating school in Ha Long Bay Her Royal Highness searched for a way to turn salt water into fresh water. This was found to be possible, but the filter required electricity to run, which was not available to the floating school. Instead, Her Royal Highness suggested installing a gutter to direct rainwater into a floating container as in this area it rains for about two thirds of the year. This is simple and effective; it costs a lot less and is easier to implement and maintain.”

What does Her Royal Highness plan to do next?

“The project has recently been expanded to schools in Indonesia. The same procedures [as that of the three neighbouring countries] were used: schools have been selected and principals and teachers met for an introductory workshop on project implementation and work plan design in Thailand. Subsequently, teacher training will be organised before implementation takes place. 

If there are any other requests to expand the project we [OPSP] will look into it and provide further assistance.”

What is the role of the Office of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhon’s Projects and the role of UNESCO? 

“The Office of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhon’s Projects provides knowledge and technical advice on project implementation, shares examples of good practices, and supports the country in project implementation and monitoring. UNESCO assists with project coordination, such as facilitating the selection of participating schools, conducts field visits, and monitors the implementation progress.”

What expectations do you have of participating countries in the implementation of the project?” 

“Local stakeholders including local education, agriculture and health authorities should be invited to discuss the project and participate in implementation, as has happened in Thailand.

As the pilot schools are in neighbouring countries, we need to rely on the national officials involved in the project to provide immediate technical support when needed and conduct follow‑up and monitoring.”

Do you have any last words?

“As part of this project children are not only given more food and have better nutrition, they also learn what a healthy lifestyle is. These children learn how to make sure they will always have enough food. They learn not to just eat whatever they like but to choose the foods that will keep them healthy, and to evaluate their health by monitoring their height and weight. Food has a huge impact on children’s health and consequently on their learning opportunities. This project raises awareness of this very important issue.”

 

By Rojana Manowalailao, Nantawan Hinds and Jessica Aumann, UNESCO Bangkok