21 December 2017

Reading ambassadors promote reading in remote areas

Story by Heamakarn Sricharatchanya / Video by Metee Thuentap / Photos by Jonas Gratzer

This story was published in Bangkok Post newspaper on 9 December 2017

MAE HONG SON, 8 December 2017 – In the playground of Khun Yuam Vitthaya School in Mae Hong Son province, Kittisak “Gao” Tianyut and his friends look cheerful yet determined. Kittisak has a story book in his hand, while his friends put paper puppets of colourful animals on their hands. They tell a story, make animal noises, and act out a scene.

25 September 2017

Swimming Saves Lives

Story by Heamakarn Sricharatchanya
Photos and video by Metee Thuentap

This story was published in Bangkok Post newspaper on 23 September 2017

SAKON NAKHON, 25 September 2017 – When Nontakarn Tetngarmtuan was 5 years old, his hometown in Nonthaburi was flooded. He and his grandmother were out repairing a wooden bridge in his village when the boy fell into the water and nearly drowned.

24 July 2017

UNICEF helps flood-affected children and families recover from one emergency and prepare for others

Early childhood development centres in Nakhon Si Thammarat receives learning materials and toys from UNICEF

Story by Heamakarn Sricharatchanya

NAKHON SI THAMMARAT, 3 July 2017 – In January 2017, Southern Thailand experienced one of the worst floods to hit the country in 30 years, with more than 1 million people in 5,000 villages in 12 provinces affected.

As the water level peaked, UNICEF staff rushed to the hardest-hit areas to gather information on the situation of children and women. Based on that assessment, UNICEF provided 1.2 million baht to the local Holt Sahathai Foundation to provide around 430 impoverished families a cash grant of 1,200 baht for basic necessities. They also received school bags and school uniforms, including shoes and socks, so children can continue their studies.

30 April 2017

The first 1,000 days of life can change a child’s future!

By: Tanaporn Perapate

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life is the most critical period for building a strong foundation for age-appropriate development and ultimately helping that child reach their potential. Children who receive nurturing attention and quality care from parents or caregivers tend to have strong early learning readiness, eagerly embrace new learning experiences and establish important connections between their physical growth and their brain development. The first 1,000 days begins at conception and rolls through a child’s second year of life, during which it encompasses three stages: (1) pregnancy (the first 270 days), (2) infancy, from birth to 6 months of age (the first 180 days) and (3) toddlerhood, from 6 months to 2 years of age (the first 550 days).

04 April 2017

Infant and Young Child Food Act Promotes Good Health and Good Economics

Written by: Dr. Siraporn Sawasdivorn, Secretary General, Thai Breastfeeding Center Foundation; Thomas Davin, Representative, UNICEF Thailand; Roger Mathisen, Program Director, Alive & Thrive

Today, 4 April 2017, the National Legislative Assembly will deliberate on Thailand’s first ever “Control of Marketing of Infant and Young Child Food Act.” Recognizing that breastmilk is the single best source of nutrition for infants and young children, the Act helps regulate extensive and often misleading industry marketing of breastmilk substitutes.

21 January 2017

Families have a key role to play in promoting good brain development in early childhood

Story by: Tanaporn Perapate

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the important timing for parents and caretakers in helping their children develop and the key factors that help shape a child’s brain.  Children who receive appropriate care and stimulation in the early months and years of their lives, are more likely to develop positive cognitive and social skills and to experience good health, and will have increased potential for future earnings.  Investment in these early days has the highest return than at any other time during a child’s life. In this post, we want to build on this momentum and focus on practical ways in which parents and care-givers can give their children a good head-start.

11 January 2017

Let’s Build a Better Brain for young children! Let’s do it today!

Story by: Tanaporn Perapate

I wanted to find some information on the factors that influence human brain development.  I wanted to know whether human intelligence is pre-determined in a person’s genes or are there things that can change how the brain develops. I did a quick search online and I came cross UNICEF blog post on brain development and on some of the answers that the leading neuroscience, biology, epigenetics, psychiatry, nutrition, chemistry and child development, provided on the subject.

08 October 2016

How early childhood education is important to child development

Story by Heamakarn Sricharatchanya / Video by Metee Thuentap 

This story was published in Bangkok Post newspaper on 8 October 2016

CHIANG MAI, 8 October 2016 – Suchanaree Yabua (nicknamed Nong Eye) holds her father’s hand as he walks her to the early childhood development centre of Mae Jo town in Chiang Mai. As soon as she enters the school grounds and greets her teacher, her best friend takes her to a playground where they join in the laughter of their friends playing with their favourite toys.

04 October 2016

Thailand’s child support grant helps vulnerable families

Apinya Sattaram holds baby Pleang, who has to be fed through a tube
© UNICEF Thailand/2016/Jingjai N

Apinya Sattaram, 27, has two children. The oldest is eight years old. Her second, Pleang, was born in September 2015. He is small and fragile, wrapped in a blanket with a tube taped to the side of his face. A large white scar is visible above his hairline. Pleang suffocated on amniotic fluid during labour, a condition that affects his ability to breastfeed. After he was born, Apinya had to leave work to take care of him full time.

“Pleang can’t be breastfed so I have to feed him through a tube,” Apinya says. “The monthly expense for him is 2,000 to 3,000 baht.”

The family are very poor. They live in Buriram province, northeast Thailand. Their house was built by the local authorities and is in bad condition. They survive on earnings from Apinya’s husband, who works at a tools and supplies shop where he makes around 4,000 baht a month ($114 USD). They also receive a disability grant of 800 baht per month for Apinya, who has muscular weakness. It’s barely enough to feed the family.

In October 2015, the Thailand Government introduced the Child Support Grant to provide financial assistance to poor families with newborn children. Apinya’s family was one of the first to benefit. She received 400 baht per month, later increased to 600 baht. For Apinya, this makes a big difference. “I use the grant to buy diapers for Pleang, and for travel expenses when I take him to see the doctor,” she says.

In June 2016, Pleang was hospitalised and Apinya had to spend all the grant money on his medical care, while he stayed in the emergency room at the local hospital. She also had to travel to see doctors at Maharaj Hospital in Nakhon Ratchasima province, which has better facilities. “When Pleang stays at Maharaj Hospital, I have to also rent a room for myself to look after him,” she says.

Child Support Grant

Narinthip Pommarin with her children Ang Bao, 5 months, and Ang Ban in Samut Songkran province.
The family receives the Child Support Grant to help them with expenses for Ang Bao.
© UNICEF Thailand/2016/Andy Brown

UNICEF worked closely with the Government of Thailand on the design of the Child Support Grant. A study conducted by the Thailand Development Research Institute, supported by UNICEF, showed that for a small child, food expenses alone range from 579 to 812 baht a month. Initially, the grant was 400 baht for children up to one year old. In March 2016, it was expanded to children up to three years old and increased to 600 baht per month.

To qualify, families must live in a household with an income per person of no more than 3,000 baht per month. As well as benefiting individual families, the policy was designed to narrow the poverty gap in Thai society. Investing in early childhood development, up to six years old, can reap huge rewards. Children are healthier, do better in school and have higher earning potential later in life.
“The first six years of a child’s life are the most critical period for cognitive and physical development,” UNICEF Representative for Thailand, Thomas Davin, explains. “It is during these six years that investment in a child’s development is most critical and yields the highest long-term returns; not only for the individual child but for society as a whole.

“By reaching poor families of children up to age three, the expanded Child Support Grant scheme goes a long way towards reaching the country’s poorest and most vulnerable children. It is also likely to be a significant contribution to reducing child poverty and addressing inequalities in Thailand.”

South-south Cooperation

Peggy Maswanganyi and her baby Hlamlani in Mtsetweni, South Africa.
The family receives a grant of R350 [$24 USD] per month, which has been critical in helping Peggy care for Hlamlani.
© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Marinovich

Another way to address these issues is through ‘south-south cooperation’. UNICEF believes that the best solutions often come from countries that have experienced, and tackled, the same problem. When developing the Child Support Grant, UNICEF looked at basic welfare schemes that had been successfully implemented in other middle income countries such as Brazil, China and South Africa.
In 2012, an impact assessment was carried out of the Child Support Grant in South Africa. Data from the assessment clearly showed that children receiving the grant, particularly those enrolled at birth, completed more grades of schooling and performed better academically. They were also less likely to experience illness or stunting and more likely to have their growth monitored by a health professional.

In May 2012, UNICEF organized an international study visit that took nine Thai Government officials to South Africa to see a well-established child support grant program in operation. They were accompanied by high level government officials and the influential Thai economist Dr Varakorn Samakoses.

Christina Popivanova, UNICEF Thailand Chief of Social Policy, calls the visit a “turning point” in UNICEF’s efforts to win support for the policy from the Thai Government. It was led by the government’s planning agency and included several line ministries that would have responsibility for developing and implementing a Child Support Grant in Thailand.

“During the study visit, government officials and UNICEF staff worked together for 12 hours a day, talking about these issues and seeing a highly sophisticated payment system working in a very concrete way in a country at a similar level of economic development,” Christina says.

Dr Samakoses became a key ally. After the trip, he wrote several media articles and promoted the child support grant plan in his weekly radio program. “His support really was instrumental,” Christina continues. “When you get prominent figures like that who become advocates, they have their own networks of influence and those people in turn also become supporters of the idea. This can make all the difference.”

UNICEF hopes that the Thailand Child Support Grant will now become an example for other countries in Asia-Pacific. On 7-9 November 2016, governments from across the region will meet in Malaysia to discuss further south-south cooperation in a range of areas including child protection, social welfare and universal healthcare.

Monluck's Story

Monluck at home with her parents in Chiang Mai province.
© UNICEF Thailand/2016/Metee Thuentap

Another child to benefit from the Grant, Monluck, was born in November 2015. She is the third child in her family. Her father holds her in his arms on the porch of their traditional wooden house. Her mother Mhee learned about the Child Support Grant when she went to a public health centre for antenatal care.

“I was so happy when I heard this news,” Mhee says. “Before, I didn’t have money to take my children to see doctors. When my first two children were very sick, I didn’t have money to take them to district hospital. There were costs for transport to bring them to hospital and if we want to stay overnight to look after them.”

The family earns a living from strawberry farming. “We just have a small piece of land,” Mhee says. “After harvest, I work in other people’s farm and earn 200 baht a day. But I don’t have work every day. One month after giving birth to Monluck, I went back to work to help my husband on the farm.”
Mhee’s hope is that Monluck can stay in school until Grade 12. “Although there are no school fees, there are other costs like school uniforms and transport,” she says. “I want to save this money for Monluck when we have urgent needs.”

In the first 10 months since the scheme began, more than 117,000 children like Pleang and Monluck have been registered to receive the Child Support Grant.

“The Child Support Grant is an important milestone in Thailand’s efforts to protect the country’s most vulnerable children and support their development in the first years of life,” UNICEF Representative Thomas Davin says. “It’s also a smart, long-term investment towards a prosperous economic and social future for Thailand.”

The authors
Heamakarn Sricharatchanya, UNICEF Thailand, and Andy Brown, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific

08 September 2016

What’s up Mobile Library!

Story by: Murni Hoeng

Remember our Mobile Library programme? We brought you the fresh update all the way from Mae Hong Son! If you kind of forget it already, please read our "Bring books to children in remote areas" blog. 

It was almost noon when the Mobile Library arrived at Hui Shan School, Mueang district, Mae Hong Son. All the students, of Lahu ethnicity, were getting ready for lunch. It was noodle soup prepared by the more senior students early in the morning. Our two animators too took this opportunity to have their meal and rest after 2.5 hour drive the winding road across mountainous terrain of northern Thailand.