24 April 2013

Field Visits of Friends of UNICEF for Thailand – Paula Taylor and Nichkhun Horvejkul

Story by Heamakarn Sricharatchanya/Video of Nichkhun Horvejkul by Jingjai N. /Video of Paula Taylor by Metee Thuentap and TV Munk

BANGKOK - Actress and model Paula Taylor and K-pop idol Nichkhun Horvejkulhad never met each other in person before. But the two greeted each other excitedly before walking side by side into a room full of media at a Bangkok hotel in early April to be introduced as the first “Friends of UNICEF” for UNICEF Thailand.

As Friends of UNICEF, the two celebrities are tasked with two important missions – to promote the rights of all children in Thailand and to bring the challenges still facing the children to the attention of the public.

Prior to the announcement, the pair went on field visits with UNICEF Thailand to learn about the organization’s work and some of the challenges facingchildren in Thailand. Paula visited projects promoting exclusive breastfeeding and better parenting in Chiang Mai, while Nichkhun went to an economically disadvantaged community in Bangkok that is home to many children who work on the streets to help earn income for their families.

In March, Paula had the opportunity to speak to doctors, nurses, caretakers, pregnant women and new mothers at the Health Promotion Region Centre 10 in Chiang Mai, which is a model in promoting exclusive breastfeeding. She also visited the Pa Daed community, which has strong community-based programme to support mothers to exclusively breastfeed. There she met with volunteers who visit the homes of new mothers and provide assistance with breastfeeding and parenting problems.

“We are in Chiang Mai, which is a relatively very small place on earth. But what they have done here (for mothers and children) is very big,” Paula said. “If there is something like this everywhere in the world, the world will be a much better place.”

Paula said she was very impressed by the efforts to promote exclusive breastfeeding in Chiang Mai, especially after learning that the practice of breastfeeding has been on the decline in Thailand.

Thailand has the lowest breastfeeding rate in Asia and one of the lowest in the world. Only 5.4 per cent of babies are exclusively breastfed during the first six months of life, while 15 per cent of children in Thailand are never breastfed at all, according to a UNICEF-supported survey conducted in 2006.

A lively and enthusiastic Paula shared parenting tips with new mothers at the hospital and in the community. She also talked with them about her experience of not having sufficient breastmilk after giving birth to her baby girl Lyla in the United Kingdom, ENGLAND.

“I had to drive around to health centres and hospitals asking for help and advice, but no one could help me,” she said. “I was not as lucky as all of you!”
Supichaya Dhamkangkan, mother of 6-month old boy in the Pa Daed community, told Paula that her son, Poom, has been exclusively breastfed and is energetic and healthy.

“Nong Poom has never been sick. He is always in a good mood and hardly cries” she told Paula, who was cuddling the baby.

A week after Paula’s field visit in Chiang Mai, Nichkhun, who had just flown into Thailand from Korea, visited a local community behind the Suksanaree school in Thonburi district to learn about challenges facing children who are in difficult situation and are working on the street. There are about 80 children in this community, which is home to about 300 people. Many of the children work on the street to help support their families by selling garlands or perform the lion dance, while others beg for money.

UNICEF has supported Peuan Peuan Program, Friends Thailand, the local branch of the non-government organization Friends-International that has expertise working to empower children, families and community for the protection of children, to provide non-formal education and life-skills activities for children at a learning centre in the community. Under the project, there is also a ChildSafe community scheme, under which community volunteers keep an eye on the children when their parents are not around and report any instances of accidents, abuse or domestic violence to Peuan Peuan Hotline. Income generation activities are also provided for families there, such as making earrings and bracelets from recycled materials with the objective to enable the family to send their children to schools and prevent them from working on the street.

“Children here are just like any ordinary children who are innocent,” Nichkhun said. “But what they lack are opportunities. They do not have enough opportunities to get good education, which is a sad thing.”

It is estimated that there are about 30,000 children living and working on the street in Thailand. These children are at great risk of violence, exploitation and abuse.

Nichkhun spent the afternoon with the children, singing, dancing, drawing pictures and doing other activities with them, prompting many smiles and much laughter from the young crowd.

“I am honoured to be a Friend of UNICEF,” he said. “Every human being is born to make friends and to help each other, although sometimes we may not realize this. That is why we need an organization like UNICEF, which can receive assistance and pass it on to children in need. And I am happy that I am one of the hands that can help these children.”

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