By Rattana Lao*
During the peak of Thailand’s political warfare between the Red and Yellow shirts, I was a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University pursuing a Doctorate in Political Science with a specialization in Comparative and International Education.
As Bangkok’s buildings were burnt down, I sat in tears in front of my computer could not comprehend nor tolerate the sights and senses of such catastrophe.
What’s happening to Thailand? A place we once called the land of smile.
I put myself together and defended my proposal. I came home for my dissertation research. But once I landed, I began something entirely different.
I called my friends from all walks of lives: academics, businesses, politics and civil society and we started talking about the future of Thailand what to do, what can we do?
Inspired by the KEEPS project at the London School of Economics, where I did my Master of Sciences in Development Studies, we initiated an art project for political liberation.
Something Freire would be proud of.
We took paint colors, brushes and canvases to rural areas and began using art as mean to break political deadlocks – to initiate a conversation. We asked our students to paint the future of Thailand in their visions.
From a humble beginning in 2011, we grew in size and scope. UNITE Thailand is now a global youth networks of like-minded individuals who want to make a difference for Thailand. We are an educational project with 3,000 members.
We have collaborated with the Open Society Foundation in 2012 to create the 1st IDEA Asia Youth Forum where we brought together 200 Asia youth from 22 countries to work with Thai university students in Thailand for 2 weeks.
We have worked with the International Labour Organizations in 2013 – 2014VDO to promote the Sapansiang Campaign that addresses the positive images of migrant workers in Thailand.
Anna Olsen, the Technical Specialist TRIANGLE in ASEAN program of the ILO said, “working with UNITE Thailand allowed us to reach young Thai people with our messages of protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers who contribute so much to Thai society and development.”
Since its inception, MCOT Thailand and the Anandamahidol Foundation have helped to scale up our 20 art camps for our students nation-wide by creating ongoing documentaries that capture the essences of what we try to do on the ground.
Sitting here on the eve of International Youth Day of 2018, I am writing to my students globally that never let anyone tell us what we are and are not capable of. The power of the young is momentous and paramount. Never let your inspiration, motivation and determination die down just because what we think seem impossible or someone else tell us so.
Thailand is far from where we want it to be. It’s still rotten with corruption, rampant inequality and lack democracy. But each brush we stroke, each project we strike, we do it with hope and dignity, we do it to empower and we aspire to make a difference.
Mayaclear Aphornsuvan, UNITE Thailand Youth Representative, encapsulates her seven years experiences with the movement.
“Opportunities, dreams, and chances seem so far away when no one is by your side. That’s how it felt to me when I was in high school, at least. But I crossed paths with UNITE Thailand by chance, and it was the first time a group of people believed in me. And in turn, this gave me all the strength I needed to believe in myself and others. UNITE Thailand gives opportunities to those who often get ignored. But the first opportunity in one’s life is oftentimes the most important. UNITE Thailand means the world to me, because they gave me a whole new world of opportunity and dreams.”
On behalf of UNITE Thailand, we thank our friends from all over the world for showering us with your trust and enabling us to keep dreaming.
We, 3,000 of UNITE Thailand, dedicate this project to His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama the ninth to the Chakri Dynasty, our King of Education, for not only sponsoring my transatlantic education through the Anandamahidol Foundation, but for providing Thailand with a necessary guiding light. We wish his soul rest in peace. We wish him well.
We promise to be kind and find peace from within outward.
About the author:
*Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy
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