Vol. II No. 34 Saturday August 23 - August 29, 2003
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FEATURES
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai people light candles to humbly bless Her Majesty Queen Sirikit

The Voice of Youth: Heard around the World

Dilemmas in anti-trafficking operations Part 1

Persimmon being looked at as high income winter fruit

A new era begins at Chiangmai Mail

Chiang Mai people light candles to humbly bless Her Majesty Queen Sirikit

Long live HM the Queen

Metinee Chaikuna

On August 12, every organization in Chiang Mai gathered to bless Her Majesty Queen Sirikit on her 71st birthday anniversary.

Thousands of Chiang Mai people lit candles in unison with the rest of the Kingdom to pay respect and bless Her Majesty Queen Sirikit on Her birthday, August 12. (More photos appear on page 5)

One of the major events took place at the 700 years sports complex, where organizations such as government offices, court personnel, police, Wing 41 personnel, private organizations, and schools; including Montfort College, Prince Royal’s College, and other private businesses gathered.

The representatives wore uniforms of their institutes in the morning and Thai tradition clothing in the afternoon.

In the afternoon, Chiang Mai Governor Suwat Tantipat lit a candle at the same time as other provinces, and all joined with other people throughout the nation to sing the blessing song for HM the Queen.

Long live HM the Queen!

Representatives from several organizations presented jasmine flowers to the image of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit on Her 71st birthday anniversary.

Many people humbly presented jasmine flowers to the image of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit on Her 71st birthday anniversary, wishing Her a long life.

Chiang Mai Governor Suwat Tantipat lit up a special candle in front of a portrait of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit.

Chiang Mai Governor Suwat Tantipat joined with other people throughout the nation to sing the royal anthem for HM the Queen.


The Voice of Youth: Heard around the World

Peter Cummins,
UNICEF, Thailand

Chiangmai Mail special correspondent Peter Cummins was recently in Sri Lanka on an assignment with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and he found the country - especially its children - bearing a number of similarities to our own Thailand. There was an air of hope, expectation and increasing tolerance, especially among the younger generations who have known violence for most of their lives.

UNICEF to the rescue: helping disadvantaged girls in Sri Lanka.

This story accentuates the similarities rather than the differences between the two predominantly Buddhist cultures, and concentrates on the great gains being made by Thai young people - with much support from UNICEF, individuals, non-governmental organizations and institutions in both the public and private sectors - with just passing references to Sri Lanka’s children.

A world fit for
children

Things are happening in the world, things besides murder, mayhem, corrupt corporations, cheating, lying, war, famine abject poverty of millions, greed and child abuse, to name a few of the great achievements of the human race these past few years (decades, centuries?).

The temple housing the tooth of Buddha, Kandy, at dusk.

Rather than “things”, though, it is a movement. Not the tired old movements which have appeared over the years: rallies, marches, protests and groups gathering and raising their collective voices defending their rights against whatever causes bother them at any given time, eventually to disappear.

Now, there are voices raised - voices which are going to “be heard around the world”, as a renowned leader once said of an anti-war movement many years ago. These new voices are going to be with us for a long time; in fact they are going to be the leaders of a, hopefully, different world in the decades to come.

Sri Lanka children perform a dance on family conflict.

It is the “Voice of Children”, to borrow from the title of a new publication of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and it is voices being heard around a world that they are now having a little chance of shaping, thanks to a global movement, nurtured by the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and many institutions in both the public and private sectors.

In Thailand, as elsewhere, children are not only “tuned in” to the media - they are running some of it: radio, television and such programmes as Child Wave Radio, a Youth News Centre and in some up-country areas, training for youth and students in theatre and radio production, empowering them and providing the channels for communicating and expressing their views on community affairs. Histrionics, to emphasize a problem, is a great medium used in such countries as Sri Lanka where children perform live tableaux in village squares, to bring home the dangers of such diseases as dengue fever, conflict in unhappy homes which cause enormous stress for young people, simulated scenes of child labour and a myriad other social ills.

A tableau of the dangers of dengue fever unfolds in a Sri Lanka village square.

“The Child Wave Radio”, specifically, operates five days a week in Phitsanulok and Chiang Rai and, now, with UNICEF assistance, has been extended to almost half of Thailand’s provinces, with more than 500 young people airing their views on social issues, child’s rights and many other matters which affect them specifically and the social fabric generally.

The ubiquitous Sri Lanka elephant: watching over society.

There is another good comparison here with Sri Lanka also: the Thai Youth News (TYN) is operated by youngsters who are being trained in all forms of media and is aired once a week on Thailand’s National TV Channel 11. The Young Asia Television in Colombo produces daily spots. Although not specifically aimed at children’s rights, nevertheless YATV - as it is euphemistically called - produces documentaries covering the gamut of human problems. The average age of the channel’s personnel, who are all trained from novices in all forms of media - is just 23 years.

There is hope for the future: it is in the “Voices of Children”.

The Thai National Youth Parliament

Suchart was just so excited that he could hardly breathe, let alone be able to express his views reflecting those of Thai children AND have the opportunity of not only meeting his own prime minister and accompanying senior Thai government officials, but to interview them and be empowered to table the concerns of young people in a face-to-face meeting with the country’s leaders, through the medium of the National Youth Parliament.

H.E. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Minister Suwit Kunkitti, Deputy Minister of Education Dr. Sirikorn Maneerin, Minister of Public Health Sudarat Kaeyurapan and other key government officials joined with senior UNICEF staff on a visit to the Thai Youth Parliament, a first for both government officials and Thai young people.

Suchart was very quick to rise to the occasion, however, and although this meeting took place in January when Thailand celebrates Children’s Day, it was the first-ever Thai National Youth Parliament and has set a new course for Thai children and, by their example, children elsewhere in the world.

Along with another 250 youth representatives from all of Thailand’s 76 provinces, including a big contingent of physically disadvantaged young people, Suchart and many of his peers were able to present to the government a number of the vital and pressing issues facing young people in the Kingdom - in fact globally - in the broad context of the improved protection of children from violence, abuse, exploitation and discrimination.

These are some of the themes, in fact, which reverberated throughout the corridors of the United Nations, at the recent United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children. The world’s young people raised their voices in unison, as accredited delegates to the Assembly, not just requesting the world’s leaders to hear them and then merely pay ‘lip service’ to their needs and rights, as in the past, but to galvanize into action on such destructive forces as AIDS and other diseases afflicting children. The young people demanded access to education for an estimated 120 million children worldwide, who were denied even the basics of learning. Furthermore, the youth delegates railed strongly against governments which fail to respect children’s rights - even among UN Member States which have acceded to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Thailand’s Youth Parliament represented a direct approach to its leaders and the reaction was most positive. The prime minister himself praised the Thai youth “for their creativity” and pledged that the “government agencies concerned with children, youth, the family and education” would apply the needs of youth, as expressed in the forum, into government policy which has already been approved by the Thai Cabinet.

HIV/AIDS

UNICEF is making great strides in fighting HIV/AIDS, a scourge of Thailand’s north and north-east provinces, the poorest in the Kingdom where, in co-operation with the Buddhist clergy, state agencies and individuals, UNICEF supports (for more than eight years) a programme known as “The Sangha Metta”. This self-help idea is implemented by the Buddhist Monks who use the local temple (Wat) as a base to work with village head-men, house-wives, in fact, everyone involved - to help alleviate the suffering and overcome the superstition and ignorance surrounding the epidemic - a stigma which impacts very negatively upon the child victims of HIV/AIDS parents.

A number of projects have also been initiated to help the Hilltribe people, with education, skill development and other assistance which has gone a long way to help these young people - so prone to social and sexual exploitation - become proud, independent and productive, many maintaining their own crops, cattle and fish farms, all producing income.

Girls’ education

Also related to the northeastern areas of Thailand is a project pioneered by a group of Bangkok-based international hotels and strongly supported by UNICEF known as the Youth Career Development Programme (YCDP). Established in 1995 by the Pan Pacific Hotel in Bangkok, this unique programme is designed to train disadvantaged girls to enter Thailand’s burgeoning hotel and tourism industry. It has developed from a few hotels back seven years ago, taking on some trainees, to 14 hotels with 67 trainees in 2000. Now, in 2003, the intake is over 100, for 19 leading hotels, with the Standard Chartered Nakornthon Bank joining as a sponsor and Bumrungrad, one of Bangkok’s leading hospitals, recognized among the world’s best, offering full nursing scholarships to 25 young girls.

All girls selected for these programmes are disadvantaged by poverty and, thus, highly vulnerable to exploitation, drug abuse and prostitution from which the only way forward is downwards. Now, after undertaking their five-month (hotel) and nine-month (nursing) courses, these girls will be equipped to handle and, indeed, embark on a life of hope, pride and accomplishment.

The hotels train the interns in a wide range of facets of the hotel and tourism sectors, including housekeeping, laundry, flower arranging, food and beverage. Perhaps as importantly, the young girls learn “life-coping” skills, including sex education, the study of the insidious dangers of HIV/AIDS, child rights and child protection awareness programmes.

Those graduates who do not, in fact, join their sponsoring hotel’s staff enter government, teaching or private sector occupations.

So successful has this programme been that a similar scheme has been adopted by the Royal Thai Government Skills Development Department for training young people nation-wide in the services sector and in such non-governmental organizations as the Royal Project Foundation. Furthermore, the Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Centre of the government’s Ministry of Science is now training at-risk adolescent girls in such areas as tissue culture and agro-industry.


Dilemmas in anti-trafficking operations Part 1

Constanze Ruprecht

A raid took place in Chiang Mai almost three months ago. Target was the karaoke bar Baan Rom Yen, where a large number of women were employed as sex workers, apparently including trafficked women and minors. As usual, the local media reported the event from the perspective of the “raiders.” The women and girls were portrayed as law-breakers or hapless victims.

Even when seen from the women’s perspective, the circumstances surrounding the raid are distressing: their work was disrupted, they were forced to go with the raiders and face an uncertain future. This alone disempowers and robs them of constructive choices.

A number of women’s rights organisations subsequently condemned the raid. One such group, EMPOWER Chiang Mai, has been fighting for the past twelve years to secure more rights and better working conditions for female employees in the entertainment industry.

In its capacity as a watchdog, EMPOWER circulated a report in the aftermath of the raid, accusing the raid-organisers of “employ[ing] methods using deception, force and coercion.” (EMPOWER Report, May 2003)

The advocate worker for EMPOWER, Pornpit Puckmai, explained the group’s guiding values: “In everything we do, the women themselves come first. Their experiences, their feelings and thoughts - that is what matters. After all, they are the ones who actually work in the entertainment industry and suffer the most from unfair or corrupt practices, biased laws and sloppy law enforcement.”

Pornpit reiterates that raids like this one do more harm than good. She and the other staff and volunteers had been familiar with the karaoke bar. They had had contact to several of its women employees via EMPOWER’s classes and information drives. Pornpit remained firm in her defence of the women: “The raid reinforced the status quo of victimising women, who, like all working women were simply trying to make a living to support their families.”

Yet the motivation behind this raid differed from those previously launched against Baan Rom Yen and similar establishments in Chiang Mai. Although the police was still the implementing force, the initiators belonged to a larger network: the Anti-trafficking Coordination Unit of Northern Thailand, otherwise known as TRAFCORD.

The unit’s Programme Coordinator, Ben Svasti, shares EMPOWER’s concern for the women. He also welcomed their critical observations: “Any healthy and democratic network has a clear voice of opposition within it. We need the voice ... in order to balance our policies and advocate for groups which might otherwise become even more marginalized.” Ultimately, he admits, both organisations share the same basic goals.

Founded little over a year ago and internationally funded, TRAFCORD unites those NGOs, government entities and other concerned agencies in the anti-trafficking movement. The main objective is to prevent the trafficking of women and children into and beyond the borders of Thailand.

Suriya Kasemsirisawat, TRAFCORD manager, admits that the fluid, web-like nature of the unit can sometimes complicate things. “Our semi-NGO status allows us broad autonomy in decision-making and action,” he explained, “yet at the same time we are bound by the MOU between the TRAFCORD partner organisations. We thus also collaborate with state authorities, including administration officials and the police.”

He confirms the unspoken question hanging in the air. “Yes, we are aware of the corruption that this specific body is so frequently accused of. It constantly raises questions as we work.”

TRAFCORD’s two full-time and two part-time employees share space and resources with the Chiang Mai Coordination Center for the Protection of Child Rights (CCPCR), based at city hall. CCPCR has been in place for four years and had originally been charged with the task of combating the trafficking of minors. As it also deals with many other issues affecting children, TRAFCORD has taken over the anti-trafficking emphasis. Both cooperate closely when it comes to operations like raids, or rescue missions. These aim to free child sex workers and slaves from their captors and assist in their rehabilitation.

Ben spells it out: “The bottom line is that if places of entertainment continue to use children and slaves to sell sexual services, then they will be ‘raided’ relentlessly by rescue teams like TRAFCORD.”

What actually happened in before, during and after this particular raid? The agreed upon facts are as simple as the details are complicated.

The starting point lies in March 2003. An affiliated NGO received news via a volunteer posing as a client that an underage sex-worker was being held at Baan Rom Yen against her will. The NGO informed TRAFCORD. The girl after some time admitted that two other girls had also been trafficked. All three apparently wanted to return to Burma.

On May 2nd, 2003 police spearhead the raid, accompanied by TRAFCORD’s strategic team and journalists. 20 women and girls are found on the premises. They are transported to the Chiang Mai Public Welfare Boys’ Home. All in all, 29 women and girls are placed in the Home. They cannot leave until their cases have been processed.

Not one has returned to Burma yet.

To be continued...


Persimmon being looked at as high income winter fruit

Supply currently cannot meet demand

Nantanee Jedsadachaiyut

Persimmon, a new winter agricultural product (fruit), is in demand at local markets and could become a high earner for local farmers willing to cultivate the fruit.

Kriengkrai Kanongdechachart, Agricultural Extension and Development Office Zone 6 director, said that the winter fruit could provide high incomes for highland farmers.

A former Kuomintang (KMT) military officer from Mainland China grows and peels Japanese persimmons at Ban Luang plantation in Angkhang mountainous areas in Fang District, about 160 kilometers north of Chiang Mai City. (Photo by Phitsanu Thepthong)

The Highland Agricultural Extension Office, in cooperation with the Royal Project’s research team, is encouraging highland farmers to cultivate persimmon, a relatively new cash crop being grown in many areas around upper northern Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Mae Hong Son provinces.

A persimmon tree in Ban Luang, a former KMT village in Fang. (Photo by Phitsanu Thepthong)

Kriengkrai said that at present, more than 2,000 rai in Pang Ung and Kaenoi villages in Mae Chaem, and Hot District in Chiang Mai are being used to grow 2 strains of persimmon: P2, and Fuyu.

Japanese persimmon fruits are a favorite local winter fruit. (Photo by Phitsanu Thepthong)

Experts expect that about 300 tons of persimmons will be produced this year, which is not enough to cover demand for the fruit in domestic markets, even though the fruit costs about 35 baht per kilogram, which is considered quite high. They are therefore suggesting that many highland agriculturalists (northern farmers) should begin growing persimmons.

“Along with apples and strawberries, persimmons have become Thai people’s number one most appreciated winter fruit,” said Kriengkrai.


A new era begins at Chiangmai Mail

Pichitpon Tongtuek

The Chiangmai Mail team began a new era last Sunday, August 17 when we picked up our gear and moved across the street to our new offices.

Our first office was getting too small after only 10 months in business. Luckily, the new premises are almost next-door, and Chiangmai Mail now has a very wide and comfortable 2-story office building with separate rooms for each department. It will be a tremendous help, allowing administration, accountants, sales and editorial staff to still work close together with the management, but in peace, harmony and privacy which is a big step forward towards a healthy, peaceful and fruitful working atmosphere.

On moving day Sunday August 17, everyone assembled very early in the morning at the new premises to await the 5 monks from Papang Temple and their master of ceremonies, all of whom were invited by COB Norachai Prasertmanukit and MD Michael Vogt to make this a lucky day with a special northern Thai ceremony, called “withdrawing and getting into a new house”. The MC from Prapang Temple started the withdrawing ceremony by removing evil and bad spirits, which might have been settled inside.

For this, he used 7 “Satuang”, which are trays made of banana leaves, filled with flowers, candles, incense and water. These satuangs were placed on a special shelf in front of the building, where he then kneeled down and prayed.

After this, it was time to move good spirits in by letting the monks, which had arrived by that time, place 4 satuangs in all corners of the new building and pray, asking for good luck, health and success at every single satuang in all 4 corners.

Then the monks walked slowly to the main reception area, sat around the small ‘holy tray’ and prayed together with everyone present. After approximately 1 hour, the male staff thanked the monks with presents, and they blessed everyone in return by sprinkling holy water. The revered monks also blessed the entrance doors with gold, which hopefully will bring luck and prosperity to Chiangmai Mail and everyone involved working there.

At around 11 a.m., the monks were presented with food and afterwards all joined together for the first lunch in the new Chiangmai Mail building.

The afternoon was dedicated to work, and that’s what everybody did. Reporters, sales, administration, senior and junior staff, everyone joined together to move furniture and equipment from the old office to the new.

Our new address is 156 - 158 Im- boon Housing Estate, Muangsamut Road, Tambon Changmoi, Muang District, Chiang Mai. 50300. Tel: 053 234 102, 06 654 5451-2, fax 053 234 145.

Blessing the new offices.

The first person to congratulate us (although it was not the “Grand Opening” yet) was Somdul Saengfai (left) from Perfect Shield Co., Ltd. Security Company.

Norachai Prasertmanukitch, COB Chiangmai Mail, receives his white string from the monk, which is believed to ensure good luck, fortune, and happiness for the business.

A revered monk from Wat Pa Paeng Temple nearby blesses our new surroundings.

During the solemn ceremony at the new offices.

The latest “News” - indeed, this little fellow (on the right, as on the left is Chiangmai Mail’s very own Marion Vogt) has been named “News”. Why? His Mom started to work for our paper just at the beginning of her pregnancy, and decided that “News” would be the most appropriate name to give him. Mom is not in the picture, as she went to hand-deliver some newspapers.

All 5 elements (fire, earth, metal, water, and wood), as well as all 4 corners of the new location were blessed, and the spirits were humbly asked to keep an eye on the area.

Supatatt, one of Chiangmai Mail’s reporters who has been with us from the very beginning, receives his band.

Everybody joined in to lend a hand, collecting, packing, and re-organizing boxes of files, computers, and an awful lot of paper.

The Chiangmai Mail gang, assembling in front of the new premises, just 30 meters on the left from the previous Office.

Although the monks indeed had a very busy schedule last Sunday, they were kind enough to pose with the Chiangmai Mail Team for a quick photo.



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