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Long Live Her Majesty Queen Sirikit
 

Caring Mother of the Thai Nation

By Peter Cummins
Chiangmai Mail Special Correspondent
Photos courtesy Bureau of the Royal Household

The management and staff of the Chiang Mai Mail join the Thai people and the many others from around the world, to present our loyalty and devotion to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit and best wishes for a most Happy Birthday and a long life on the occasion of her 81st birthday, 12 August 2013.
HM Queen Sirikit was officially instated as Queen Somdej Phranang Chao by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, when he acceded to the Thai Throne as the Ninth Monarch of the Rama Dynasty, on the fifth of May, 1950. Her Majesty is known through this half century as the “Mother of all the Thais”.
HM Queen Sirikit’s birthday has always been celebrated as Mother’s Day in Thailand, which is appropriate for HM the Queen who is regarded by each and every Thai as the “Loving Mother of the Thai Nation”.
In fact, to further this analogy a little, when Their Majesties visited the United States in 1960, one of HM the Queen’s enduring - and perhaps prophetic remarks vis--vis her future role as Thailand’s Queen - was, “I love being a Mother”.
Early in their reign, when visiting remote areas, the Royal Couple were disturbed by the plight of the rural people, the lack of educational and medical facilities and, not the least, poor nutrition which aggravated all other problems. HM the King determined to take positive action to help the farmers, while Her Majesty the Queen focused on “the home”, seeking ways to enable the women-folk to earn cash to help alleviate the grinding and debilitating poverty.
 

Sirikit: Early Lean Years

Born on August, 12, 1932, daughter of the then Thai Ambassador to France, Mom Chao Nakhatmongol and his consort Mom Luang Bua Sanitwongse, Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kittiyakara was destiny’s child.
Following the end of WW II in 1945, the young Sirikit followed her father’s ambassadorial posting first to the Court of St. James and then Paris. The beautiful Sirikit, whose name means “beauty and honour”, continued her education, studying language and music, aspiring to become a concert pianist.

But, lest one think that the future Queen was ‘pampered’ as a child, although the daughter of an upper-class family, she often walked to school or rode the tram and, with the advent of World War II, the young girl’s movements and freedoms were quite restricted.
In 1948, Sirikit met her husband-to-be and the future King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, in Paris, while both were studying in Europe; Bhumibol in Lausanne and Sirikit in Paris.

On July 19, 1949, the young couple announced their engagement at the Windsor Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland and returned to Thailand for their marriage. The new King and Queen of Thailand were married by HM Queen Sawang Vadhana, the paternal grand-mother of His Majesty at the Sra Pathum Palace in Bangkok on 28 April 1950.
Thus, Their Majesties have just celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary, and the nation enjoys Her Majesty’s 81st birthday, knowing that in her tiny hands, all those years ago, Sirikit was destined to up-raise the Thai people and improve life for each and every one of the some 60 million people who would become her subjects.


 

The ‘SUPPORT’ Foundation

Basically coinciding with the Queen’s 81st birthday, this week, is the 37th anniversary of the founding, on 21 July 1976, of the Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques, popularly known by the acronym SUPPORT. The foundation was established to place, on a more formal basis, the activities started by the Queen, using her own funds, to establish cottage industries for village and farm women, “without the necessity of leaving home.”

Her Majesty supplied weaving looms and materials to make fabrics, clothing and soft goods, as well as providing equipment to produce other marketable items. Having lived in Europe for many years, HM the Queen was conversant with the enormous diversity of European arts and culture and thus recognized the variety of crafts and styles distinctive to different regions of Thailand: hand-woven fabrics, basket-ware and rattan products, utensils and a myriad other artefacts.
Her Majesty is justifiably famous for her clear perception and this rose to remarkable heights with her outstanding vision for making SUPPORT into a viable proposition. She brought back from retirement former court artisans to teach presumably lost crafts to a ‘new generation’ - even grandmothers.

HM the Queen’s advice to the ‘retirees’ was that, “Before they urge the villagers to make anything, they must be certain that the end-product is marketable - and not made for charity alone which does not provide a real livelihood. SUPPORT is designed to make the villagers self-reliant,” the Queen emphasized.
Particular stress was placed upon bringing physically-handicapped people to work at SUPPORT projects, raising their confidence and creating satisfaction for each person who was, thus, achieving a level of self-reliance by being able to earn an income - and not having to rely on charity or handouts to survive.
Mudmee Silk is but one of HM the Queen’s legacies to the Foundation. It was Her Majesty who ‘resurrected’ this almost-forgotten weaving craft, indigenous to the northeast. Mudmee, meaning literally ‘tied threads’, is an intricate ‘tie and die’ process which produces brilliant colours, each piece being unique and the pattern is the individual imagination of the weaver - there are no blueprints to follow.
Due to Her Majesty’s guidance, as well as to her wearing of mudmee at official functions in Thailand and abroad, mudmee silk is universally known as a distinctive, exotic and outstandingly beautiful Thai artefact.


Conservation Projects Help the People

Although probably best known for the SUPPORT Foundation, HM the Queen’s great determination to raise the living standards and improve the quality of life for the Thai people has led to many other projects beneficial to the people and nature equally. For example, there are the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, The Forest Loves Water and The Little House in the Big Forest Projects.

During her ongoing visits - often with HM the King and other members of the Royal Family - to the remotest and poorest areas of the country, Her Majesty soon realized that it was preservation and wise use of the natural resources and environmental protection which were the imperative components in striking a balance between the welfare of human settlements and nature.

HM the Queen was most disturbed by the deterioration of these vital elements, particularly the water resources, which she observed on each visit were either becoming depleted or badly degraded. The end result was a further blow to the well-being and improved way of life for even her least subjects.
Her Majesty encouraged the people, “To bond together in order to protect the forests which are sources of the watershed and natural food,” and at the same time, “exhorted the people to use natural resources properly and efficiently, to achieve sustainable benefits.” She also urged the people to become self-reliant and, “To grow food and garden crops, to undertake a comprehensive cultivation of herbal plants and raise animals as a food source.”
One outcome of this loving care for even the least of her subjects has been the establishment in 1996 of the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, located at the Mae Rim District in Chiang Mai Province.

The Garden was opened to serve as a Thai plant conservation centre where botanical research and study is undertaken to maintain the vast biodiversity of Thai flora. This includes collection and propagation of indigenous, rare and endangered species of flora. Thai orchids, herbal plants and a vast array of native woods are conserved here, as part of HM the Queen’s legacy to present and future generations.
In 1997 and 1998, HM the Queen initiated a project to establish three demonstration farms, two of which are in Chiang Mai province at Baan Khun Tae, Moo 5, Chom Thong District and at Baan Mae Tungting, Moo 5 Samoeng District. The third is located in Chiang Rai province, at Baan Rom Fah Thong, Moo 9, Viang Kaen District.

HM the Queen regularly visits these remote areas to see, at first-hand, how the quality of life is improving for the farmers who now have secure occupations and are husbanding different types of animals for food. Equally importantly, agricultural workers are now protecting the forest, wildlife and the watershed - in fact, the environment as a whole - from any further degradation.
In Ubon Ratchathani, close by the border of Laos, lies a natural forest called Dong Na Tham, a huge area covering some 50,000 rai (approx. 80 m sq. metres). The hardships and poverty of the people in the surrounding villages had caused the villagers to encroach on the natural reserve, with disastrous results to the environment and ecology.
Based on His Majesty the King’s philosophy of a “sufficiency economy”, HM the Queen initiated a number of alternatives to the near-destitute workers on the land, with a most positive change, both to the people’s lives and the surrounding environment.
HM the Queen recently pointed out that “the forest is a water resource for the people. Without forests, or if we keep destroying the trees, though we gain more land, we will lose all water supplies and the land ... will become a desert. Forests should exist to preserve life and water and maintain the rainfall which helps us to a better living,” HM the Queen added.
Nothing, within the context of Their Majesties’ concern for the sustainable use of natural resources, be it turtle conservation or the plight of elephants facing extinction, escapes HM the Queen’s attention and follow-up action.
The ‘Elephant Re-introduction Scheme,’ proposed by Her Majesty and supported by the World Wildlife Fund, has witnessed a number of elephants being returned to the forest so, as Her Majesty said in 1997, “they can live out their lives in their natural habitat - the forest.”
In the case of the turtles, noting that they were becoming an endangered species, mainly due to the stealing of turtle eggs, in 1979, HM the Queen initiated a Marine Turtle Conservation Project, located off Rayong, in the Gulf of Thailand.
As the whole Thai nation was aware, there has always been a strong bond between the Japanese and Thai Royal households.
Certainly, an earlier manifestation of this came in November 2004, when HM the Queen was cited during a World Conservation Congress, “For her continuing efforts in protecting and re-vitalizing the forests, wildlife and the environment.”
The award, the first ever made since the Congress was founded in 1948, was a stunning gold medal, engraved with the visage of HM the Queen while releasing turtles back into the waterways. Her Imperial Highness, Japan’s Princess Takamado was selected to make the presentation at the Congress.
 

Deep concern for the south

Her Majesty has been very concerned by the troubles and violence which beset the southern provinces, continuing until now, with killing and mayhem in the mainly-Muslim southern provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani.

In a gesture of heartfelt sympathy for the plight of victims of extremism, in 2005 the Queen purchased 600 rai of land to allow homes to be built for widows and bereaved families of those killed in the violence.
Her Majesty’s concern is, indeed, so profound that, disregarding any idea of personal safety, she extended her usual visit to this troubled area, to gain a better insight into ways and means of alleviating the bloodshed and violence.


 

Her Majesty’s most recent Royal activities

Her Majesty the Queen has been a constant companion by H.M. the King’s side throughout the year. Whenever H.M. the King has been able to visit his loyal subjects, H.M. the Queen always accompanied him.

In 2012, to mark the 80th birthday anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, the Government Public Relations Department (PRD) published the book, “By the Grace of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit” as a tribute to Her Majesty. The book features life and work of Her Majesty, who is recognized as Mother of the Land. Since her first appearance by the side of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1950, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit has been the benefactress of the land, the joy and inspiration of the Thai nation. With her great compassion and keen aesthetic sense, Her Majesty the Queen initiated various projects to improve rural life, livelihood, and the environment in all localities visited by her.

In Sept. 2012, the Government launched a project to plant 800 million saplings by 2016, as part of the celebrations of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s 80th birthday anniversary this year. Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Preecha Rengsomboonsuk, said that, throughout the five-year period, people from all walks of life are being urged to join the project as volunteers to help replant forests. In 2012, the first year of the project, 20 million saplings were planted. In 2013, 180 million saplings will be planted, and each year from 2014 to 2016, 200 million saplings will be planted. The project is meant to show gratitude to Her Majesty the Queen, who is well known for her efforts in natural resource and environmental conservation.

The Government is proceeding with the project known as Water Conservation for the Mother of the Land, in response to Her Majesty the Queen’s wishes for natural resource and environmental conservation. The master plan for the second phase of the project won Cabinet approval on 2 October 2012 following a proposal by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The second phase, scheduled for 2013-2016, comes after the first phase, carried out from 2008 to 2011, was completed. The Cabinet was told that, although the first phase was successful to a certain extent, many rural remote villages and communities still faced water shortages during the dry season.

As a consequence, local farmers were unable to produce sufficient rice for consumption. The project has also faced some constraints, since a number of villagers in target areas have low education and are not able to read Thai. For this reason, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives deemed it necessary to continue the project in the second phase to cope with the constraints and to achieve the set target for sustainable development.

In the second phase, human development will be carried out for people living in river basins to achieve balanced development and conservation, in accordance with His Majesty the King’s initiatives. Local communities will be empowered through learning promotion and occupational development. The second phase of the project also focuses on natural resource and environmental management in a holistic manner. Food security will be given a major boost, and local people will be provided with greater access to government services and more opportunities to make use of natural resources.

May 7, 2013: The Cabinet endorsed the proposal by the Ministry of Education to present Her Majesty Queen Sirikit with the title of “Mother and Teacher of the Land.” The presentation is meant to honor Her Majesty the Queen in commemoration of her 80th birthday anniversary, 12 August 2012. The Cabinet has appointed a committee, chaired by the Permanent Secretary for the Prime Minister’s Office, to screen relevant documents to seek royal permission for the presentation.

Her Majesty is aware of the need to eliminate illiteracy and reduce social disadvantages. She believes that education is necessary for human, social, and national development. Her Majesty has contributed to Thailand’s education in many ways. For instance, she has granted scholarships for needy students and disadvantaged youths.
August 2013: The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives will organize a Thai silk fair featuring the royal peacock logo. On this occasion, an event will also be held to honor Her Majesty Queen Sirikit as “Mother of Thai Silk.”

The Royal Peacock Thai Silk Fair is scheduled for 8-12 August 2013 at Hall 7 and Hall 8, IMPACT Trade Exhibition and Convention Center, Muang Thong Thani, Nonthaburi province.
The fair is meant to pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen, who has played a vital role in developing Thai silk and making it known throughout the world. It also aims to publicize the royal peacock logo, which is the certification trademark of Thai silk standards under the Queen Sirikit Department of Sericulture, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.

On 9 August 2013, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will preside over the opening of the fair, when the Queen Sirikit Department of Sericulture presents a citation to honor the Mother of Thai Silk. On this occasion, Her Royal Highness will also be presented with information on the registration of 81 sericulture varieties.
The fair include exhibitions on Her Majesty Queen’s contribution to Thai silk, achievements by the Queen Sirikit Department of Sericulture, the royal peacock logo, and a display of various types of Thai silk. Winners of silk contests, organized by the Queen Sirikit Department of Sericulture, will be given plaques of honor at the fair, as well.
 

Conclusion

It was at the presentation of the “Turtles Medalion” in November 2004, that Her Majesty addressed her lasting legacy to her subjects and future generations: “My dream is that one day, ordinary people everywhere will have a greater desire to protect their children’s future livelihood by not only refraining from harming the environment themselves, but also by helping the authorities to prevent others from doing so.”

The foregoing reports could be summarized in Her Majesty’s own words, emphasizing her humanity, goodwill and, not the least, her humour. “Has HM the King encouraged you to concentrate on work for the well-being of the people?” HM the Queen was once asked in an interview. “He did not encourage me at all... he ordered me to,” HM the Queen replied. “I will look after the land and the farmers and you must look after their families,” HM the King said.
Happy 81st Birthday Your Majesty from all of us here at Chiang Mai Mail.