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UNICEF helps youth build businesses and self-esteem

© UNICEF Thailand/2006/McBride
Youths from Baan Nai Rai village.

By Rob McBride

BAAN NAI RAI, Thailand, 2 March 2006 - Sitting on a pristine beach in the quiet village of Baan Naa Rai, Naree Sarey and her friend Apinya Lekdam, 19, talk about their hopes for the future.

“I am going to be involved in a community restaurant,” Naree Sarey said.  “It will be a seafood restaurant, because that is obviously the easiest food to supply here.”

Just over a year ago, Sarey would probably not have been so optimistic. Baan Nai Rai, in southern Thailand, was hard hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26 2004. While many families’ homes have been rebuilt, their lives are still not back to normal.

“Most teenagers are not in school and they get money working in the rubber plantations,” explained Naree Sarey, aged 16.  “But that work is seasonal so they hang out a lot and get into trouble.”

Mindful of deaths in the village several years earlier as a result of AIDS, the community elders feared a similar fate for the young people unless meaningful work could be found to keep them occupied.

“After the tsunami, many of the young people were left without jobs and we were worried about them getting into trouble and using drugs,” said the village Imam, Sarayuth Haran.

© UNICEF Thailand/2006/McBride
Fish farming in Baan Nai Rai village.

Just an hour’s drive away is Phuket, one of Asia’s biggest tourism resorts. Every year, tourists from all over the world flock to it, providing thousands of jobs for local Thais. Some young people are lured by jobs in the sex industry.

“Phuket is always attractive for the youth to find a job,” said Nipaporn Intong, UNICEF Assistant Project Officer on HIV/AIDS. “But you will see what kind of job they get in Phuket.  It’s very easy for them to be trapped into that high-risk kind of behaviour.”

“Without taking some action on this, you might not be able to prevent HIV and AIDS,” she said. “The new infections are happening among the very young – among the teenagers.”

The answer UNICEF has come up with in conjunction with the local community is the Occupation Development Project, aimed at strengthening self-esteem and life skills among the young while developing a stronger community spirit. The ultimate goal is to make young people more resilient to drug use and less inclined to high-risk behaviour.

The project encourages the young to develop their own small business initiatives, which will give them a real stake in their community and its future.  Working with the Young Muslim Association of Thailand, individual business plans are identified and then nurtured with small grants.

Wirach Prombantad, aged 22, wants to develop his business growing saplings for the rubber plantations which dominate this part of southern Thailand. “Right now I don’t earn enough to support my wife and child,” he said, as he labouriously tended each of his tiny trees in turn, grafting their stems.

Another initiative that has been funded is a small handicraft centre producing batik garments for sale through a craft shop.

Some young villagers are expanding existing fish farms to make them more productive, while others plan to encourage limited tourism to the local beaches. 

By encouraging an enterprising spirit and a strong community, UNICEF and its local partners hope to bolster the economic and social health of Baan Nai Rai.




2 March 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on a project to foster young people’s  businesses and self-esteem in Thailand.

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