Child of the Nineties

Sulaiman Jehubong, a compelling example of self-belief and strives to impart that confidence to other young people

Nattha Keenapan, Jaime Gill
Sulaiman Jehubong and childhood friends.
Child of the Nineties/2023
Sulaiman Jehubong and childhood friends.
18 December 2023

Sulaiman Jehubong was born in 1992 in Pattani province. He grew up on the cusp of the new  millennium, a testing time for Thailand. When he was a small child, the Asian Financial Crisis marked an end to the country’s long economic boom. UNICEF worked across Thailand to help vulnerable families recover their livelihoods, and to try to prevent children like Sulaiman from dropping out of education.

Sulaiman did stay in school and lived with his grandfather, an Islamic religious leader. As a young boy Sulaiman studied the Koran before and after school. Despite a strict upbringing, his childhood was often joyful: “I hung out and played with girls, I could totally be myself and I felt safe. I was accepted by teachers and friends. I was a leader, and a good student. I was aware I was not like other boys but I didn’t know what to call or label it.”

Unfortunately, Sulaiman’s adolescence proved more difficult. His life was impacted by violence due to unrest in his province and he faced personal turmoil, with the death of his father and struggles with his sexual identity. “During secondary school, my LGBT identity became clearer. I expressed myself more and had more friends like me.” He increasingly experienced discrimination. Although development

organizations organized outreach events in his school, Sulaiman’s teachers rarely signed him up. He found solace in the Luuk Rieng Group, a local NGO dedicated to youth and peace, and participated in its community events. “I thought if the school won’t choose me, I’ll find my own place. And I gained a lot of experience from those activities. I was seen. I gained selfesteem.”

The downside to Sulaiman’s alienation from school was that he got poor grades, and subsequently went to a vocational school. This was when he decided to turn his life around, inspired by friends who were thriving academically. “I asked myself what I was doing with my life and decided to grow.” He studied  hard enough to win a place at a prestigious university and then found a position with Luuk Rieng, the same organization which had helped him as a child.

Luuk Rieng has helped Sulaiman further develop his confidence and discover a passion for working with people affected by violence or discrimination. He is accepted for who he is, even by relatives who were once violent toward him. “People around me see me as a good example. I was a good student, I graduated, I have a job, I take care of my family.” He now tries to instil that self-belief and self-confidence in other young people. “I want to thank myself so much that I am who I am today. It was because of me that my life has been transformed.”

About “Child of the Decade” Blog Series

For each decade UNICEF has worked in Thailand, we will share the story of a child who grew up then. They were chosen to reflect Thailand’s diversity, rather than provide a case study of UNICEF’s work – although their lives have been shaped by the improved healthcare, education and opportunities we have worked towards.

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