Child of the Sixties

Apinya Wechayachai, a dedicated individual committed to shaping a compassionate community

Sirinya Wattanasukchai, Jaime Gill
Apinya Wechayachai and mother.
Apinya Wechayachai/2023
Apinya Wechayachai and mother.
18 December 2023

Apinya Wechayachai was born in 1955 in Chumphon, at a time when UNICEF, the Royal Thai Government and partners were working to improve healthcare nationwide. As the daughter of a hospital director and a nurse, Apinya benefited from these advances early, and was breastfed and received vaccinations against diseases which still claimed the lives of many Thai children.

Apinya grew up in a “secure, middle-class family where fears and worries were nonexistent”, but witnessed the struggles of the disadvantaged families her parents helped. “When I was young, I would go to remote villages with my parents when they provided voluntary medical service. Flooding was regular in Chumphon back then. Villagers would come to our clinic to get relief bags filled with food.”

Apinya later went to boarding school and university in Bangkok, becoming increasingly socially conscious. “There was no single defining moment or incident that changed my life,” she says. “My perspective has been shaped by a series of experiences, shifting my perspective from ‘pity’ to ‘empathy’. Pitying those who struggle often leads to a sense of superiority. But I’ve learned that understanding their resilience can empower us.”

Apinya’s career has taken many turns, as a hospital librarian, social worker, researcher, editor and ultimately a lecturer at Thammasat University, from 1997 on. It was here that she came to learn more about UNICEF’s role supporting Thailand’s development both directly and indirectly. “UNICEF funded many of the studies I worked on. This research has gradually influenced Thailand’s working systems, helping us identify hidden problems and address them more efficiently.”

Through the years, Apinya kept her sense of empathy, and tried to pass it on to her students. “In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, I visited Krabi with approximately 20 of my students, to provide them with first-hand experience. I encountered a toddler who clung to her mother incessantly. Later, I discovered that during the tsunami, the mother managed to save the toddler by holding her to her chest, but tragically lost her older son, whom she was only holding by the hand.” She and her students established a centre where traumatized children could play and learn. Apinya has now retired, but stays active, reading 100 books a year and continuing field visits.

Reflecting on Thailand’s recent history, Apinya says, “The country has embraced international practices, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Adopting these practices is crucial to becoming an integral part of the global society.” Looking to the future, Apinya hopes “everyone can find a safe space. Divergent perspectives should not be seen as right or wrong, but rather an opportunity to learn from one another. Respecting others, although challenging, is the key to coexistence.”

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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