Volunteers promote 21st century skills in remote regions of Thailand.

A volunteer leader project in Surin.

Jaime Gill
A group of people who are involved in a musical activity.
UNICEF Thailand/2023/Kongmuang
A group of UNICEF volunteers and young people they are working with in Surin. At the top is Pepsi, on the left, and Guey, on the right.
13 November 2023

“I’ve dreamt of doing something like this since I was little,” grins Wisit “Goey” Kongkam. Goey, a 21-year-old university student from Surin Province in Thailand’s rural northeast. He’s watching the culmination of weeks of work as a volunteer leader in UNICEF Thailand’s I AM UNICEF volunteer programme. School children from his home village of Ban Lam Phoen are presenting the videos they made on smartphones during two days of community-based learning activities, capturing the beauty of the environment and local traditions and culture. “I always hoped to give something back to my community and to encourage young children to appreciate it and help it develop. I think they feel inspired, which is what we wanted.”

A group of people are talking near the river.
UNICEF Thailand/2022/Kongmuang
A group of UNICEF volunteers sharing their thoughts with Dr.Rungsun Wiboonuppatum.

As well as promoting local culture and new skills, Goey’s two days of activities were designed to encourage learning and teamwork among school children after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Thai education system was already facing challenges before the pandemic, but these problems were compounded when COVID-19 school closures affecting the learning of over 13 million school children. Not only did many students fall behind on core subjects, but the isolation caused by school closures also affected their socializing and teamwork abilities. UNICEF research showed that some of the worst affected were children living in remote areas, such as Goey’s home village, so when he proposed an activity to encourage local learning and collaboration, the I AM UNICEF team agreed to provide full support.

Fon, 15, was one of the children who joined the learning activities. “I spent a lot of time at home during the pandemic, learning online and helping my family with farmwork,” she remembers. “I didn’t see much of my friends and when I got back to school I found it hard to catch up with Maths, especially.” When she learnt about the extra learning activities organised by Goey and his team, she was enthusiastic about the chance to do some extra learning in outdoor environments.

A person taking a picture of Buddha statue.
UNICEF Thailand/2023/Kongmuang
Young people and UNICEF volunteers use smartphones to film local culture and learn new skills.

The chance for both the volunteers and the participants to learn new skills is particularly important as 2 in 5 young Thais don’t believe their education currently equips them for the 21st century job market. UNICEF is advising the Government on reforms addressing this challenge, from updated curriculums to modernised schools, but is also harnessing the talents of young people themselves to overcome the skills gap through I AM UNICEF.

Goey is an excellent example of the programme in action. “I loved growing up in the countryside, but there weren’t many opportunities to learn outside of school. When I left to study communications in another province, I promised myself I would come home and pass on what I learnt, and encourage kids to develop themselves.”

“The power of volunteers is that they transform children’s lives and uplift entire communities,” says Nipattra Wilkes, UNICEF volunteer team leader. “Potential volunteers propose ideas and we then co-design activities that address a community's unique challenges, ensuring maximum impact and sustainability. We’ve now built the capacity of 34 volunteer leaders, and supported over 20,000 volunteers across Thailand, reaching thousands of children.” 

Young people and UNICEF volunteers are painting near the river.
UNICEF Thailand/2023/Kongmuang
Young people and UNICEF volunteers are painting near the river.

The impact on the children is obvious. “I loved getting to know my community’s history and using my phone for something useful,” says Bonus, who happily gave up her school break to take part. She was one of many who spent time interviewing and filming older community residents about local crafts and fishing and farming practices, then working with friends to turn the footage into videos celebrating the village. This encourages crucial skills in Thailand's future job market, such as creativity, use of technology and collaboration.  “Lots of kids these days just play games on their phones. This was a chance to get to know each other, enjoy life like we used to before we had mobiles, and learn.”

Young people and UNICEF volunteers edit videos capturing local culture.
UNICEF Thailand/2023/Kongmuang
Young people and UNICEF volunteers edit videos capturing local culture.

Dr. Rangsun Wiboonuppatum, an education specialist for UNICEF Thailand, mentored Goey as he developed his event. He was delighted with the results: “Children learn well through interaction, and when they have fun with other young people. The participants are learning how to work in teams and collaborate, all in a spirit of play. In fact, a lot of social learning used to happen in communities, but there is less now, particularly after the pandemic. I’m happy to see these young volunteers challenge that and provide good role models, and hope the children leave feeling moved and inspired.”

One of the most powerful things about the volunteer programme is its “chain reaction” effect, where each successful activity inspires participants to pass on knowledge or step up to become volunteers themselves. Several children attending the event shared that they would pass on what they had learnt to friends back in school. Goey was himself motivated by an earlier I AM UNICEF volunteer at his university. “He was already energetic and funny, but his volunteering experience brought out a new professional side to him. I wanted to develop myself like that.”

Pepsi, one of Goey’s university friends, volunteered as event MC. “It’s been an eye-opening experience,” she laughs. “I never volunteered before, but Goey believed in me. I wish there were opportunities like this in my community when I was young. I am going back to try to organize an event like this, I think the children would benefit just like the ones here have.”


The UNICEF Blog promotes children's rights and well-being, and ideas about ways to improve their lives and the lives of their families. We bring you insights and opinions from young people, our partners, child rights experts and accounts from UNICEF's staff on the ground in Thailand. The opinions expressed on the UNICEF Blog are those of the author(s) and may not necessarily reflect UNICEF's official position.

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