Bringing children’s books, digital learning devices and vaccine information to remote communities
A team from UNICEF visited remote migrant communities in Mae Sot.
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A team from UNICEF, led by UNICEF Representative for Thailand Kyungsun Kim, visited remote migrant communities in Mae Sot in northern Thailand on 25-27 May to see first-hand the impact of UNICEF-supported efforts for children’s well-being. The team also met and exchanged ideas with partners, including local education authorities and non-governmental organizations delivering services to marginalized communities.
As night fell on the first day, the UNICEF team travelled to Chedi Koh community, where migrant workers and their families gathered after a long day of working in the fields, to participate in an event organized by Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) with the support of UNICEF.
Migrant communities living in remote areas have been hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis, and awareness raising events like these offer a unique opportunity to share valuable information on hygiene and prevention practices, as well as bust myths and confront fears over COVID-19 vaccines.
Children gathered on one side of the courtyard to learn how to keep themselves safe with regular handwashing and social distancing while enjoying a snack and a break to colour in some worksheets with their friends.
“I am pleased to see UNICEF’s support to communities in person,” Kim remarked. “Our work at the policy level means nothing if it doesn’t make a meaningful difference in the lives of children.” Meanwhile, the adults gathered to listen to health messages and the benefits of vaccination, also breaking the session with some dancing to stay engaged.
“It is important to provide critical health knowledge to community members, so they understand how to protect themselves and their loved ones during critical times. This way, they can live a long and healthy life, ”Bulakorn Tinoi, SMRU Public Engagement Assistant, commented as the session closed.
The next day brought a visit to UNICEF’s Mobile Library at the Baan Wang Pa school in Mae Ramat district, Tak province. The Tak Educational Service Area Office 2 (ESAO 2) is responsible for approximately 52,000students, almost a third of whom are migrants. Some 66 migrant learning centres (MLCs) complement the public system and host almost 9,000 children.
UNICEF’s Mobile Library initiative targets remote schools and those in hilltribe communities, bringing reading materials and IT devices (such as laptops, tablets, projectord routers) to students for whom foundational literacy as well as digital literacy remains a challenge.
Introduced in 2016 and supported by TOPS, the initiative has so far served more than 10,000 disadvantaged children across Mae Hong Son, Tak, Chiang Mai, Loei and Yala provinces.
“Education is the foundation and backbone of human capital,” remarked Kim in discussions with the ESAO 2 Director, Mr. Pilat Udomwong, also recognizing the Office’s important work with the Migrant Educational Coordination Centre in coordinating a network of MLCs. “Every child has the right to education and should be given the tools to equip them for the future.”
Meanwhile outside in the school courtyard, 12-year-old Thawanrat Primangsuntiang from sixth grade explained how the Mobile Library has given her the opportunity to access materials not available in her school.
“I love reading books, especially comics,” she said. “There is a better and wider choice of books in the Mobile Library than at my school.”
Her friend Sunalin Inpud, also in sixth grade, jumped in, “I was very excited and happy when I first saw it. I love to read Thai literature and to re-tell these stories in books we make at school. And using tablets to search for information is my favourite activity. I can compete with my friends in games and even draw and paint on them too.”
As the second day drew to a close, the UNICEF team travelled to Baan Soratae in Pobphra district, where Sermpanya Foundation held a mobile cinema screening with UNICEF support on COVID-19 vaccination for migrant workers and their families. Since October 2020, this edutainment activity has reached 2,123 adults and children through 24 screenings.
As of May 2022, COVID-19 vaccination coverage in Tak is 67.4 per cent for the first dose, 57.3 per cent for the second dose, and only 22.2 per cent for the third dose. It is expected that the coverage among migrants, especially those undocumented, in hard-to-reach areas may be lower. Activities like this film screening help promote vaccine demand in support of Thailand’s efforts to protect everyone and bring back normality to social and economic life.
“If we get vaccinated, we protect ourselves and the ones we love” said Kim to the crowd gathered for the event, where children also received COVID-19 vaccine themed colouring books and crayons from UNICEF.
“Migrant workers cannot afford to isolate,” Mary Sloan, Director of Sermpanya Foundation, told Kim when they met at the event. “Together with UNICEF, we are helping people to protect themselves as they find answers to meet their needs and concerns.”