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Chiang Rai, Thailand—“I joined this ‘Buddy Love’ project to get some useful experience. What I have learned I share with my friends. This includes things like how to use condom and how to use contraceptives,” says 16 year-old Sinuan Chankham, one of the female core student leaders at Chiang Rai Industrial and Community Education College. “I have seen many of my female friends in school got pregnant. Most of them ended up leaving the education. That’s why I do this activity,” she says.
Akkarapon Rattanchan, aged 16, is a male core student leader from Chiang Rai Technical College. “I think sex education is beneficial to me. I can share the knowledge with younger students and my friends. I can teach them how to prevent unintended pregnancy,” he says.
According to Ministry of Public Health, teenage pregnancy rate remains high. In 2015, livebirths from women aged 10-19 years old or teenage was 104,289, 15% of the overall livebirths at 711,805.
The Project to Prevent Unplanned Pregnancy among Technical Students or shortly called ‘Buddy Love’ project in Chiang Rai is funded by the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) Thailand. Jirawat Sae-aung, Project Director explains, “This project aims to create and expand a network connecting students with students, and students with teachers. I want them to learn the knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and share it with their peers. I want to increase the number of core student leaders.” About 36 student leaders from various vocational schools in Chiang Rai province have joined the project, which is also supported by Somkid Jeenjanya, Director of Chiang Rai Technical College and Chairman of Vocational Institution in Chiang Rai Province.
“The class-schedule format at the vocational schools are different from high schools,” says Atiwat Wongsang, administrative teacher at Chiang Rai Technical College. “At high schools, the gate is locked when all students are in the school. But for vocational schools, students can go in and out anytime. Some class begins at 8am; some at 10 am. Some class ends at 6 pm; some at 7pm. So students are likely to go back to their domitory during the spare time. The problem is we cannot control what they do in the dormitory.”
Chiang Rai Technical College is the largest vocational school in the province with more than 3,700 students, of which only 10 per cent are female students. “Most of our students are boys,” says Atiwat. “ So we have students who have tendency to impregnate other students. So we have to deal with that.”
“When we talk about unintended pregnancy, most people focus on girls—that they are the cause of the problem. But if we really think about the cause of unsafe sex and unintended pregnancy, I think boys are the real cause. Therefore, promoting the value of being a gentleman is necessary,” says Jirawat.
Nisarat Weeranantakun, aged 16, another female core student leader shares her thoughts on sexuality from a perspective of a teenager. “I think it’s nothing wrong about being sexually active. It’s the nature. But we should know how to protect ourselves. I think some of my girlfriends made mistake because of trust. Sometimes they are convinced to do something fun but in the end it’s not what they expected,” she says.
A former vocational student himself, Jirawat explains that vocational students are stereotyped of being wild. “I’d like to say to all teenagers, or those who are going to be teenagers, that some mistake in life isn’t all it seems,” says Jirawat, “ you can start over. You can change for an alternative life path. Even you made many mistakes, you can always start again. No matter what mistake—having unplanned sex, unintended pregancy or even drugs. Today, if you start fresh, everyone will give you another chance.”