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Prae, Thailand—At 26-days old, Toey, Chompunut Maneechote, was brought to Prae to live with her grandmother. She rarely sees her parents since then. Now sixteen years old and a dropout, Toey loves riding motorcycle and hanging out with her friends.
“I was wild. I went out at night and didn’t return home till very late. I felt attached to my friends,” says Toey.
But that changes after she met Palangjo or Teen Power Group when she was at grade 9. Palangjo is a group created to help vulnerable teens in Prae province. The group is partly funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Thailand. Under its mandate to ensure that every young person’s potential fulfilled, UNFPA Thailand works with local civil society group to empower vulnerable young people including dropouts including those in Prae province. To enhance their self-esteem, UNFPA Thailand invites them to be youth leaders in sharing knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRH&R). When they feel confident and ensured of their own value to their family and community, some of them opt to go back to education or to be self-employed or local craft persons.
“Palangjo invited me to the group and taught me about sex education,” recounts Toey, “I have more understanding about sex and I can share the knowledge with my friends.”
“Toey was very rebellious,” says Toey’s grandmother, Singkee Intasane, “she used to ride motorcycle, came home at mid night, sometimes at 1 am. When I scolded her, she scolded back. She was very stubborn. I almost gave up on her. Until she joined the group, now she’s a reasonable girl.”
Toey explains, “I joined Palangjo for almost two years. I like it very much. I learn bit by bit of how to help my friends by giving information about safe sex.”
Panisa Aryanan, Coordinator for Palangjo project explains her work. “There are many vulnerable teen groups in Soongmen District, Prae Province. We work with many at-risk groups aged between 14-19 years old. Everyday we will reach out to teenagers at the beginning of the night.” Panisa says.
Panisa set up Palangjo five years ago in hope to reach out to troubled teens vulnerable to domestic violence, drugs and computer games addiction, and unsafe sex. Panisa says half of these youth have dropped out from school. “We observe and learn what they like and how they operate within their group,” says Panisa. “Then we offer what they’re interested in. I come to conclusion that these teens need recognition from their peers.” Panisa adds. “Sex is what most of them interested. So we give condoms away as many as they want. They can give to their friends. I believe that when you give them condoms, they will have 50% chance of safe sex, the rest is up to them.”
Eighteen years old and soon-to-be dad, Ben expresses his concern, “My girlfriend and I have a problem. She’s seven- month pregnant now. I didn’t use a condom so I asked my girlfriend to buy morning after pills, but it was too late. When she was two-month pregnant, I told my father, and she told her mother. At first we decided to get an abortion but her parents did not allow that. They wanted to raise our child. So our parents talked. In the end we got married,” he says.
On top of enhancing young people their potentials, UNFPA Thailand also emphasizes on young people being responsible and participatory social members.
“In Thai society, we usually treat a son like an angel,” says Panisa.“Son has no responsibility in family—parents do all for him. When he becomes a teenager, he needs to take responsible —something like safe sex and birth control. If an unintended pregnancy happens, he should take responsibility as a father. He has to know what fatherhood is like and what kind of father he needs to be.”
An important value Panisa shares with her group is responsibility. She encourages everyone in her group to step up to do their part. When she looks at them, she sees hope. “Toey has grown positively. She realizes that being with us is better than going out till 3 or 4 am. She dedicates her energy to work with us.”
Palangjo Group receives positive response in the province. “Teenagers can spread information. Palangjo teaches core leaders in school, and core leaders spread information to other students. All they need to do is giving out the information,” says Jittree Anuson, Social Activist based in Prae. “At-risk youth can rise in our society. They have energy. It depends on us how we turn that energy to good use.”
“Our society looks at us as bad kids. We are invisible to them, but if we rise up and do something good, they will change attitude towards us,” says Toey.