Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
The three southernmost provinces in Thailand--namely Pattani, Yala and Narathivas-- are the core areas most affected by the armed conflict and political violence since 2004. Children and youth constitute 24.7 per cent of the population of these three provinces, which is higher than the country’s average (20.1). As in many armed conflict areas, these children and youth are targeted as strategic victims to attract public attention. Thai government statistics reveal that the past decade of political violence in the three southern border provinces has turned over 5,000 children into orphans, some of whom have physical disabilities.
With geographical distance, distinctive language and religion, children growing up in Southern border provinces had already been facing numerous barriers prior to escalation of the conflict starting in 2004. Violence has further isolated children and youth growing up in these areas from the rest of the country and exacerbated the said challenges. With many acts of political violence target public schools as symbols of the state, education of children in southern Thailand is constantly disrupted as both teachers and students are being targeted. Diminishing safe space for play and creative activities has forced children in the areas to live in constant fear and suspicion.
Research shows that children who grow up in war and conflict areas experience chronic stress, depression and other mental disorders. A 2010 study conducted with 3000 children aged 11-18 across Thailand’s three southernmost provinces by Thailand’s Ministry of Health reveals that nearly 22 per cent had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), while nearly 40 per cent showed signs of emotional and behavioral problems including anxiety, loss of confidence, poor attention span, fear and aggression. Yet, addressing PTSD in children in a methodological and systematic manner is not a priority of most public and civil organizations. As a result, child victims who have lost their families to political violence are likely to seek retaliation and are prone to manipulation by different interest groups.
Traditional perceptions that children should remain passive members of society further limit the ability of children to explore creative expressions and gain the necessary self-confidence to become active participants in the peace-building process. The rights of the child have often been neglected and disrespected by different groups. Without institutions to protect and heal these children, the vicious cycle of violence will be sustained.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
In southern Thailand, as in many other armed conflict areas, young people are often targeted as strategic victims to attract public attention. Wannakanok is equipping orphans from political violence with emotional management and leadership skills to steer them away from self-victimization and vengeance. Convinced that relief effort for young victims of violence alone is not sufficient, Wannakanok is establishing a systematic approach to empower youth and breed a new generation of leaders. Using arts and creative activities, she engages both Muslim and Buddhist orphans in healing camps, training them to support one another and lead the young community away from another generation of violence. By creating formal and informal spaces for youth to exercise their leadership skills, Wannakanok is fostering active citizenship among youth and creating a community that stands up for peace. She is also breaking the exclusion and isolation brought by violence by connecting with mainstream media to bridge the gap of information and to mobilize external support to end violence. Her work has reversed the perception of youth from voiceless victims to ambassadors of peace and development.