With 70 years in Thailand Unicef has made a difference but still wants to do more
- By Melalin Mahavongtrakul -
Founded in December 1946, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has moved beyond its original purpose of providing emergency relief to children affected by World War II. Since that immediate task was completed, Unicef has contributed to humanitarian assistance and development in over 190 countries and territories worldwide
Founded in December 1946, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has moved beyond its original purpose of providing emergency relief to children affected by World War II. Since that immediate task was completed, Unicef has contributed to humanitarian assistance and development in over 190 countries and territories worldwide.
Unicef began its assistance to Thailand in 1948. Its ongoing efforts have led to improvements in child health and nutrition. It has worked on various fronts, including tuberculosis immunisation, clean drinking water, primary education outreach, healthcare, and more.
“We believe that any child left behind today – any child that doesn’t go to school, any child that is being sexually abused – is one child too many. And we know that in Thailand, it isn’t just one child who is affected, there are many more,” said Thomas Davin, Unicef Representative for Thailand.
With its sense of urgency, Unicef believes that change must start today. This belief has been reflected in the organisation’s operations over the years. Today, its priorities have expanded to encompass children’s rights, HIV and AIDS prevention, and protection of children against exploitation and abuse.
Reflecting on Unicef’s 70+ years of humanitarian work in Thailand, Davin noted that it is crucial for Unicef to be a strong partner to the Thai government in order to influence change for the betterment of children’s rights at national level. The organisation wishes to be a trustworthy voice of reason and information that gives honest, critical and constructive suggestions on matters. It does not want to be afraid to point out when something needs improvement.
“As a UN agency, we have been created to support governments around the world to do a better job for their children. As such, we are here in Thailand to accompany related agencies in making sure that local children have the best future possible,” said Davin.
“Likewise, it is essential to work closely with those at grassroots level who are well aware of what goes on in reality, such as CSOs, NGOs and the private sector. This way we can give accurate feedback to the government about the impact of their policies regarding children.”
To reach and connect with people, Unicef is in the process of creating a community of volunteers concerned with children’s rights. This is something the organisation hasn’t tried anywhere else so far.
While past achievements are generally something to be proud of, Davin admitted that Unicef has sometimes come up short. In the past, decisions to provide benefits and assistance were made rather one-sidedly, with limited involvement and input from those tagged to receive the assistance, he said. As such, a more inclusive dialogue is one area the organisation is trying to engineer in order to respond better to the people’s real needs.
“It has also taken us a bit too long to act more vigorously so that when we have a humanitarian crisis, we think of the development impact from the beginning. It took us too many years to really anchor our energy and action in that,” said Davin.
In the face of ongoing humanitarian crises in various parts of the world, Davin acknowledges that people have begun to question the usefulness of UN agencies. Moving forward, a trend for some countries to become less convinced of the benefits of multilateralism remains a challenge for the organisation. Nevertheless, Unicef strives to remain a relevant player in children’s issues in countries around the world and continues to engage with its audiences to protect the children.