The picture of youth loitering around schools, department stores, and other entertainment places is fairly normal for many of us today. On the contrary, the picture of over 100 youth from different places, status, ages, and life styles, from all over the country gathering together to think about “society” is rather uncommon. However, this is what really happened on September 16-17, 2006 in the large sports stadium building of Siam University. This place became an Open Space for youth from various backgrounds to walk around and think about the “society” in which they live in.
The “Thailand Youth Open Space Discussion” was organized by the World Bank, Siam University, and several other organizations working with youth, to discuss the main theme of “Challenges and Opportunities - How to create a brighter future for Thai Youth?”
Mr. Piyabhut Chowicharn, Deputy Minister of Education and Chairman of the opening ceremony, stated his two major concerns regarding youth, which included “Knowledge and Skills” and “The Morals and Ethic Behavior of Youth.” Youth in the globalization era need to be equipped with modern knowledge and skills that are on par with those of other countries. Such knowledge and skills involve language, technology and vision to embrace future employment. At the same time, it is also necessary to have morals, ethics, as well as to maintain the value of Thai traditions.
“The Thailand Youth Open Space Discussion provides youth with the opportunity to participate in their own society, as well as social development which will be their responsibility in the future. Therefore, I would like everyone today to voice their unbiased opinion and concerns regarding socio-economic and political development issues in Thailand, as well as other areas of interest. With many social problems present in today’s Thai society, it is necessary for Thai Youth to be equipped with the proper skills and knowledge to survive and live well in society.”
Mr. Christopher Thomas, Work Bank Manager for the Human Development Sector in the East Asia and Pacific Region, said that: “There are more than 400 million young people in East Asia and the Pacific. These youth will be affected by whatever happens today. We would like to know what they are thinking about, how they feel, and what resolutions they would like to happen. Thailand is the 5th organizer of the Youth Open Space event. We also wish to weave the perspectives obtained from the youth into the Bank’s analytical work, so that we will be able to further provide support to youth in Thailand.”
Mr. Pornchai Mongkonvanit, President of Siam University gave a warm welcome to the young participants by saying that, “This is a good opportunity for us to listen to the voice of the new generation who will play future roles in Thailand and in this world. In most cases, the adults will tell the youth what and how they should be doing things, whether it is in social, economic, environmental, or cultural aspects. However, young people are also members of the society, so we would like to know what they are thinking right now.”
According to the speech of Prof. Kamol Torngtamathart, former Chief of Constitutional Court, “Thailand is currently facing several social, economic, cultural and environmental crises. In particular, political issues are now a major concern of our society. What do youth think about all of these issues? I think this is very important and challenging to talk about all of these concerns which affect Thailand, and I will be delighted to hear the voice of these young people.”
After the opening ceremony, all of the young people enjoyed recreational activities. Afterwards they were provided with a challenging question, “What are your dreams concerning today’s society?” This question encouraged the young participants to ponder about their own future and the society they live in.
This question resulted in a wide range of challenging answers. There were simple answers such as dreaming to have a job to avoid being a social burden, to be a soldier to help protect the country, as well as the more complicated ones such as to revive Thai culture, to eliminate poverty, to have good environment, to promote educational and economic development, and to have a democratic society.
The discussion was categorized by 6 major issues: education, social, economic, unity in the nation, environment, drugs, and HIV/AIDS. All the young participants were involved in presenting the total of 73 issues, 48 of which were discussed. The dialogue was then divided into 4 sessions. Each session addressed approximately 12 issues and was given approximately 90 minutes. The discussions, led by youth who made a presentation on “The Dream about Our Society,” included young people who were interested in the same issue. The main purpose of these discussions was to find the causes of problems and identify possible solutions. Those who were interested in several issues had to arrange their time properly in order to be able to join other groups.
The ideas were exchanged in a dynamic and friendly atmosphere. Participation in finding solutions enhanced friendship among the youth and enabled them to be open-minded towards the opinions of others.
Ms. Sasitorn Lamya, a third year student of the Faculty of Tourism, Rajabhat University, Phuket, stated that her dream about the society was the disappearance of “poverty” and “drug”. Her community in Krabi province is currently threatened by these two problems, resulting in suffering of the people. Adults are trapped in poverty, while children are addicted to drugs. Therefore, these are major problems that should be resolved.
When being asked how she felt about participating in such an event as the Youth Open Space, Sasitorn said, “I am pleased to join this event. I have been through several discussions and meetings, but in this event, I have a chance to meet a large number of friends who come from different backgrounds. Besides, the small group discussion allows us to find new interesting perspectives and solutions.”
At the end of the discussion, the vote was held for the issues that the youth needed to proceed with. The following 10 issues were selected: education; politics (such as morals of the leader); addiction (such as addiction to on-line games); unity of the nation; youth development; social equality, poverty reduction, and sufficient economy; morals and ethics in Thai society; environment; conservation of culture and tradition; and HIV/AIDS.
In the future, the results from this event will be incorporated into the outcomes report of the Open Space Discussions in the East Asia and Pacific Region. This region includes Thailand, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Timor Lest, the Philippines, Mongolia, Lao PDR, and Cambodia. The report will be finalized by November 2006. Subsequently, a teleconference will be held among all participating countries. All the young delegates who have participated in the previous discussions, as well as other collaborative organizations will be invited to this conference to help make the youths’ dreams a reality.
Additionally, at the country level, the World Bank hopes to weave some of the first hand accounts obtained during the Youth Open Space into its analytical work. At the organization level, the results of the Open Space will be incorporated into the database of the World Bank Youth Club and its partners.
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