Migrant workers

Saphan Siang Youth Ambassadors: Engaging youth to change public attitudes towards migrant workers

Migrant workers often suffer from discrimination and biased public attitudes in Thailand. An ILO-supported programme aims to change the situation by engaging a group of university students with the migrant workers. Better understanding and mutual respect has been created. They are expected to influence more people.

Feature | Thailand | 04 July 2014
“Chan-ma-jak-prathet-Myanmar” (“I am from Myanmar”)

Voices reverberated loud and clear in a classroom 20 kilometers outside central Chiang Mai. Standing in front of a group of students, a young woman pronounced each word slowly and carefully, and her students repeated what she said.

But unlike many other Thai language classes the students here are migrant workers from Myanmar and other neighbouring countries. Pongnapa Kidha, their teacher, is a first-year Political Science student from Chiang Mai University. She travels to the Migrant Learning and Development Center three days a week to meet her students and teach them how to speak and understand the Thai language.
“Knowing the local language is vital for these migrants
Pongnapa (first left in the first row) with migrant students. © ILO
as they can gain better access to information that is not available in their mother tongue and know better about their rights,” Pongnapa said. “They are so happy knowing we are here to help and ready to learn all the time.”

Migrant workers in Thailand often face discrimination and suffer from biased public attitudes. An ILO survey suggests that 80 per cent of Thai respondents believe that migrant workers are responsible for crimes, while only 40 per cent were aware of the social and economic contribution migrant workers make in Thailand.

In an effort to change public attitudes towards migrant workers, Pongnapa and other 11 university students have been selected as Youth Ambassadors for the Saphan Siang (Bridge of Voices) campaign that aims to foster greater
Messages from youth ambassadors on protecting migrant workers’ rights. © ILO
understanding and create a positive image of migrant workers by highlighting their social and economic contribution and increasing interaction between Thais and migrant workers.
The Youth Ambassadors began their six-month journeys earlier this year. They take part in a range of volunteer programmes. Teaching Thai language is one of many placements, others include assisting in education and training events, outreach activities, providing paralegal services and organisational support.
The programme is supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO), World Vision International (WVI), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
The engagement of these young people with migrant communities has proven that direct interaction can result in an environment where understanding and respect are created.”
(UNESCAP), community groups and academic institutions. “Increased interaction between Thais and migrant workers is a crucial step towards creating mutual understanding and appreciation,” said Eliza Marks, Saphan Siang Campaign Coordinator. “The engagement of these young people with migrant communities has proven that direct interaction can result in an environment where understanding and respect are created.”
Nattawuth Ruppayoon and Wanchana Waree, students from Prince of Songkla University, recently gave a presentation to Myanmar and Cambodian migrant workers at a fish processing plant in Pattani province on the significance of labour rights. “Migrant workers have an important role to play. They contribute to the country’s economy and fill up the workforce, especially in industries in which Thai people would not usually take up,” said Wancahna. Nattawuth also found his volunteer role a valuable learning experience. “I have learned more about migrant worker issues and become more open to them. I think more positively towards this population,” he said.

Half way through their journey the Youth Ambassadors began to view migrant workers in a more positive light. Many now want to initiate social outreach activities in their universities and communities, to help change attitudes towards migrants. Dhiramedhist Lueng-ubon, a Political Science student from Chulalongkorn University, said, “Creating a positive image is unquestionably important because the image of people constructed in our mind always affects the way we treat them”.
A group photo of the 12 Youth Ambassadors. © ILO
The Youth Ambassadors are also recording their experiences and lessons learned through a range of social media platforms. To hear more about Saphan Siang Youth Ambassadors’ volunteer placements and their journeys, follow their blogs or visit Saphan Siang website or facebook. For more photos of the world of work in Asia and the Pacific, check out our Flickr online photo gallery.
By Aanas Ali, Campaign Coordinator