A GROUP OF youngsters from Thailand have won Unicef’s Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge – a global initiative that aims to unleash the creativity of young people in designing solutions to the issues that concern them.
The team, “Fantastic Four”, comprises four young men who until recently were in Nakhon Pathom’s Ubekkha Juvenile Training Centre. The team was chosen as one of the five global winners for their idea to develop a website to promote employment opportunities for young offenders. They were competing against 32 finalists from 16 countries.
The challenge is part of the Generation Unlimited (Gen-U) initiative adopted by world leaders in September last year and serves as a platform to identify and scale up solutions for young people to help them get the skills, education and employment they need to succeed in today’s world.
The winning teams will each receive mentoring and US$20,000 (Bt636,500) in seed funding to take their ideas to the next level and make a bigger impact for their communities. Along with the Fantastic Four, the other four winning ideas were speaking out against bullying from North Macedonia; bringing education to remote corners from Zimbabwe; helping displaced persons sell handicrafts from Sudan; and promoting menstrual hygiene for disadvantaged girls and women from Pakistan.
Chonlachat Panthong, 23, Fantastic Four’s team leader, said his team is determined to change the negative perception towards children in contact with the law, adding that they are ready to move on as productive citizens, and to give others the same opportunity.
“There are millions of young people like us around the world who end up as repeat offenders because society does not accept or trust us,” Chonlachat said. “Our project is to build a website that makes it easier for these young people to access employment opportunities so they can find decent jobs, earn money, improve their well-being and reduce the chance of repeating the same mistakes again.”
Other team members of the Fantastic Four include Pichitchai Naulthong, Phanuwat Saechi, Akarapol Sanewong na Ayuttaya, with Pethdarin Chuporntherachai as their guardian.
To turn their idea into reality, the Fantastic Four will be developing the website “Change to Chance” as an online meeting point between employers and young offenders who are looking for a job. The website will provide the profile of each young offender, including their name, criminal record, knowledge and skills as well as their video testimonials to potential employers. At the same time, young offenders will also have information of employers in order to help match their interest.
The website development will be carried out with support from the Justice Ministry’s Department of Juvenile Observation and Protection, Ministry of Justice, which has more than 300 businesses offering work to young people who have been in contact with the law.
“We are very glad that our young people have initiated such a great project which received global recognition,” said Sahakarn Petchnarin, Director-General of the DJOP. “This project will be an inspiration for young juveniles to further develop in the future. We will be providing full support to ensure that their idea will turn into reality and the website will be an important tool to promote career opportunity for young offenders.”
Dawn Gosling, Unicef Officer in Charge Representative for Thailand congratulated the Fantastic Four and all the youth from Thailand who took part in the challenge, adding that the Gen-U challenge has clearly shown that every child and youth can develop to their full potential when they receive proper care, support and opportunity.
“We are absolutely delighted to see young people from Thailand as the global winners,” said Gosling. “Besides the winning team, we’ve seen amazing participation from a large group of young people who contributed many promising ideas to improve the employability and skills of young people, including promoting income generation at community level, improving knowledge of sexual and reproductive health in schools, and promoting education opportunities for young people with disabilities. We congratulate the Fantastic Four, and all young people who actively participated with their enthusiasm and creative ideas in the Youth Challenge.”
The Generation Unlimited initiative also proved to be an excellent platform for engaging with both the public and private sectors in promoting young people’s empowerment. During the selection process of finalists from Thailand, who then moved on to compete globally, Unicef Thailand collaborated with representatives from King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Saturday School Foundation, DJOP, Child and Youth Council of Thailand, Stock Exchange of Thailand, Siri Venture and Thai Health Promotion Foundation who served as judges, offering their expertise and guidance in selecting and coaching the teams.
Chonlachat said the team is very proud of themselves as they are trying to solve big problems facing young people.
“Everyone makes mistakes, including all members in our team,” Chonlachat said. “I once thought that there is no way I can be a good person but when I was given this opportunity and I took it, I changed my mind. Today our team, the youth who once got on the wrong path and ended up in the juvenile detention centre, can prove to everyone that we can change ourselves and become an asset to society.”