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How well-being has been built in Paak Poon Sub- district

NHCO / Story of the Month  / How well-being has been built in Paak Poon Sub- district

The sub-district (Tambon) of Paak Poon in Nakon Sri Thammarat has been hailed as an example of a successful and dynamic Tambon Administrative Organisation (TAO).

Its successes are significant and have taken time and care to construct but more than that they have required the inspiration provided by a supremely confident, charismatic and dynamic Chair, Mr Thanawut Thawornbhamn. He has been ably supported by hundreds of volunteers and staff from this sub-district, but without his distinctive leadership their creativity could not have been harnessed to such great effect.

The Secretary General of the National Health Commission, Dr. Amphon Jindawatthana and his crew visited Tambon Paak Poon to witness the happiness of the Paak Poon’s people and what the TAO has contributed to them. Mr Thawornbhamn is a self-proclaimed rebel, but he is quick to suggest that he is not unique in his ideas. Where he claims to be different is that when central government policies don’t fit the socio-economic and cultural context of his community he dares to challenge them. For him the central government is too slow, it is paralysed and cannot respond to the needs of the people, he therefore feels that it is necessary to implement programmes according to policies based on real community research. He argues that this allows ‘local people to make use of local knowledge’ for the improvement of their lives. Mr Thawornbhamn states that local people were initially sceptical about his ideas; ‘When I became Chair in 1999 the people only wanted roads, I had to show them the broader benefits of improved health and my other programmes.

Now the whole community is working behind these plans’ He is passionate about teaching the people of Paak Poon that politics is the responsibility of the people not just of politicians. The Paak Poon programmes extend through all stages of life; from conception through to old age. From the free milk provided to pregnant mothers through to the visits made by young children to senior citizens in the community who either have no relatives or have been forgotten by them. The programmes are imbued with a strong emphasis on self-esteem and personal value, on ensuring that everyone has a role to play regardless of their social status or stage of life.

Many of the programmes are also mutually supportive; the dairy farming scheme has not only boosted incomes but has also enabled the TAO to provide free milk to expectant mothers and young children. Mr Thawornbhamn uses his own daughter as an example of the benefits of drinking milk; at seventeen years old she is already as tall as her father and achieving highly at school, facts which he is ready to credit to her daily dairy diet. The TAO’s initial purchase of one hundred cows required a significant investment which will not be repaid but Mr Thawornbhamn was, and remains, keen to avoid any level of risk falling onto the members of the scheme. This has served to encourage members to join the scheme and has prevented the problem of unmanageable levels of indebtedness. This risk prevention extends to a share of costs being met by the TOA on a continuing basis, as well as a guarantee to buy 100% of the milk produced. With only 12% of Thailand’s milk being produced internally it seems that there is indeed little risk to the TOA’s investment.       One of the most widely appreciated programmes in Paak Poon has been the Child Development Centre run by the TAO, which was the subject of a Tv.Thai documentary. Although the education ministry stipulates that children should be cared for only after the age of four, the TAO centre in Paak Poon accepts children from the age of one year old. This alteration was a response to the problem of children being left at home by parents who had to go out to find work.

Mr Thawornbhamn argues that being in the positive learning environment of the centre will stimulate children to a greater extent than being left to their own devices. The centre encourages an awareness of the two local religions of Islam and Buddhism, with both a local Imam and Buddhist monks coming in to teach the children on a regular basis. As well as folk knowledge the centre makes use of Western classical music as lullabies for the children, especially Mozart, as a response to the weight of international research showing that it helps to stimulate children’s mental development. The centre has rabbits and chickens which the children care for and learn about. This was another sticking point for health officials who argued that the animals carried a risk of infection, Mr Thawornbhamn however, sees them as a valuable learning resource and is aware that rather than strengthening children being over-protective can actually make them oversensitive. The animals serve a dual purpose with the children caring for them both physically and commercially, thus learning about both animal husbandry and farm trade.

Mr. Thawornbhamn personally takes an active role in the centre and has taught the importance of demonstrating the relevance and the practical application of knowledge in order to motivate and inspire children. In response to one child’s interest in becoming a pilot he contacted the air force who provided a pilot who came to talk at the centre and explain to the children what flying involves and how it relates back to the physics and maths that the children are taught at school. Wherever he finds negativity and obstacles he seeks to convert them into positives. He recounts the example of a young boy who was skipping school to play snooker, rather than expelling the student he saw snooker as a tool to teach that student about physics. As well as encouraging the acceptance of different teaching methods and learning styles, acceptance of physical and mental disability and difference are woven into the TAO programmes.

Beyond providing physical rehabilitation and assisting disabled people to continue their daily lives at home, one of the goals of the volunteer visiting-project is to help disabled people to integrate into the wider community. The head of the unit of volunteers who visit the disabled, addressed the stigma faced by disabled people in Thailand. She observed that Buddhist beliefs about Karma have led to many autistic or Down’s syndrome people being rejected by broader society and has led to them being seen as the architects of their own condition. Mr Thawornbhamn and his volunteers have worked hard to dispel this image and to ensure that disabled people, particularly those with mental illness and mental disability, are not feared; instead they are recognised as ‘people like us’. The impact of this commitment was highlighted by the involvement of one mentally handicapped man in the after-dinner show put on by the TAO. Youth volunteers are productively engaged in collecting data relating to health, the environment and drug use. They also spread awareness about health issues and ways to improve one’s health. The collected data is then plotted onto a GPS system which enables both monitoring and planning in response to both observed and anticipated problems. Youth volunteers like the adults receive a small fee for their time as well as receiving ‘Good Deed Bank’ points which can later be redeemed for rewards. These points can be earned by children from a very young age who display characteristics such as consideration and selflessness.       As well as receiving visits from young children who help them around the house, senior citizens can be volunteers as well. They can earn up to 150 baht per day for spending an hour singing lullabies and telling local tales and legends. This makes them feel valued, builds the relationship between generations and ensures that local stories and tradition do not disappear. One of the residing impressions that Mr Thawornbhamn leaves is of a man of constant energy, always seeking to push and develop his sub-district further forward, yet at the heart of what he seeks to promote is the idea not of dependence upon him and his ideas but of self-awareness and self-sufficiency. ‘You can make someone exercise but he will never lose weight and become healthier until he really wants to and understands why he is doing it. People look to the government to support them when really they need to look to themselves, they are capable of supporting themselves; I am just trying to show them how’. Whilst Paak Poon deserves recognition as an inspiring example it is essential to remember that it does not provide a blueprint that can be followed step by step.

Both the challenges and the resources found in this sub-district are unique, just as in every other sub-district throughout Thailand, the key lessons which can be learnt from Paak Poon are that innovation, the application of local knowledge and daring to go against the mainstream can bring significant rewards for the wellbeing of a community. If these lessons can be applied elsewhere then the potential of other sub-districts can be unleashed just as effectively as in Paak Poon and the central government must eventually empower Tambon Administrative Organisations across the country; that truly would be a legacy to be proud of.

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