Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn
Distinguished Guests, Organizers, Participants, Good morning!
It is my pleasure to be invited to share with you some thoughts on the issue "Adapting to Changing Times and Needs". I would like also to thank UNESCO for giving me the chance of the international services and also to serve my own country more in giving me the post of Ambassador attached to UNESCO. I will try my best in this capacity but I still don't know what to do. Please advise me later.
This topic you set this time is a very wide topic, so, in limited time, I'll state only some points from my own experience. Perhaps we can elaborate later.
After working for a while with my parents in remote area, in the early 70s, I began to have an idea that I might be able to do extra work in schools where children were malnourished. I believed that those kids could not excel in their studies or later in their work if they were hungry. Their urgent need was food. How could my help be sustainable? I didn't really know the answer so I experimented on advising schools to start their own vegetable plots and planting fruit trees, etc. I used my own piggy bank money for seeds, farm equipments and kitchen utensils, and borrowing or stealing tree saplings from the palace green house. I had my close friends, teachers and palace officials (mainly agronomists) to go and give to those schools knowledge in agriculture and nutrition.
I set a rule that all the products must only go to the kitchen, absolutely not for sale. Around that time, in many places, schools and parents who could produce good quality foodstuffs, tended to sell their products instead of feeding the kids.
With changing times, I had to adapt and change some of my working methods. I advised schools to sell their products through each school's cooperative shop. Kids are trained to be on cooperative committee and have to convene, to debate, and to keep accounts. The products from the cooperative shop are sold to the school kitchen. If they have surplus, school products can also be sold to individuals along with other household items.
I hope this activity may help the kids to adopt themselves to democratic system, and at the same time we train them the basic academic skills such as mathematics and language. Because in convening, they have to talk, to write, take note, to calculate the amount, so that would be some kind of total integration of all subjects.
Thirty years ago, kids in such isolated places wouldn't dream of higher education. For us, social workers and educators, the highest aim was to alleviate illiteracy. I put more of my resources in primary education. Then later, with changing times and needs, I had to find means to increase the possibilities to enable those kids to continue their studies in post primary levels. Secondary schools were too far away from home so the government extended primary education for another 3 years in many schools -- it is at secondary level but put in the primary schools and proved to be quite successful -- and opened more welfare schools or government boarding schools. Oftentimes special tutorials were needed to make rural kids compete better.
In old times we called this primary level compulsory education. If parents did not send children to school, they would be violating the law, except some that were allowed exemption. At present, education is a state service and the rights of the people. Education should also be provided for people with special needs.
Using computers moves from a luxury toward necessity. I sometimes read job advertisements in the newspapers. One of the important requirements for job applicants is to be able to use some basic computer programs. At the beginning, I provide schools with ordinary typewriters so kids can acquire fast typing-skill, which I believe essential for effective computer users. Computers are expensive and get obsolete quite fast. Technologies always move fast and companies have to introduce new products to the markets regularly, so spare parts of the older ones are difficult to find. For a person of an older generation like me, learning to use newer programs and newer equipments continually can be quite confusing but I have to cope with these changing times and needs: where can I find someone to read my almost illegible handwriting and type it out for me all the time? Using Internet is useful in getting information but we have to know how to search. It can give us headaches when there are some technological failures: the line is not always good. If you get connected at home at your own expense you can do whatever you like, of course, according to your budget and time, but if you use free public services, for example, at your school or the nearby library, you should learn to be considerate to other taxpayers who pay your internet hours and fellow-users who wait for their turns, so you should do something worth the time and cost.
Before it was difficult to get enough information but now you're drowned in oceans of information. You should then learn to get the essential things. There are lots of bad information, lies, mud slinging at one another. You should now learn to be more selective, exercise your reasonable judgments. If you're famous enough to be the target of the digital war of words, you should adapt yourself not to be easily upset.
I've been working for the Thai Red Cross for 27 years and I notice a lot of changing times, for example, we had refugees when I first joined the Thai Red Cross. It was difficult for us to convince even some fellow Red Cross workers to help the refugees, to uphold the Red Cross ideal of impartiality or giving without discrimination; some people regarded the refugees as foreigners, so why should we help them while Thai people were still poor? Now news about the plights of people around the world intrude even into our bedrooms on cable TV or international news. I have received donations and letters asking me to send the money to help those in misery. Quite often, the Thai Red Cross cannot send money directly to those in need in far away countries, so we send the sum through the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.
To manage non-profit organizations, it is not enough to have charitable hearts but professional managerial skills are also needed.
Another important point is that now we have to familiarize ourselves to new rules, regulations and laws, both domestic and international, for instance, copyright or intellectual property, environmental protection, free trade or protectionism, to choose between the two. With better transportation and communication technologies, the whole world feels the challenge of globalization. Rural and urban societies mix. Migration across the borders and even within the border of a country brings changes, new problems and new solutions. If you are a high level decision maker, whether in the government, in the corporate, or business sectors, or the academic sector, you should decide to what extent you should put the countries' or your organization's resources into what kind of research that can solve these problems.
Let me give an example. Garbage management has become more important. In the old days, some people who lived along the river might throw trashes into the river and the river would flush them away. In some culture, each year you even pay respect to the mother-river that, well, sorry, I have thrown a lot of trash into you and I am sorry, and that's all. But now even that apologetic act won't help. With today population, people need better methods and self-discipline to manage waste of different kinds, especially the ones difficult to dispose of such as poisonous waste and electronic waste.
There are some more examples of things people have to adapt to; it is difficult to get enough income from banks' interest rate, which is much lower than before. Therefore, in organizing some events or in managing the organizations like a foundation, other means to get money should be provided. I won't say how is the method; there are many methods that I am trying right now.
Using credit cards can be convenient but if the users are not careful enough, they might spend more than they have. It's a problem!
In some villages, electricity from solar energy has been installed. Electrical gadgets sold too well. Children and grown ups watch TV and become sleepy next morning. They pay too much money with all these gadgets. If they are well adjusted, they will know how to divide their times and know what are really needed.
People of my age, and I say this again, must start to learn to accept and adapt to changing physical needs. Some even need some assistive equipments, like at least eyeglasses; some may need wheelchairs or some other things to help you to stand up. But it doesn't matter, since we have these equipments and we can go on in our lives as before. To remain strong, more time is needed to maintain our health through exercise and balanced food intake though we become more and more busy. From my observation, people nowadays seem to be more health-conscious, guarding themselves well against communicable and non-communicable diseases. They go more to public parks and gyms or fitness centers. Of course, public parks are not expensive but gyms and fitness centers become very expensive, so we have to be quite careful as well. Old age homes will become more in demand. Before, we say that old people must be looked after in their house, but it will be more difficult to expect children to take care of their old folks and people like myself will not enjoy being under the guidance of particular young relatives. I love freedom! To find domestic helpers to work for us is not easy because most people now prefer to work in offices or factories. The domestic service companies will do everything. It will be the new way of living: independent living.
In working, computers and mobile phones seem crucial.
Working posts may decrease, and anyone who doesn't want to be unemployed has to adapt and improve his performance all the time.
It will be more and more difficult to find permanent employment. Some jobs will disappear or change with new technologies. In this respect, adaptability is very important. How can we prepare the kids, maybe some basic skills: languages, math, and sciences. Then they must be trained to have an inquisitive mind, to be more enterprising and hardworking, and not to be afraid of difficulty.
Now I would like to make my last point because I want to be brief and I don't want to use much of your time. I would like to ask a question. Should we teach new generations the values we have been taught? Though some people told me that those values do not help children to survive in this competitive world with lots of mean people around, so we should teach the new generations to be mean as well. I still think we should. Societies will not survive if their members cannot see the importance of honesty, sharing, being considerate and compassion toward others.
Thank you for your kind attention!
พระราชดำรัสในสมเด็จพระเทพรัตนราชสุดาฯ สยามบรมราชกุมารี ในพิธีเปิดการประชุม