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THAILAND’S LITTLE SUPERHEROES

StarKids’ and World Vision’s work to help protect vulnerable children in Pattaya starts at a grassroots level. By Kervin Mathew.

In Thailand’s bustling city of Pattaya, a 12th-grader named Panitsara helps lead a visionary group of students known as the Pattaya Dolphins. Made up of teenagers from 13 schools, the youth group is a vital part of the Pattaya City Child Protection Network, established by World Vision to protect vulnerable children from abuse and exploitation in this tourist hotspot.

Pattaya has seen economic growth in recent years, drawing as many as 500,000 people to the city from across the region in search of jobs and a better life. However, many of these migrants, including children, work long hours for little income in dangerous and unregulated workplaces. And while parents are out working, some migrant children are left alone at home, which makes them especially vulnerable to exploitation.

The Child Protection Network is made up of more than 20 organisations, including government agencies and schools, that have committed to working together to protect and raise awareness about these children. Recognising that it is important to have children themselves involved in this work, World Vision also supported the creation of the Pattaya Dolph

To begin, the dolphins attended a camp where they learnt leadership skills, as well as ways to engage the community in learning about children’s rights and child protection issues. Some of their initiatives include teaching children about their rights and also who to seek help from when their rights are violated. “The best precaution is to have children learn to protect themselves and be aware of what their rights are,” says Panitsara.

The dolphins also support children with their schoolwork and organise community projects aimed at improving the local environment, such as mangrove reforestation and repainting rundown classrooms. “We are so proud of ourselves,” says Panitsara. “We’ve developed the ability to speak up and express our opinions, to reflect on problems and talk about what we’d like to do to make things better.”

The logo for the Pattaya Dolphins is designed with an “S” on the dolphin (like the Superman symbol) to reflect the superhero qualities in these kids. In this instance, it’s clear that not all superheroes wear capes.