*From your own experience – why is a child treated like somebody worse? And it is not only so in Thailand?*

Sadly child rights are not always respected. People face more pressures in society, having to work longer hours and the like, as a result people have less time for their children. There are increasing numbers of broken homes, which certainly has a negative impact on children. There are people who seek to exploit children, because they are vulnerable and innocent.

*Let us return for a moment to your childhood. what did your typical day look like when you were seven? In Poland children at this age they begin their education at school, it is the important moment in their lives…*

At the age of seven I was helping the family by selling sweets. My mother struggled for us to have house registration and birth certificates so that my siblings and I could attend school. I was able to study for four years, until I left school and started work at the age of twelve, but I was able to save sufficient money to further my education at evening classes.

*Were there educated people in your family? Did your parents want you to get educated?*

My mother worked hard to save up money so that my siblings and I could obtain at least a basic education. My mother was aware how import_ant education was for empowering poor people.

*You were brought up in slums – this is the worst place for children’s education – no matter whether we speak about slums in Paris, India or Thailand. I wonder how one can tear a child free form there and show him or her the other world?*

We must arrange activities to inspire children and stimulate their imaginations. We must arrange study tours and camps for children, and show that, even though they are born in slums, they can aspire to great ambitions. We must also work with parents and guardians and encourage them to support their children’s education.

*What is the image of education in your country, among the poor?*

Officially everyone is entitled to nine years free education. However, schools do not get sufficient funds from the authorities, as a result schools expect financial contributions from parents for many activities. There are insufficient teachers in many schools, which results in large classes and difficult learning environments. Also school libraries mostly just have old books.

*Why does the education of children almost always lose with his/her work of little effectiveness?*

The Prime Minister and other leaders give insufficient import_ance to education.  In recent times, Thailand has had much political instability, with coups and social unrest. Too much government resources goes to the military, the police, the jails and the courts, not enough money goes to giving young people a good education.

*Why do you think the problem of children’s employment still exists? Why is it so? Who is responsible for this?*

Poor families often want their children to work to earn money for the family. There are employers who like child labourers in the unskilled and semi-skilled sector as child labourers are cheap and work quickly. People in society from the top to the bottom are responsible for child labour, there must be a collective will power to stop child exploitation.

*What is the government’s stance on that problem? What does it do for them, it is: for children?*

Governments report that child labour is a problem, but there is insufficient action to eradicate the problem.

*Isn’t there any social care system, regarding also the difficult position of children?*

There is a national level committee on child protection and every district throughout the country has child protection committees. These committees have been in place for a few years now and are welcome, but up to now, they are not working very well.

*Are there any official estimates on children’s employment in Thailand? If so, what are they?*

I know of no reliable official statistics, but I think the number of child labourers has reduced in recent times.

*In this context, what is your help? And your foundation’s help?*

We meet with guardians of vulnerable children and endeavour to get support from guardians to keep children in education and out of the labour market. We have an educational scholarship programme, which helps meet some of the costs of a child’s education.

*Looking at statistics – can you state how many children took advantage of your foundation’s help?*

Over 30 years of work we have provided 190,000 educational sponsorships. Each day about 1,200 children enter one of our kindergartens. We have 20 disabled children getting an education from us every day. We have 50 abused children and 60 orphans living with us in full time care. On an average day, there might be 20 other children which have some contact with the Duang Prateep Foundation.

*Do you know what happens with the children which were in the custody of your foundation?*

Our sponsored children are attending government schools, the children in our residential care are receiving all meals and education. Youths are learning life-skills through the foundation. In 2008 we provided educational sponsorship to 16 bachelor degree students, one of whom was studying abroad. We presently have four children studying abroad.

*Is there any other way which they could follow in order to get a profession, education, the minimum of the essential life stabilization?*

We must support our young people in getting an education.  We must also encourage them and help them work towards successful careers.

*The world respects people working in the interest of children. It honours them and favours them, but – do these prizes help to act? Do you have more benefactors and allies today thanks to them?*

In Thailand not much importance is attached to prizes. I won the Ramon Magsaysay Award thirty years ago, the US$20,000 prize money I received, enabled me to start the Duang Prateep Foundation, so prizes are important to me.  

*What are today’s priorities of your activity? What have you already managed to achieve, and what else still remains in the sphere of your dreams and plans – and can we, Europeans, help in any way?*

Our most important priority is to give opportunities to poor children through formal and non-formal education. We must build a good attitude in our young. Important changes came when the school I started ceased to be an illegal school and became officially recognized. Another important milestone arrived when we successfully lobbied for children without birth certificates to get an education. There are many project which I want to achieve. One aspect is moving towards the Duang Prateep Foundation becoming more self-sustaining, with less need for donor support. However, at the present time, we still need considerable donor support. One aspect of our push towards self sufficiency is our oil palm plantations and our ambition to set up an palm oil refinery managed by a cooperative. This and all our other projects can be supported by Europeans.

**Interview by Kaja Cudak**