Doing it for the kids

Two Thai celebrities have been made Friends of Unicef to raise awareness of children's rights in this country

When model and actress Paula Taylor and K-pop idol Nichkhun Horvejkul stand side-by-side for a photo, their bright personalities become the inevitable objects of attention. That's exactly what they need: appointed to an important mission, the duo requests nothing short of your unwavering attention.

Heart of brightness: Paula Taylor and Nichkhun Horvejkul.

Last week, Unicef Thailand officially announced its partnership with Paula and Nichkhun. Both have been named the first two "Friends of Unicef" for Thailand.

As Friends of Unicef, the two celebrities will carry the flag in helping Unicef promote the rights and well-being of children and bring greater public attention to the challenges facing young people in Thailand, from breastfeeding campaigns to working with slum kids. Typical of Unicef, the clean-cut images, bilingual abilities, international profiles and nearly unblemished records of the two are principle qualities that correspond with the charity work of Unicef.

"Paula and Nichkhun are very popular, have legions of supporters in all age groups and have great influence on both their hearts and minds," said Anand Panyarachun, the Unicef Goodwill Ambassador for Thailand.

"They can help Unicef bring many critical issues affecting children to attention and ask for support in popular campaigns aimed at positive change for children."

Prior to the official announcement last week, Paula and Nichkhun managed to find a gap their tight schedules for an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post.

The two appeared in blue T-Shirts with the Unicef logo, looking ready to go on a journey for a good cause.

"I grew up in Australia and I've heard about the work of Unicef since I was young. So to become apart of its mission, I'm very happy," Paula said with her sunny smile. Born Punlapa Margaret Taylor in Thailand, the 30-year-old Thai-Australian was raised in her father's home of Australia. Paula was discovered by a modelling agency while visiting her family in Thailand when she was 13. After several appearances in commercials both in Thailand and overseas, she landed an acting career which led her to a wider audience. Her most admired role was as a VJ for music programme Channel V Thailand.

In 2007, Paula and her childhood friend teamed up for the second season of the reality television show The Amazing Race Asia. While the programme is known for its tough challenges from bungee jumping to eating unenticing foods, the slender model gained fans across the region with her can-do personality and unprincessy attitude. Although she lost the race, Paula became internationally admired and has since appeared in international movies and commercials.

Paula was married to an Anglo-Chinese businessman two years ago and the couple has a beautiful daughter. Being a mother makes her feel honoured to be part of Unicef's mission.

"Children can't protect their own rights, while adults are capable of doing that. We need to help them because, in the end, they are our future. When we help them, we help the world," she said with conviction.

On her first mission as a Friend of Unicef, Paula recently visited projects promoting exclusive breastfeeding and better parenting in Chiang Mai. She met new mothers who have received extensive support from health personnel and community members in exclusively breast-feeding their infants.

"We visited this community where they actively support breastfeeding. Everyone in the community is enthusiastic about it. They are role models for other communities in this matter. But, can you believe that in Thailand the rate of breastfeeding is very rare? Many people seem to neglect its importance," Paula shared.

According to Unicef, Thailand has the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rate in Asia and one of the lowest rates in the world.

Seated beside Paula was Nichkhun, whose boyish radiance is almost touchable, even though the hard-working popster had played a concert with his Korean band 2PM the night before.

"Honestly, I am hardly here in Thailand, "said a 24-year-old singer. "So I may not be able to join Paula to visit the communities that often. But I could spread the message via Twitter or Facebook for donations. I'll do my best since I have been given such a great opportunity and I think many people would like to have the opportunity that we have now."

Unicef has scored a true cosmopolitan guy in Nichkhun. The singer was born in California, before moving back to Thailand when he was a teenager. He went to school in New Zealand, and returned to the US to finish high school. Soon Nichkhun was scouted by a representative of JYP Entertainment, one of the biggest music labels in South Korea _ he was mistaken as a Korean, but he was asked for an audition nevertheless. In 2006, Nichkhun signed with JYP Entertainment, first as a trainee where he had to learn how to sing and dance as well as study Korean and Chinese classes.

After years of blood, sweat and tears, he became a member of popular boy band 2PM in 2008, together with six Korean bandmates. Now only six members remain, but 2PM still enjoys a huge fanbase in Korea and Southeast Asia, and even in the US, with their hit tracks and concerts around the world.

Nichkhun became the first Thai to break into the Korean music scene at a time when Korean pop culture took the world by storm. However, his face can be seen anywhere in Thailand _ he's the presenter for a number of products, and last year Nichkhun took a shot at acting in a feel-good romcom Seven Something as a young marathon runner who falls for an older lady.

In mid-March, Nichkhun visited an economically disadvantaged community in Bangkok that is home to many children who have to work on the streets to help earn money for their families. While talking to and playing with the children, Nichkhun also learned about many problems they face in daily life.

"This community may appear to be dirty or unsafe, but when I look in the eyes of those kids, they seem very happy with what they have. It gave me hope and got me thinking a lot for people like me," he said.

"Our struggles are totally different to these kids'. We are just following the path that has been given to us. We just have to work hard. But these kids don't even have any kind of opportunity."

For 65 years, Unicef has been working to support children in Thailand to survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.

Unicef in Thailand and around the world is funded entirely by voluntary contributions. A number of celebrities and important figures have been involved as supporters and spokespersons.

Just after the press conference, Paula snapped a photo with Nichkhun and posted it to her personal Instagram account with the caption: "We are Friends of Unicef. Are you?" Over 16,000 people "liked" the picture _ and counting.

About the author

Writer: Yanapon Musiket
Position: Life Writer