The Sustainable Legacy of a Caring Queen

But 60 years earlier, a visionary leader was already pioneering sustainability in development – Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand, Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.

Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand, the Founder of Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Techniques (SUPPORT), established SUPPORT to give poor people the opportunities to learn and develop their skills and talents as to help their families.

In 1955, Thailand was a nation of farmers, most of whom were poor. In a quest to change that, Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit began traveling to remote and rural areas delivering aid and relief. But when the aid and relief were used up, the people were still in need. Their Majesties longed to find ways to help their people help themselves: ways that would be sustainable.

While His Majesty the late King Bhumibol began building irrigation systems and introducing new varieties of crops, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit noticed village women in intricately designed sarongs of silk that they had woven themselves. But as time went by, fewer women were wearing them. The art of weaving was slowly disappearing among the original Thai designs. In other villages she found artisans adept at woodcarving, jewelry making, yan lipao (string fern vine) basket making, and crafting objects from niello – the shimmering blend of gold, lead and copper. All in styles that were distinctly Thai, handed down from generation to generation. However, they too were becoming fewer in number.

Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, alarmed that Thai cultural wisdom was being lost, adopted a new approach to alleviating poverty among her people. She convinced village women they could weave silk for sale, thereby creating a livelihood to help support their families while giving new life to traditional Thai arts. To start, Her Majesty bought up all the silk the women could weave, while she set about creating a market so that the endeavor would be sustainable. As sales began to grow, she replicated the model with woodcarvings, jewelry, nielloware, basketry and other crafts.

To formalize the approach, in 1976 Her Majesty Queen Sirikit established the Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Techniques, known as SUPPORT. Using Her Majesty’s own funds and public donations, SUPPORT set up centers in every corner of the Kingdom to give as many poor people as possible an opportunity to learn and develop their skills and talents so they could help their families.

“The most important thing for Her Majesty is giving poor people the opportunity to reach their potential,” said Thanpuying Supornpen Luangthepnimit, deputy director of SUPPORT.

In 1978, the SUPPORT Training Center was founded at Chitralada Villa, Dusit Palace, in Bangkok, and in 2010 upgraded to become the “Queen Sirikit Institute”. The Institute has given opportunities to members of impoverished families to train and develop into accomplished artisans who preserve cultural heritage and create new artistic treasures while also improving the lives of their families and communicates, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated.

“I am very proud of our people. The Thais are natural artists, no matter who they are or where they are living, whether they are farmers or other professionals,” Queen Sirikit once said.

During past decades, Thailand has transformed into one of the top regional economies but, as in any country, there are still those who are disadvantaged and in need of opportunities. And so, the Queen Sirikit Institute is still going strong – providing pathways out of poverty, giving new life to Thai arts, and supporting the people of Thailand to reach their full potential. It is a sustainable legacy fit for a caring and visionary Queen.