Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Ruangtup “Ruang” Kaeokamechun is the founder of Hinghoy Noy, an online platform aimed at children and teens, which addresses taboo subjects in Thai society and opens up discussion.
She is also involved in other related projects, such as Hinghoy Noy ตะลุยแดนไซเบอร์, a multimedia project about cyberbullying and Internet safety; educational menstruation workshops and reusable pad initiatives in collaboration with SunnyCotton; and Child in Mob, a network that safeguards young people participating in protests.
Here, Ruang discusses taboo issues in Thailand, the importance of listening and creating educational media for young people on difficult subjects, and how her many community projects link together.
Work with Media for Children
“I want to create a space where children and everyone can talk freely, and access diverse information about taboos, any time and everywhere,” says Hinghoy Noy’s 36-year-old founder, Ruangtup Kaeokamechun, or Ruang.
Inspired by her own childhood experiences, Ruang launched the Hinghoy Noy website and Facebook page towards the end of 2020 to shed light on topics that are not openly addressed in Thai society.
Born in the upper country, Ruang’s father passed away suddenly when she was only 12 years old. Confused and dazed, she sought answers in books to process and try to comprehend death.
“Death can affect emotions. It was an incident that shows that there was no medium that helps me to understand death. Nobody talks about or explains death in society, although I can see members of my family passed away,” she says.
Nobody explained the cultural significance of grieving rituals, such as wearing black for 100 days after someone passes away, or how life was going to go on.
It’s a huge burden for a child to go through drastic changes at such a young age, such as the death of a parent, moving to a new place, or seeing family struggle with financial problems. Ruang experienced all of these big life changes and had no one to explain what exactly was happening. Instead, she sought solace and information in reading.
“My parents encouraged me to read, not just textbooks, but all kinds of books. At that time, the books that were available explained that death as something everybody has to face.”
In 6th grade, Ruang made a career chart indicating that she wanted to enter the field of children's literature.
“I felt that if children's books or a media for children can convey and have an impact on their understanding on certain matters, it would be a good thing for me to be able to offer it.”
I want to create a space where children and everyone can talk freely, and access diverse information about taboos, any time and everywhere.
Upon graduating from high school, Ruang was accepted to Srinakharinwirot University in Bangkok, where she studied children’s literature, and it was here that Ruang became aware of the lack of diversity in children’s literature in Thailand.
After college, Ruang worked for a children's publication that was part of a charity and got to meet a variety of children from different social backgrounds, some of whom also had severe illnesses, such as cancer. She wondered how she could help these children. The educational system in Thailand doesn’t check all the boxes, and it seems that nobody understood the problems and difficulties these children were facing.
Ruang was also inspired by her experiences overseas. She had the opportunity to attend workshops abroad through Erasmus, in Poland in 2016 and Uganda in 2017.
"I saw the different sides of life and the world. There are inequality and disparities in the world."
Later, Ruang applied for a scholarship to study in an Indian program called kanthari, where participants came from all around the world.
“The program allowed me to choose a topic of interest. I wrote to them that I want to create a platform that talks about taboos in Thailand; the information that children can’t access because society doesn’t allow them to.”
Common taboos in Thailand include parents’ divorce, sexual harassment and physical hormone changes, to name a few. However, after talking with others in the kanthari program, Ruang realised many of these taboos were also issues in other societies.
Through these experiences, Ruang came to realise that everything was connected, from gender to power. It was fundamental to intersectionality; noticing how identity, nationality and language all contribute to inequality.
HingHoy: Purpose of The 'Little Firefly
Many children in Thailand face challenges related to mental health, whilst topics such as death, divorce, sex, gender fluidity, LGBTIQ+, and even personal opinions, cannot be discussed openly at home and/or in schools. Mental health itself is still somewhat considered taboo in Thailand.
“I’m not a child mental health specialist, but I know that taboos are one of the crucial aspects to affect children. I see that when people are not rid of sadness, it can turn into depression.”
Common taboos in Thailand include parents’ divorce, sexual harassment and physical hormone changes, to name a few.
In Ruang’s experience, adults cannot speak on most of these topics, let alone children. This raises questions about why people choose not to talk about certain matters and why children are not provided with the information they seek.
Enter Hinghoy Noy, Ruang used her experience in children's publishing to create an online platform that has the potential to reach more children than physical books.
“Anybody can access it from anywhere, and users are anonymous. I know that within society, people are judged for their gender or age, and I wanted to create a safe space for children to ensure they can speak out without being judged.”
Hinghoy Noy (หิ่งห้อยน้อย) translates to “Little Firefly.” Ruang chose Hinghoy to represent her vision for the platform because fireflies can produce light in the dark and you cannot find them in the polluted areas. When combining the words Noy (little) with Hinghoy, it indicates that children deserve to grow up in a good environment and Hinghoy Noy as a platform is the light that helps and allows them to shine in the dark.
In a society clouded with taboos, Hinghoy Noy functions as a friend addressing children’s concerns. The platform provides a safe space, empowering children to know about their rights and talk comfortably about sensitive topics and taboos.
Taboos can be dark and Ruang has to be selective when representing them, to avoid inflicting pain or triggering traumas. If showing some difficult content is deemed necessary, she says that trigger warnings are put on the content.
“I want the content to be tangible and relatable, but when it comes to working with children, it involves a lot of sensitivity. For example, we had to do many workshops to make sure that the artwork will not unintentionally harm the viewer once it’s published.”
I know that within society, people are judged for their gender or age, and I wanted to create a safe space for children to ensure they can speak out without being judged.
For Ruang, the key to educating people is finding the most manual and simplistic way to help them understand.
“Sometimes it’s not the text that the masses understand, it's the pictures or voices. I have to use my imagination and put aside my middle-class status mindset.”
Involvement with Other Projects
With help from the Internews scholarship, which supports local media, Ruang created the animation project Hinghoy Noy ตะลุยแดนไซเบอร์ (navigating the cyberworld) covering cyberbullying. With only two team members - a high school senior boy and Ruang - everything was done in-house. Manushya Foundation, a women-led, feminist organisation advancing the Human Rights of marginalised communities, helped supervise the project too.
“It’s the first time I created digital media: we started to write a song and use it as our theme song. The project’s animations and song became an art exhibition.”
Ruang also volunteered as part of the Child in Mob network. This project, launched in March 2021 by Amnesty International Thailand and Children Thailand Foundation, recruits adults to help create a safe space for young people (under 18 years of age) at protesting sites.
“We are there to ensure their safety. Young people are being suppressed by authoritarianism and it’s the biggest taboo that they can’t get rid of. Child in Mob has expanded into the safety net space. It’s not only about the physical space, like on the street, but we are also talking about schools and other places, like my exhibition.”
Ruang organised an exhibition called “เมื่อความเงียบกู่ก้อง: Silence Voices Matter,” to create a safe space that allows young people to get distress off their chests.
She explains that for her the protesting sites are not always safe for the young ones and most of them are under the supervision of schools and/or parents which may restrain them from joining the protests.
According to Ruang, some young people may feel strongly about the protest but are too afraid to attend. So she decides to reach them through the art and provide a place for them to be able to interact with different issues.
Young people are being suppressed by authoritarianism and it’s the biggest taboo that they can’t get rid of.
Ruang thinks of it as building a safety circle. The more safe public spaces for young people to openly address and discuss problems, the less they will experience stresses, risks and violent collisions.
However, Ruang realises that it has to go along with calling out the government to stop using violence against young persons who peacefully demonstrate on public roads. She also incorporated the taboo that young people can’t discuss politics as it doesn’t related to their lives. She points out that that thought is against the child rights and human rights. Ruang’s exhibition was on display at Lido for 65 days until May 30th.
“It discussed the way children and young people are being abused. I curated the art that came from stories young people had shared with me, and was the voice for them. People can come to see it and express their opinions. The more safety circles appear in public space, the more we can access and understand the problems that young people are facing.”
What’s more, when Ruang was working for an NGO in Thailand, she noticed that the price of sanitary pads kept rising from year to year, and it took up a lot of portion from her paycheck.
“Knowing that it would be more expensive to buy pads in India, I bought sanitary pads from Thailand before I moved there. The year that I was there, the Indian government happened to cancel the tax on sanitary pads. However, the cost of the sanitary pads is still around 90:150 compared to minimum wage per day.”
In 2019, Ruang came back to Thailand and started making her own reusable pads. She also came up with an idea and created a video telling a story of a single dad living with a daughter as part of Hinghoy Noy media.
“By doing so, I learned that there were girls who cried when they first got their period, girls who didn’t know how to use pads, and women with disabilities who had problems using the pads. I had opportunities to hear more from the people. There are girls who live with their dad and don't know what to do. They were told that once they have a period they will be pregnant and don't let anybody come near you.”
The more safe public spaces for young people to openly address and discuss problems, the less they will experience stresses, risks and violent collisions.
Ruang feels it is particularly important to create educational content on menstruation, as this subject overlaps onto other taboo topics, such as sex, pregnancy and abortion.
Since around the end of last year, Hinghoy Noy has been collaborating with Backyard Politics, a nonprofit organisation founded by feminist activists, to create a menstruation workshop for labourers and activists, describing the different colours of the period, ways to take care of your body during the period, the changes in your body that you may experience and finding ways to communicate about it to others. Ruang says that once they have a better understanding of the period, they will help spread the word.
Hinghoy Noy also collaborates with SunnyCotton, a local, Thai female-led company based in Chiang Mai that produces washable menstrual pads. People can donate money for HingHoy Noy to purchase pad kits, which come with an illustrated handbook. These are then distributed to sex workers and Burmese women affected by war around Thailand’s border with Myanmar. Each kit costs THB300 and lasts three to five years.
What the Future Holds for Ruang & HingHoy Noy
As more people become more interested in Hinghoy Noy and its content, Ruang feels that she needs to educate herself more in order to create the best child-friendly media she can and provide support for users. She is planning to pursue a higher education qualification in media that supports children and provides safe spaces.
“I want to explore media for peace and intersectionality. The more sides we explore, we can look into taboos and the more sides of taboo will surface for us to examine. For example, I’m interested in queer media and the fight for rights of women of colour. As Asians, we may not experience the same thing as women with darker skin tones.”
The questions that she has on her mind are why the media possesses us and why it teaches people to be certain ways - why not accept diversity? Why does children's media teach them to be obedient? And why is it so limited and not supporting creativity?
I want to explore media for peace and intersectionality.
When asked how many people Hinghoy Noy has reached, Ruang says, “I think we have reached around a million people already. One of our Facebook posts about young people at protests reached 500,000 people and was shared 5,000 times. It started a discussion. When there is something that touches upon the people’s heart, it might not instantly change the society, but it helps get the conversation going. This is the goal of destroying taboos.”
By Kankanit (Gun) Wiriyasajja
Kankanit is a third-culture kid, journalist, Rebellious X writer, firm believer in freedom of speech, passionate about telling other people's stories and empowering others, and currently saying yes to new adventures.