August 12th is a very special day for the people of Thailand as the whole country unites to celebrate the 76th birthday of their beloved Queen, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. (Her Majesty’s birthday, like the King’s, is a national holiday in Thailand). It is perhaps difficult for those readers who are not Thai to appreciate and understand how much warmth and love is bestowed upon Queen Sirikit by her people and the society that she represents. Because of her dedication, the Kingdom, in a sign of deep respect and admiration for Her Majesty, has also declared the 12th of August Mother’s Day, thus acknowledging Her Majesty’s position as the mother of the Thai Nation.
Together with His Royal Highness King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Queen Sirikit has travelled throughout the Kingdom working tirelessly on a variety of environmental and humanitarian projects that have saved countless lives and done much to greatly improve the lives of countless impoverished people. Her Majesty has been a beacon of hope and encouragement to the underprivileged whether they are slum dwellers, hill-tribesman, AIDs patients or women in distress. The Queen is particularly revered in the more remote and traditional parts of the country, where the monarchy is regarded as semi-divine and her work in promoting tolerance and understanding for the Muslim minorities in the southernmost provinces have made her especially popular amongst the local Muslim populace. As a devout Buddhist, Her Majesty subscribes to the belief that doing good deeds means working for the benefit of others without expecting or seeking anything in return.
Queen Sirikit’s story is not one exclusively of a life of privilege. It is a story of both romance, self-discipline, courage, motherhood, devotion and, above all, support for her husband and service to the people of Thailand.
On 12th August 1932, Mohm Rajawongse Sirikit was born to Colonel Mohm Chao Nakhatra Mongkol Kitiyakara and Mohm Luang Bua Kitiyakara. The name she was given was suggested to her parents by the reigning monarch of the time, H.M. King Prajadipok (Rama VII). The name of Sirikit means “Glory and Splendour of the Kitiyakara Family” The title “Mohm Rajawongse”, indicates that she is a child of a Mohm Chao and thus descended from royalty. Her grandfather was HRH Prince Kitiyakara Voralaksana, Prince of Chandaburi, a son of King Rama V and Her Majesty’s noble lineage can be traced all the way back to H.M. King Rama I the Founder of the Royal Chakri Dynasty.
Her Majesty’s childhood was as normal as can be expected for someone of her standing. She was educated in Bangkok at the St. Francis Xavier Convent School until the age of 13 when her father, who was in the Thai Diplomatic Corps, was appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom and the family transferred overseas. Successive diplomatic postings took the family to continental Europe, first to Copenhagen and then to Paris and the young princess continued her education in these countries. In Switzerland, she majored in languages and music becoming an accomplished piano player for a while. Her Majesty aspired to be a concert pianist.
They say that Paris is the most romantic city in the world, and for the future Royal couple, it turned out to be true! Studying in neighboring Switzerland was H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand who often travelled to the Thai Embassy in Paris for relaxation and a change of scenery. The young couple met and later, when the King was injured in a car accident in Switzerland, Mohm Rajawongse Sirikit visited Lausanne frequently to comfort and support him. The romance blossomed with the approval of both families, and on 19th July 1949 an official engagement was announced to the joy of the Thai nation back home. The Royal Couple were married on 28th April 1950 in the Pathoomwan Palace with the wedding taking place just a week prior to the ceremonial coronation of His Majesty King Bhumibol. The Royal Couple went on to have four children: Princess Ubol Ratana, born April 5, 1951 in Lausanne, Switzerland; HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, born July 28, 1952; HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, born April 2, 1955; and HRH Princess Chulabhorn Walailak, born July 4, 1957.
As the wife and Queen Consort of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), the Queen became Regent when the King ordained as a Buddhist Monk in 1956. In honor of that role, Her Majesty was given the formal title of Somdet Phra Nang Chao Sirikit Phra Borommarachininat. At present, she also holds the ranks of Field Marshal, Admiral of the Fleet and Marshal of the Royal Thai Air Force.
Queen Sirikit is well-known for her charitable work and together with her children, Her Majesty has initiated and supported nearly 350 projects that have covered all four regions of Thailand. Her major formal involvement is as President of the Thai Red Cross, a post she has held since 1956. She gained new prominence in this role in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster in southern Thailand in December 2004. She has also been active in relief work for the many refugees from Cambodia and Burma who have sought refuge in Thailand. She has also been a huge supporter of women’s rights in rural areas and has given up a considerable amount of her free time and financial resources to help set up the SUPPORT Foundation (Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques), founded in 1976 to alleviate the poverty and hardship endured by farmers who comprise over 80 percent of Thailand’s population. With her unique insight, the Queen saw a way by which traditional skills used to serve family needs in the past could be similarly employed in modern - day Thailand. For an example, raising mulberry trees to feed the silkworms that produce material for silk weavers is one of several dedication of Her Majesty’s Royal Patronage Handicraft (“Silpacheep”) Project to help better life quality for Thai farmers.
Her Majesty the Queen expressed concerns about environmental problems, including deforestation and pollution. She has impressed upon Thai people the importance of preserving forests and fresh water resources and said that fresh water shortages could trigger conflict and wars. She had campaigned vigorously against deforestation for decades but the effort seemed to be fruitless. Greedy people cut down the forests and led to mudslides that killed people and devastated property. Her Majesty urged the government and the public to help preserve existing forest and promote new forest plantation so that people will not suffer from droughts. fresh water would be in short supply in next 20 years. The country might be forced to buy water from other nations, and poor citizens will suffer the most. She cited His Majesty the King’s advice that forest help soak up rainwater and prevent mudslides. She felt sad that the contamination of the Chao Phraya River has been fouled by chemical discharge from factory and sewerage. Practically, every species of freshwater fish in the river became extinct. Her Majesty urged goverment agencies and city residents to work together to save the polluted Chao Phraya River and make sure the river will be restored as a source of food for poor people in the city, as in the past. She also refered to the King’s struggle to protect mangroves that serve as nurseries for baby fish, prawns and marine life which in turn become food for people.
Talking about the average life of Thai farmers, Her Majesty suggested that farmers should switch back to using water buffaloes instead of mechanical ploughs, given the ever increasing fuel costs. She also asked the goverment to support the rice bank project initiated by His Majesty the King. Rice banks are set up in villages across the country. The idea of the project is that poor farmers can borrow rice for consumption from the bank. Whenever they produce high yields, they then return the rice they borrowed to the banks.
Her Majesty became outspoken on the cirriculum of our nation’s history which has been ignored by most schools. Students have no idea about the roots of our ancestors who had sacrified their lives to save and build the country through those long centuries. During her young school years in Switzerland, she and other students had to study Swiss history which is not quite complicated and long like ours. Every young American student has to study their American history and constitution. Every country around the world has to emphasize the subject of history. She wondered how our country has survived and been independent for centuries when younger Thais cannot recite our long history in depth.
As a sign of the huge admiration and respect the Thai people have for their Queen, many public buildings and events in Thailand have been named in her honor. Notable among them are the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre and the Queen Sirikit Park in Bangkok, the Sirikit Dam on the Nan River in Uttaradit Province, the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden here in Chiang Mai Province, the Queen Sirikit Cup, an annual Asian-Pacific golf event, the Queen’s Cup, an annual football competition and even in nature are found the Queen Sirikit Crab and the Queen Sirikit Rose.
The Queen’s long-standing devotion to the cause of helping her people has been publicized worldwide and she has been the recipient of many awards and honors by international organizations and institutions in recognition of her tireless campaigning on behalf of the impoverished, the minorities and women’s issues. These recognitions include the Humanitarian Award from the Asia Society in 1985, Immigration and Refugee Policy Award from The Centre of Migration Studies in 1990, the UNESCO Borobudur Gold Medal in 1992, the UNICEF Special Recognition Award in 1992, Woman of the Year 1993 Award from Stanford University, the Award for Humanitarian Service from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Centre in 2002 and in 2004, she was presented with a gold medallion by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), in recognition of her efforts in protecting and reviving forests, wildlife and the environment.
Her Majesty Queen Sirikit has also received over 30 honorary degrees from distinguished academic institutions both within Thailand and abroad. These include such diverse degrees such as Social Work from the Thammasat University in 1960, Agriculture from Khon Kaen University in 1970, Public Health from Sukhothai Thammathirat University in 1991, Finance from Khon Kaen University in 1991, Humane Letters from both Georgetown and Johns Hopkins Universities in the United States of America, Philosophy from Tokai University in Japan, Environmental Management from the Prince of Songkla University in 2005 and Eastern Languages and Cultures from the University of Saint Petersburg, Russia in 2007.
On the joyous occasion of the Queen’s 76th birthday, we join the Thai nation and our fellow countrymen in wishing Her Majesty good health, happiness, joy, fulfillment, peace and a very happy birthday. Long Live the Queen!
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