BENJA APAN: One day all stars above Thailand will shine bright

6 October 2021

Amnesty International Thailand

That night, Benja was studying for her upcoming exam. Our conversation had started by the time the sunset. She apologized for being so busy but I understand very well the life of university students when exams draw near. I know what they are facing during such a period. Benja’s life has became even more hectic as she has to deal with Thai public sectors due to the summons warrants she receives daily. 


Apart from being an activist, Benja is an Engineering student at SIIT, Thammasat University. 


“My life has dramatically changed. Normally, I would mainly focus on studying but I currently have to share my private and study time, not for the political movement but for the charges I received from speaking out. If I were just a student who loves doing extra-curriculum activities, I would be able to manage time better. In this case, it involves charges so I can’t deny but to go and hear them.” 


Benja is not a heroine. On one hand, she is an activist who gives speeches on a stage all the time but on the other hand, she is just a young woman who loves a film called Juno and wants to send Tilly Birds’ single “Just Being Friendly” to her crush. She also jumped off the fence to go to Siam to skip class. She is just a typical woman. Therefore, today I invited her to discuss the article “Only The Young: when hopes are ignited by the new generation” so people could know more about the story of Benja, a woman with bright hair color. 


Talking about space


Benja Apan has a dream to become an astronaut

“I love watching the sky. I love to sit and contemplate the sky.” Benja started telling us her story. Though we did not have a face-to-face conversation, I can sense through her voice that she is smiling. Thousand of city lights in Thailand make it difficult to see stars above but, surprisingly, I happen to spot some while talking to her. 


“I love figuring names of stars above my head in the direction I am facing. I love everything about space exploration such as Mars exploration and that’s why I want to be an engineer so that I can be a part of the spaceship and travel to outer space.”


Benja told me that she has dreamed of becoming an astronaut ever since she was a child. She wants to go to outer space. When she grew up, she learned that it is very difficult and almost impossible to be an astronaut due to nationality. Normally, the chance to travel to outer space would be granted to the astronaut who holds the nationality of the particular country.


“So if I can’t go to outer space, let me, at least, be a part of the journey. That’s why I want to study engineering.”


After studying space, Benja got to read articles from other countries about technology and innovation which reflects and makes her question about Thailand. “Why we don’t have what they have,” and this question brings her to the fact that Thailand needs development. 


“If Thai politics is good, traveling to outer space wouldn’t be considered nonsense. I believe humans are always eager to learn and space exploration is also one of the sciences. But, when it comes to Thailand, it seems like this is something beyond our dreams and imagination because we still failed to achieve basic social welfare like well-paved roads and good transportation system.”


School and Benja


Benja loves studying. Her group of friends is all nerdy but Benja is the least nerdy among all. She was summoned to the school administration during her middle school because of her hairstyle. 


“I was so frightened then. I had an issue with the teacher ever since in grade 7th because the school has the strict rule that female students should cut their hair short. I was summoned to the administrative office every year because of my hair. I was to present myself everyday at the office so the teacher can check the progression of my hair length.”


What was your hairstyle then?


“I layered my hair but the school prohibited students from styling their hair. No bangs, no layers. Actually, to go to school, I have to interact with others so I want to feel confident. I wouldn’t want to be in a circumstance where I don’t feel confident. I don’t think hairstyles have anything related to students’ performance. Many of the private schools allow their students to wear long hair. Only the public schools still enforce this strict rule of hairstyles.” 


After Benja completed middle school she moved to Triam Udom Suksa School in Bangkok where she could wear long hair with bangs. Back then, Benja did many extracurricular activities. She worked backstage for the school musical and for the freshmen welcome ceremony where she prepared herself for the current political movement as an activist. 


“I started paying attention to Thai politics ever since I was in high school. I’m into the movement of Thai politics and keep myself updated on news and works of the Thai government but I haven’t started speaking up yet back then. I remembered that I saw Penguin (Parit Chiwarak) start calling out.”


After graduating from high school, Benja first continued her study in the faculty of engineering at Chulalongkorn University, and later, in August 2019, she became an activist because she would like to do activities that contribute to changes in society.


Since then, she transferred university from Chulalongkorn to Thammasat and gave her first speech at the Tung-ting mob at Silom. Her first topic was “Women in Science,” 


“Generally, science is driven by more males than females. Although these days we spotted more women in this industry, looking back, we’d see only the male names with a small handful of females’.”

“I started to question (about gender) when I saw the posters of the faculty of engineering at Chulalongkorn University calling for alumni teaching assistants (mentor). All names on the list were male. I don’t understand why there are only guys in the engineering industry and I was wondering whether it’s all about males. Why I could rarely see the roles of women in this industry. Why I would have to receive a question like you’re female, you aren’t fit for engineering. Why do they have to judge me based on my gender?” 


As surrounded by a group of people who fight for gender equality, Benja does not come across any friends who show gender discrimination in her real life. However, she perceives all along that women in various aspects are facing gender oppression. Despite the fact that many women have participated in political movements, the spotlight would always be given to men. Therefore, Benja and the People’s Party are trying to focus on equal opportunity for speakers of all genders during the protest to promote gender equality. 


For Thai politics in general, Benja expresses that, in the parliament, many male members in the house of representatives still verbally discriminates against female members and reveals their belief that women are inferior. Worse, the stereotype image for women that society holds, for example, women are good at languages and men are good at mathematics still exists. These reflect their views against women. 


“Actually, it doesn’t make any sense. We should gradually adjust their view. If we believe that humans are equal, we’ll treat everyone equally regardless of their genders.”


Stands still bravely, 


“ I was told from someone on the social media that ‘you’re just a student. you should focus on studying. you can’t change anything,’” Benja told me when I asked her about the feedback she received from becoming an activist. 


“I also was told by the Courts that what the protesters have been doing was wrong because they criticize the royal family. When I demanded the release of our friends (the jailed leaders), I was claimed that I violate the judicial power. I was told it’s wrong but no one could really see through the meaning of what I’m trying to do.”


Benja has not yet stopped her political movement because she knows that this country does not yet reach a well-developed point. Still many problems should be solved. Although her will to change this country changes her life, she stands her ground to move forward. 


“These days the mission of many Thais isn’t about seeking the happiness of life anymore. It’s more about survival.” Benja said.

“What I’m scared of the most now is to feel disappointed. I’m scared I might disappoint others. It’s that small dark corner in my mind. I’m scared people might feel discouraged during this tough time of political situation. As we haven’t yet received any victory after the long battle, some people might find themselves feeling depressed.” 


Apart from the fear of disappointment, Benja has witnessed her friends being sent to jail. She remembered the first time she faced such a situation was during the nighttime of 14th Oct and 15th Oct 2020.


“Back then it was Penguin, Rung, and Nut that were arrested. I was dazed and I need to completely be mindful of what I should do next. On one side, my friends were jailed, on the other side, what I should do next with the protest. Should I continue without friends? I have concerns for both sides.”

“When others are free, we completely focus on one goal: how to push forward our protest and what to do next. Once some were arrested, the anxiety would creep its way in.”

“Every day when the sun rises, it means another day in jail for my friends and I can do nothing. It’s hopeless but those who are captured tell me to move on. To tell you the truth, I was like ‘no, you guys need to be released.’ Of course, I can continue the movement without them but mentally I was not okay to focus merely on the political situation and overlook the difficulty of my friends.”

“It’s always on my mind that some of my friends are still inside the prison. Actually, there is no need for me to “save” them because no one should be sent to jail in the first place. We speak and come out because we want this country to change and develop. No one should be treated this way,” 


Anyway, Benja reassured that she still has hope.


“I want everyone to be patient. I also understand if people get mad after hearing this because they might be like ‘are we not yet patient enough after all these?’ I want all of us to be a little more patient. Many might wonder whether we’ll receive any victory but I want us all to focus on the future consequences of our movements.”

“If we focus on change, I think nothing can change overnight. It all takes time. We should bare with it.  Together, we should help fix this society”

“I want us all to think about the future we dream of and the process to reach that ideal future and what we can contribute to it. During this time that Prayuth still serves as Prime Minister. How many people we can gather for the creation of our new country and how to make our dream come true.”

“Assuming Prayuth stays in power until the due date, what we’re hoping for in the next election. I don’t think this is going to be a short-time battle so I want all of us to keep on hoping. It might not be today, tomorrow, or the next month. I also have to be patient and persistent, and try to fight in every possible way I can.”


If Thai politics was good…


Anxiety is unavoidable so Benja uses her free time to plant some trees in order to relieve stress. She mentioned she is a hot-tempered person but trees planting helps her to be more patient and it takes patient to watch something she puts her efforts on growing up.


“I determine to plant trees slowly. I won’t tell them to grow fast. I will gradually plant them and let them grow naturally because they heal me and they make me calm and relaxed.”


Benja told me that if Thai politics was good, she would like to further her study to a master’s degree and would focus totally on studying. She also hopes she would have plenty of time to study.


“I would like to have time to take a stroll, eat something delicious, find some new experiences to fulfill my life, and to travel and even some free time to go out to bookstores on the week-end, to sit and sip on some coffee at the riverside cafe near Chao Phraya river, to hang around in Phra Nakhon district, to go backpacking, and to travel at other provinces.”


And this is a simple dream of Benja Apan


Up until now, every time the sun rises, many of Benja’s friends are still detained in prision. Feel free to send some letters to our friends #People at:



Q&A with Benja

I told her that these questions are gonna be more serious than earlier! 


Q: Any unforgettable stories with your close friends? 

A: Jumped off from the school’s fence because I wanted to skip class to go to Siam. Also, back in the primary school, I used a fake name to enter an expo because I don’t want anyone to know. 


Q: Any favourite movies or series?

A: Juno!


Q: Any favourite books?

A: It’s difficult to tell. I likes many. But my favourite novel is Percy Jackson. I like Thalia Grace.


Q: Any songs for your crush?

A: Just being friendly - Tilly Birds


Q: When you’re in love, what would you do for your crush?

A: Sending supports and let them know they’re not alone


Q: Any favourite idols?

A: Prof. Pridi Banomyong. I like his attitude.


Q: Someone you love or someone who loves you?

A: Someone I love


Q: Sweet or savory?

A: Savory


Q: Your favourite subjects?

A: Physics


Q: The subject you dislike?

A: Buddhism


Q: What would you do if you were a prime minister?

A: Find solutions for Covid-19


Q: 3 words for yourself

A: Pass


Q: Who would you like to thank for in your life?

A: I’d like to thank my mom. She worries about me and she always supports me. There were many things she doesn’t understand or disagree with me but she also tries to put herself in my shoes and see what I’m facing. She’s mind-opened. From when i was just a kids up until now, I can talk to her everything. If I fail, I can always relearn and make things better with my mom.


She was the one teaching me to question ever since I was a child. She wouldn’t point out whether this is right or wrong but she’d ask and let me consider the feeling of others. 


Q: Your childhood dream?

A: I want to be a prime minister


Q: What’s your plan in the next 10 years?

A: I want to help change this country in the way I can


Q: If you are to personalize Thailand, what kinda person they are?

A: An exhausted person


Q: Where would you want to go to travel now?

A: Swizerland