Sacha is an independent, bright-eyed, willowy boy. He looks smart in his navy blue shorts and crisp blue-and-white striped school shirt. Sewn on the right side of his shirt is the school’s coat of arms.
On the left side, his pupil council badge glints in the warm early morning light. Nine-year-old Sacha wears his badge with a quiet air of pride. It was hard won. Before he boards the school bus and disappears into Bangkok’s snarled-up traffic, he says: “It is important I wear my pupil council badge every day. It is especially important I wear it today. We have a meeting about bullying this morning.”
Bullying is at the forefront of Sacha’s mind. Born in Bangkok to a British mother and an Australian father, he attends an international school there. Two years ago, he began to experience bullying at school. For a long time he found it hard to discuss the problem with either his parents or teachers. “I don’t really want to talk about it,” he used to say.
Sacha’s reaction is a common one. It is estimated that one in three children bullied in school don’t want to tell anyone about it. However, organisations such as the UK-based Anti-Bullying Alliance say it is important to make children understand the need to speak out about bullying, whether it is happening to them or to someone else. “It’s about breaking the taboo about bullying – there’s still a sense that if you tell, you’re a grass. Bullying is so serious that you could be saving someone’s life. You shouldn’t stay quiet about it, but breaking the culture of not telling is a challenge.”
With some gentle encouragement, Sacha eventually began to talk about his experiences. The bullying he described ranged from verbal taunting to more extreme physical encounters, including shoving and kicking. “Once I was pushed from behind down a flight of stairs. It was terrifying because I fell heavily. It really hurt.”
Another time, he recalled seeing a gang of children in the playground kicking another child in the stomach. “He was crying and in pain. I am not sure exactly why they were kicking him. I think it was because he looked different. He was carrying a lot of papers, wore glasses and looked like he read a lot of books. He looked like an Einstein. They were calling him a ‘know it all’.”
Sacha ran over and helped the boy. “The bullies were angry that I intervened and called me names and pushed me.”
Although it was frightening, the experiences motivated Sacha to take action. “Being pushed down the stairs and seeing that boy being kicked made me want to do something to try to stop bullying at school.”
In September, he decided to run for the pupil council. This is a body at his international school whose members represent their class and bring issues pupils are concerned about to the attention of the school. Sacha sought his fellow pupils’ votes by campaigning about bullying. His election promise was “I will end bullying”, a message that struck a chord and won him a position on the pupil council.
According to the Anti-Bullying Alliance, the definition of bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.
After several months in his new role and as an anti-bullying advocate, Sacha says he is still not sure why children bully in the first place. “I think it has to do with the pecking order. It is like we learned about Charles Darwin, the scientist. The bullies want to be the strongest. They want to gather other kids around them to help them be at the top of the pecking order. Then they can have the greatest power and tell the kids in the middle and at the bottom of the pecking order what to do.”
Sacha vigorously followed up on his election promise. He has intervened in multiple bullying situations and defused them.
Has he succeeded in stamping out bullying at his school? “No, not exactly, but it is not as bad as before,” he says. “Other members of the pupil council and I break up the bullying and send the bullies to the headteacher. Now, we have a sense of purpose. I know that we are needed.”
He adds: “When I try to stop the bullying I always go after the kid at the top of the pecking order first.” After I get him, the other kids run away. I suggested it sounded a little like another Charles Darwin idea: survival of the fittest. “Exactly,” Sacha replied.
Interview with Sacha:
Al Jazeera: What one possession means the most to you?
Sacha: My magic wand and my Harry Potter books. The wand gives me good memories of Josh (Sacha’s friend) and I playing together. Josh pretends his hands are magic, and I use my magic wand – together we conjure up great fantasy battles.
Al Jazeera: What is your happiest memory?
Sacha: When Granny gave me my own iPad. Technology is fun, fun, fun. Although, sometimes I am a little scared of technology in the future. I mean people won’t walk any more, and there will be flying cars. Maybe people will talk to their devices instead of talking to each other? Sometimes I think technology is moving too fast. It is exciting, but it scares me. Everything should take time.
Al Jazeera: What is your saddest memory?
Sacha: The first time when my dad had to go to Hong Kong for four months to work. I was sad because we couldn’t do “secret boys’ business”. Things like going to the cinema, buying DVDs, going to the park and going on boat rides. My dad is always talking nonsense. He tells terrible jokes, but he also teaches me lots of interesting things about the world.
Al Jazeera: What is your favourite place?
Sacha: Hugging my mum and dad; I love being in the middle of them. It feels like I am part of a combination of three. I love the silliness and fun of my dad and the strictness and kindness of my mum. I feel safe with my mum and dad.
Al Jazeera: Who is your favourite character from a cartoon, television series or book?
Sacha: Dumbledore. Because he is the headmaster of a magic school. I find that quite amazing.
Al Jazeera: What do you worry about most?
Sacha: Bullying. I worry about it spreading. About kids being hurt.
Al Jazeera: If there was one thing you could change about the world, what would it be?
Sacha: It would be to end bullying so I can stop kids suffering.