This has been my last week in Thailand and the journey has covered some additional geography. We left the village of Doi Chang on Thursday, traveling through Chang Rei and up into the mountains of Northwest Mae Hong Son province to the village of Pai to attend a Lisu cultural festival opening designed to celebrate the children. Very deep into the mountainous area of the northwest corner of the Country, on roads that seem to go straight up the mountains rather than around them. The garlic harvest in northern Thailand is well underway, as we passed farmers carrying huge bundles down to the roadside to be piled and await trucks to come and pick them up; then accumulate it at a waiting area where the traders from Bangkok come and purchase it at the rate of about 8.5 baht per kilo. Each bundle weighs about 5 kilo. Once harvested, the garlic fields are replanted with either corn or “dry” field rice which can be harvested in October, prior to garlic being replanted. How they work and produce such abundant crops on the steep mountain sides remains a mystery to me. And everywhere, fires and smoke.
On the trip, we received a call to ask if we could extend our journey to attend an Indigenous women’s network meeting in the Town of Mae Hong Son near the Burmese border, on the next day and for me to share tools for development and economic empowerment– especially as they relate to women. There were some 200 or more women gathered, representing the Lisu, Hmong, Lahu, Karen and Thai Yai women, plus some Thai and Chinese. We agreed to use an “interview” format for the presentation, since they had given us so little time to prepare and they had no access to a projector for use of a power point. We talked primarily about the work of Lake County Community Development in providing technical assistance to women and minority owned businesses; the availability of micro-lending programs and the community kitchen concept that could be developed as a pilot program in rural areas of Thailand. The governor’s office of community development sponsors these meetings, and I had an opportunity to speak with one of the officials afterwards over lunch, and he shared his concern that the problem with these networks is that while they get together and learn some techniques and share, they have not been successful in bringing forth any action proposals that the government could use to fund programs that would help implement change and further economic development. I bring this up because it seems to be the major issue for the indigenous people of Thailand AND the organizations that are trying to help make change. There seems to be some funding available from the government, but people do no really know that it is there or how to effectively access it. Further, the business and management skills – even among most of the leaders of the communities is limited or non-existent, despite the best of intentions and their true desire to help their people develop sustainable economies, even as they continue to work to preserve what is left of their cultures and languages.
Returning from Mae Hong Son to Pai and back to Chiang Mai, we stopped to meet with the leader of the Lisu Network in Thailand, Mr. Atapa Lee, who is preparing for a meeting in China on the 24th of April to further discussions on forming an International Association of Lisu from Miramar, China, Thailand and India to further their efforts to become a united voice when dealing with governments in the region and as an economic force. We established that I would facilitate a planning session designed to teach theLisu delegation from Thailand tools with which to both to evaluate proposals and programs, and be used as a basis for designing proposals. On the 27th, although fewer attended than originally expected, we successfully completed a SWOT analysis on the Lisu as a Tribe; and the teams completed a planning outline and analysis of two proposed opportunities to include developing a Lisu trademark/image and starting an eco/cultural tourism program. However, all agreed that unless they could figure out how to fully fund a leadership development program for some of their younger people and college graduates, they do not have the skill basis to begin implementation. Mr. Lee stated “this work and the training opportunities provided through the U.S. State Department fellows program come at a critical juncture for the Lisu’s future development. We must find a way to continue what has been started”.
I was also able to use the sessions as added training for my host fellow, Ornanong Saenyakul and Mr. Lee’s son (an English Speaking college graduate) in facilitating a planning process. On the 28th, I facilitated a similar session with the IMPECT staff, giving both Ornanong and Ben Lee additional experience in both providing leadership and in using facilitation skills. Ornanong will lead the women’s delegation to the conference in China and we have been working together to prepare for that meeting.
Attached are pictures of both the garlic fields and the various presentation opportunities. My time here has been rich and, I believe, worthwhile. Indigenous people are at once eager to learn and afraid of showing their ignorance; in need of help but concerned that whether it be government or an outside “benefactor”, that their best interests are not of major concern. Trust is an issue.