The project "Strengthening Indigenous Leadership and Community Capacity of Northern Thailand towards Social inclusion and Sustainable Development" started in 2018. It is implemented in the dioceses of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, northern Thailand. The project beneficiaries are ethnic minority groups inhabiting mountainous regions of northern, western parts of Thailand and the side bordering Laos and Myanmar, including native Thai people in Phayao province.
The main objective of the long-term project is to strengthen indigenous leadership and the capacity of hill tribe communities of northern Thailand towards social inclusion and sustainable development. The project attempts to assist the communities affected by climate change and, most importantly, the protection of the fundamental rights of the indigenous small farmers by training and developing the capacity of the young potential community leaders. They will carry out their work in their respective communities in the future.
CADIS’ partner in Thailand for this project is the Research and Training for Religion and Culture (RTRC), based in Chiang Mai and directed by Fr. Niphot Thianwihan.
2018-2019: The first phase
Despite many difficulties related to the inability of the farmers to cope up with the production demand of the market, the lack of skills in financial budgeting and accounting, climate change, as well as the political crisis with the imposition of military rule since 2017 and the internal coordination issues in the RTRC organization, the project achieved the following:
- Indigenous families empowerment in sustainable climate change resilient agriculture through capacity building actions, training, and participatory learning;
- Sustainable indigenous farming systems documented, disseminated, and promoted towards food sovereignty & self-reliance, including indigenous women leaders;
- Advocacy and protection of peasant's rights and promotion of indigenous culture, coordinated with different organizations such as NGOs, human rights groups, foundations, church organizations involved in justice and peace advocacies;
- Indigenous women network, considered as the front runners of the parishes and the communities;
- Young indigenous leaders training, educated for community leadership and active engagement for fundamental human rights.
2020-2021: the spread of the pandemic
Since the first cases of the Covid-19, the situation has worsened at the beginning of 2020 up to the present time. The condition made RTRC unable to implement any project activities as planned. Then, at the beginning of 2021, there was a second lockdown: many people lost their jobs and income, mainly migrant workers from Myanmar involved in tourist sectors. At the same time, the target beneficiaries are confined in their respective communities to contain the risk of infection and spread of the virus.
Therefore, from January 2020 to November 2021, RTRC has repurposed the initial activities planned for the project, according to the different communities.
Five activities are implemented in Karen communities: four projects for integral communal farming systems and basic farms in two boarding centers and two communities and one environment sustainable network building project in Nongtao village.
In Muang Ngam village, the main focus of the training is the concept of strengthening community food security through integral organic farming systems, which will gear towards community food bank and community herbal medicine bank. The present integrated farming learning center will develop to be a model for an eco-spiritual learning center for the children, the students, and interested people in MuangNgam and nearby villages.
In Om Koi district, Chiang Mai province, 25 students from different mountain areas are hosted. The aim is to help the students to produce safe food. Secondly, the students will acquire knowledge, skills, and experience working with organic farming food. The center raises chickens, ducks, fish, pigs and cultivates different kinds of vegetables and other local edible plants in the garden.
In I-Tu-Tha village, situated at the Myanmar border, there are 300 families scattered along the Salween Riverbank. The main problems are the lack of land for farming, water systems, and traditional farming systems. There are two integrated agriculture projects to provide training on knowledge, skills, and compost making, seedlings sprout, and farm equipment for the young students and the villagers. Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the program is postponed until the Covid-19 situation improves.
The capacity building for creating a sustainable environment has continued. The main idea is to develop a model on ecological conversion within children and young people. Mr. Jaroen Dinu, who has gone through the training at RTRC, facilitated this process.
This is what Lovely Garbage Learning School has been doing. The idea is to learn how to change the mindset of the children and the young people from the viewpoint of looking at things from a negative perspective into positive, in line with Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si' "Ecological Conversion" among the young people. This innovative activity transforms garbage (negative things within the community) into musical instruments, houses, public toilets, etc.
During the outbreak of Covid-19, the Lovely Garbage school organized online courses for other groups to raise climate change awareness through watershed restoration activities such as study tours in the forest and tree planting.
There are two pig rearing projects in Chiang Mai and three in Chiang Rai province, for 24 members involved. These pig rearing projects in red-Lahu villages will help create alternative sources of immediate income for the community during the outbreak of covid-19.
In this area, RTRC has organized two fora for Red-Lahu spiritual leaders in both Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai province, with a total of 291 spiritual leaders.
Phayao working area
In Phayao working area, there is integrated communal farming with Lizu tribe, involving 20 families. The Lizu people, especially Lizu women, want to develop their local seeds, the essential element for any agriculture development project to ensure food security and self-reliance. The common problem is the lack of land for farming and funds for agriculture. There is one catholic school from kindergarten to sixth grade, one religious woman's vocational training center for young women, and one Seminarian center. Students, young women, and seminarians are the church and community leaders of the future.
Among the villages, RTRC focused on the young Lahu indigenous leaders. Some of Lahu's young people are not entitled as Thai citizens, so they are not recognized with lands' rights for farming, they face less opportunity for education. They are more exposed to poverty and drug addiction. Moreover, Lahu young people are fascinated by the modern lifestyle and less concerned about their traditional cultural values.
RTRC training programs teach not only knowledge and skills but also a way of thinking, mindset, heart, hands, and head, all of which contribute to the development of a person. The team faces many different obstacles without giving up. The main worry regards the difficulty for the Lahu leaders of imparting knowledge and wisdom to younger generations. The concern is that when older people die in the Lahu community, nothing will be left behind. For this reason, Lahu spiritual leaders consider this issue as crucial.
An important activity implemented within the project was the meeting with indigenous representatives for preparing wisdom transmission and the emerging of the Asian School of Wisdom (ASW). Fifty representatives from six tribes, such as Karen, Lawa, Lahu, Kachin, Akha, and native Thai, have interwoven relationships with nature, human and Absolute Being. This connection will slowly disappear from the belief and worldview of the people. Currently, people view nature as only objects or materials for their benefit. Society emphasizes individualism more than a sense of caring for others and the environment.
In this contest, RTRC is seen as "a space for people inspired by the spirit and indigenous cultures" who seek to exercise this "sacred power" for the transformation of self and society in these times of change, for the realization of a more contemplative and prophetic lifestyle characterized by resilience and self-sufficiency.