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Hill Tribe Children: Empowered and Impressive

Loy Krathong Festival activities being celebrated in Northern Thailand

Program for Loy Krathong Week 2002

The Royal London Circus is in town

Hill Tribe Children: Empowered and Impressive

Story and photos by Peter Cummins

The Hill Tribe peoples, numbering just over one million out of Thailand’s population of 62 million (as of 1999), have long been marginalized, cultivating the opium poppy as the only means of survival in an alien - and often hostile - environment. Inevitably, the onslaught of materialism engulfed them with a disastrous outcome for the Hill Tribe children, presenting an image of impoverishment, drug abuse, and in many cases, innocent victims of HIV/AIDS.

On the initiation of His Majesty the King, in establishing the Royal Projects and, more recently, the collaboration of the Royal Project Foundation (RPF), the National Council for Child and Youth Development (NCCYD) under the Royal Patronage of HRH Crown Princess Sirindhorn and the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a new life - one of hope and accomplishment - has emerged. Gone is the image of haunted faces, enslaved to drug-addiction and the many vices concomitant with this curse.

Chiangmai Mail special correspondent Peter Cummins was recently commissioned by UNICEF to visit some of the Hill Tribe villages close to Chiang Mai and reports here for the Mail.

children’s rights

In accordance with its obligations to protect ALL children EVERYWHERE, UNICEF is constantly exploring ways and means to protect children and ensure their rights which, under the articles of the “Convention of the Rights of the Child” include the right to participate in matters which affect them. The plight of Thailand’s Hill Tribe children, particularly, is highly relevant to UNICEF’s mandate.

HRH Prince Bhisadej Rajanee manages the King’s Royal Development Projects.

Just recently, in fact, UNICEF went to some Hill Tribe areas outside Chiang Mai, specifically the Ban Nong Hoi Royal Development Center, to discuss progress with the children and young adults there. They positively exuded enthusiasm, confidence and a self-reliance which did not end at the village steps. Quite the contrary; they discussed animatedly the status of their own cash crops, the competition as to who was the most successful farmer/marketeer and - with much laughter and good humour - who amongst them had not “done so well” over the past few months.

A group of the Nong Hoi Networkers: youth leaders Yongyuth (second left) and Moorakit (left) set a fine example for their peer group at the village.

Hmong children in the Nong Hoi School playground: now there is a future.

Nong Hoi Centre

A microcosm of the success of the Hilltribe Youth Career and Leadership Development Project (HYCLPD) is the Nong Hoi Development Centre, located in the Nong Hoi Village, Tambon Mae Raem, Mae Rim District, some 40 km from Chiang Mai. It is a remarkably beautiful area of approximately 13,000 rai, comprising thickly wooded areas juxtaposed to cultivated plots alternately clinging to the hillsides and dropping into the valleys, spread between two watersheds above the Ping River.

Being 1,200 m above sea level, the climate is ideal for temperate fruits and vegetables which, like the people in the area, thrive on the somewhat rarefied air and the misty surroundings.

Hmong girl Supaporn (20) stands proudly in front of her ‘cabbage patch’ at the Royal Nong Hoi Project.

The beauty of the hills around Chiang Mai.

The Nong Hoi station from the opposite hilltop.

Chairman of the Nong Hoi Youth Group is 23-year-old Yongyuth who obviously revels in his leadership responsibilities and sets the example for the newer and younger members of the group. Yongyuth liases with the village chief and the Royal Project Director to formulate programmes, assist his tribal siblings to select an appropriate occupation and monitor progress through meetings with network counterparts from other villages. Yongyuth is one of 280 hilltribe youth who are participating in the Hilltribe Youth Project supported under UNICEF’s Child Protection Programme.

Each young participant can submit a request to start a particular income-generating activity after one full week of life-skills and leadership training,

Royal Project and UNICEF staff join the youth volunteers for an overview of the Project.

The entrance to Nong Hoi: a gateway to new life - the Royal Nonghoi Project.

Yongyuth, with only an ‘informal education’ up to the equivalent of grade nine, has reaped immense benefit from his crops, marketed through the Royal Projects outlets, and has thus been able to contribute much to the welfare of all in the village. Growing and marketing rose apples and spinach, the money thereby earned is ploughed back into the community funds from which an individual can draw to follow a pursuit - agricultural or otherwise - that has been approved by the Project.


UNICEF, which works through the National Council for Child and Youth Development (NCCYD) for the benefit of the Hill Tribe children, is especially concerned with the girls whose vulnerability to exploitation and abuse is only too evident. Girls are selected to join the agricultural activities only if the family approves and then they are trained to be able to participate fully in the village’s agricultural pursuits and, in the process, gain self-respect and confidence, allowing them to avoid the pitfalls waiting to ensnare them.

Among UNICEF’s aims are the empowerment of more girls – not forgetting the boys, of course – through family and the community network. The training is not only to help the young people to become confident, productive and proud but – and more importantly – to teach them to be highly aware of and thus eschew the evils and temptations of an alternate life leading to degradation, drug abuse and HIV/AIDS.

Three cheerful, vibrant Hmong girls, led by their ‘mentor’ Supaporn, joined the discussions at Nong Hoi. Supaporn was proud of her very own “cabbage patch”. But she has contributed much more than a cash crop to help the community; she has been the inspiration to bring her siblings into the village mainstream and join fully the activities.

Youth volunteers check the crops.

Examining the “fish-farm” at Mae Sa Ma.

Produce heading out to the market - and another good year ahead.

From there, each girl will be a catalyst to bringing in more of the girls of the village, saving them, in turn, from the possible awful alternatives.

One of the boys in the group had not been so successful and his approved project of pig husbandry had failed. The pig died. “He tried to save money by cutting down on pig food,” one of the girls giggled. Yongyuth, a true leader, rescued his unfortunate prot้g้ who now farms zucchini and pumpkin - “very well,” said Yongyuth.

Another of the boys, Morakot, Yongyuth’s committee member, was very happy with his lot. At the neighbouring village of Mae Sa Mai, Morakot has a “black” chicken farm, pointing out with a grin, that due to the beliefs of some people, the black chicken brings a better market price. He is also embarking on a fish-farming project.

What an incredible difference NCCYD has made to the lives of these young people. Like Yongyuth, Supaporn is very proud of her achievements and is looking to improve the lot of even more of the village girls.

UNICEF, which monitors the progress in each of the 35 villages in the network, looks to continue support when this present phase finishes at the end of this year.

The advancement of the young people is not just limited to agriculture, however. There are opportunities for training in local crafts and other skills, as well as further education but, UNICEF notes, there is a dire lack of information. Although any one of the children and young adults has access to the Project Director for guidance and assistance, there is virtually no printed information available to the youngsters.

Crops for cash

Fancy a yellow sweet pepper? A cabbage? Some spinach? Or, perhaps, a black chicken - reputed, by some groups, to have medicinal value? What about a head of crisp, green lettuce for that fresh salad you were wanting to prepare? And you can throw in some equally fresh tomatoes, Chinese celery, carrot and radish and spice it all up with a few herbs. The merchandise is so fresh that you can almost smell the earth of the hill stations around Chiang Mai where the produce was grown, and feel the cool, invigorating mountain mists which nurtured them.

The “black chicken” farm.

Coming down for a rest after work on the hillside.

These items are produced at Ban Nong Hoi and Ban Mae Sa Mai, which are but two of the Royal Project Foundation’s 35 centres established in the northern areas around Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lumphun, Mae Hong Son and Phayao.

The Royal Development Projects

It was in 1969 when His Majesty the King, vitally concerned about the addiction to and the cultivation of opium by the Hill Tribes, initiated the Royal Development Project, established with his own personal funds. The King was fully aware of their plight and that their slash-and-burn agricultural practice was de-foresting vast areas and destroying the watersheds of the north; its destructive side-effects spelled disaster to the Tribes themselves, as well as the environment and the fragile ecology.

Keenly observing this dilemma, H.M. the King established the Royal Project Foundation, acting himself as the Honorary President, with HSH Prince Bhisadej Rajanee as chairman of nine appointed committees, the prime aim being, “To help the Hill Tribes help themselves.”

Under the dynamic direction of H.M. the King’s close associate, M.C. Bhisadej Rajanee, the Royal Project’s development centres, in just over three decades, have added four research stations and now incorporate 295 villages, comprising 14,000 households totalling some 85,000 farmers.

As this correspondent observed, the forests have re-grown and the erstwhile bald hills are now covered in luxurious foliage and flora. A huge number of cash crops, such as those mentioned above, have replaced the opium poppy as the Hill Tribes’ livelihood. So successful have been the Royal Projects, in fact, that in 1998 they were accredited with the “Magsaysay Award for International Understanding” and the “Thai Expo Award” for attaining to the “Highest quality standard of Thai goods for export.”

At work on the crops: Nong Hoi.

Experimental hydroponic crops at Nong Hoi.

Regardless of the success of the Royal Projects, however, there was an alarming disaffection among Hill Tribe children who were being subjected - and in many cases, succumbing - to bad influences, direct by-products of the onslaught of materialism: drug abuse, anti-social tendencies, inappropriate sexual behaviour. “Easy money” from hordes exploiting the children has further corrupted the traditional Hill Tribe way of life.

As a result, many young people fled to the nearby “big” cities, there to fall victims of exploitation, of abuse, drugs and HIV/AIDS. This exodus had another pejorative effect: it was depriving the people themselves of the young human resources so essential to developing and sustaining the precarious and fragile communities.

From this, in early 1999, the Royal Project Foundation (RPF), the National Council for Child and Youth Development and UNICEF joined forces to establish the “Network of Hilltribe Youth Volunteers”, designed to be, “A learning process for self-reliance and social participation of Hilltribe youth”. These three main supporters who contribute financial, technical and human resources are joined at various relevant stages by government agencies, non-governmental organizations, community leaders, youth groups and staff of the Royal Project Centres who all contribute appropriate expertise.

Now, entering the latter stage of the most successful first phase, from December 1999 to December 2001, this project is building the capacity of Hilltribe youth living in the operating areas of the Royal project’s 35 centres.

The first step was to select and train youth volunteers, support their career development activities and establish the network. Some 300 Hill Tribe and other young people in the highland areas have now been trained to be self-reliant and mobilize other youth groups in the network.

Through this impressive empowerment of youth, some 74,000 tribes people from 280 villages are now becoming the beneficiaries of this.

For the youth themselves, the former degradation and exploitation through drugs and other evils are now but evaporated smoke from some distant “pipe dream”!

Loy Krathong Festival activities being celebrated in Northern Thailand

Note: A complete listing of Chiang Mai events appears on page 13.

Date Province Event

November 16 Lampang • Local Food Festival and

Cooking Contest

at Khelang Nakorn Park
(16 - 19 Nov)

Phrae Liquor (local alcohol) Festival
grand opening

• Stage Performance
at Wat Jomsawan,

Triumphal Arch Ground,

Chalerm Prakiat Park and
Wat Chetawan

• Drama from Bhattarawadee

Thai folk dance celebration

November 17 Phrae • Pethanque, takraw, sea boxing

• Stage Performances

• Miss Liqour (local whiskey)

• Drama from Bhattarawadee

• Open-air-Concert

Phayao • Paddle Boat Competition
at Phayao lake

November 18 Lampang • Forest Archery Contest

• Northern Style Dinner
at Mae Wang Irrigation Dam

• Miss Noppasmas Beauty

Contest at Khelang Nakorn Park

• Local Instrumental Show

• One Tambon, One Product on
Stall for sale

• Stage Performances

• Northern Thai folk song show

(All the activities are held
at Mae Wang irrigation dam)

Phrae • Yom River descending ceremony
for long life.

• Thai Folk Dance

• Little Noppamas (kid) Contest

• Fireworks Contest

• Palmy in open-air-Concert

November 19 Lampang • Hot Air Balloon Contest
at Mae Wang Irrigation Dam

• Local Instrument Show

• Long Sa Pao (Loy Krathong)
opening ceremony

• Performance and Parade

• Sri Lanka folk dance show

Mae Hong Son

• Noppamas Kids Contest

• Krathong and

Fireworks Contest

Chiang Rai

• Krathong floats Contest

• Miss Noppamas beauty


• Lantern Contest at Military
Practice Center and at Mae Fa
Luang Bridge

Phrae • Loy Krathong Parade

in “City of Love”

• Stage Performances

• Miss Noppamas Beauty

Contest 2002

• Fireworks Celebration

• Join floating krathong
into the river

Nan • Grandmother Noppamas


Phayao • Krathong Contest behind

November 20 Lampang • Loy Krathong Parade

Chiang Rai

• Krathong Contest

• Noppamas Contest
at Military Practice Center

Phayao • Krathong Parade

• Miss Noppamas Beauty

Contest at Inland Fishery


Program for Loy Krathong Week 2002

Daily activities from Saturday
16th - Monday 18th November 2002

10 a.m. - 11 p.m. Lanna Rites L
at Lok Molee Temple

Daily activity from Sunday
17th - Wednesday 20th November

6 p.m. - 12 p.m. Lanna & Hill Tribes Cultural
Performances at Tha Pae Gate

6 p.m. - 12 p.m. Local Night Market & Walking Street at Tha Pae Gate

Monday November 18

5 p.m. - 9 p.m. Hand Made Krathong Contest
at Municipal Hall

6 p.m. Official Opening Ceremony ‘Yi Peng’ at Tha Pae Gate

7 p.m. - 12 p.m. Local Lanterns Parade plus Contest on Changklan Road

7 p.m. - 12 p.m. The Release of 10,000 Krathongs at Ping River

7 p.m. - 12 p.m. Children Beauty Contest

at Municipal Hall

7 p.m. - 12 p.m. ‘The Legend of Yi Peng’ Light & Sound Performances
at Municipal Hall

8 p.m. - 12 p.m. Hot Air Balloons & Fireworks at Ping Riverfront

8 p.m. - 12 p.m. Lanna Cultural Dances

at Municipal Hall

Tuesday November 19

8 a.m. - 9 a.m. Rites to honor Boat Spirits White at Chedi

9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Raft Races on Ping River

9 a.m. - 12 p.m. Hot Air Balloon Contest

at Municipal Hall

5 p.m. - 6 p.m. Para motor & MicroLite Show at Ping River

6 p.m. - 12 p.m. Krathong Procession and Contest at Tha Pae Gate

6 p.m. - 12 p.m. Forest gates ‘Prathu Pa’

at Garden & Temple Gates

6 p.m. - 12 p.m. ‘Miss Loy Krathong’ Contest at Tha Pae Gate

7 p.m. - 12 p.m. The Release of 20,000 Krathongs on Ping River

7 p.m. - 12 p.m. Lanna Cultural Dances

at Municipal Hall

7 p.m. - 12 p.m. ‘The Legend of Yi Peng’ Light & Sound Performances

at Municipal Hall

8 p.m. - 12 p.m. Hot Air Balloons & Fireworks at Ping Riverfront

Wednesday November 20

6 p.m. - 12 p.m. Giant Krathong Procession plus
Contest at Tha Pae Gate

6 p.m. - 12 p.m. ‘Miss Loy Krathong’ Contest at Tha Pae Gate

7 p.m. - 12 p.m. The Release of 20.000 Krathongs at Ping River

7 p.m. - 12 p.m. ‘The Legend of Yi Peng’ Light & Sound Performances

at Municipal Hall

8 p.m. - 12 p.m. Hot Air Balloons & Fireworks at Ping Riverfront

8 p.m. - 12 p.m. Lanna Cultural Dances &
Performances at Municipal Hall

The Royal London Circus is in town

Story and pictures by Marion Vogt

Imagine yourself taken back in time. In the late 1800’s, there was a once-a-year event, and all children waited for it to happen. It was not Christmas, although it was something that got your heart pounding with anticipation when you got nearer the tent. The Royal London Circus is now proving that this magic still exists.

Abdou the lion tamer put lions and tigers in the very same cage, something which is rarely seen.

Flying through the air with the greatest of ease…

It’s magic!

Performers parade out to say thank you to the audience.

Performers backstage get ready for their next big moment in the spotlight.

48 performers from 13 countries, 125 people entourage, and a fully air-conditioned tent with a capacity of 5000 people makes it the world’s biggest touring circus.

Paul L. B. Lee, the producer and owner of this world class entertainment, told Chiangmai Mail that he is proud of what he has achieved since he took over the management in 1988. “I have appropriately named it Celebration - Magical Moments of Circus, because in these times of instability and war around us, the circus gives us the chance to break away, even just for a little while, from the cares of the world. The idea behind it is to provide people with affordable entertainment, even in rural areas, and that’s why we tour all Asian countries, for older people to reminisce, for the young ones to start dreaming, and for everybody who wants to get away and is young at heart.”

With these words in mind we entered the huge tent and were greeted by Filipino musicians playing appropriate circus music. The show started with an opening parade of all performers, and an introduction, well presented by the ring mistress, Mrs. Barbara Jesse Howes-Marquez from Great Britain. Barbara is the granddaughter of the legendary late Sir Sidney Howes, one of Britain’s foremost circus figures and animal trainers. All night long she ensured the continuity of the show and did a wonderful job. Assisting her between the numerous acts was Gerry the Clown, who hails from Mexico, who is also Barbara’s husband, as we found out later.

The evening started with spectacular acrobatics performed in two huge revolving wheels, breathtaking and scary; but the audience could relax again and enjoy a juggling performance afterwards.

The “Duo Soleil”, an aerial ballet, showed grace and elegance combined with strength and power, which is needed to perform those aerial tricks. Then there was Clown Gerry, ‘volunteering’ people from the audience to come forward to the ring. Whichever event you attend, it is always the same story - he looks at someone, inviting him to come, the person turning their head, thinking “No, he can not mean me.” But no chance, as the main spotlight exactly pinpoints this person; if Gerry wants you to join and whistles at you, you better go ... pronto! After the victim was found, the audience was relieved that it was not them, and everybody was more than happy to cheer and clap for the unfortunate.

Dance of the Tropics was the name of the next act, introducing the beautiful and graceful Royal London Circus Dancers in a Dance Number of flowing green of different hues, invoking a sense of the tropics.

Alexei Panarine from the Moscow State Circus Company entered the stage. A combined animal act of performing dogs, cats, birds and chickens - exactly the kind of thing kids enjoy at the circus. One of the highlights was a tiny white poodle that can actually bark the answers to mathematical questions!

After more colorful dancers the highlight of the first part of the show took place, the “Flying Machuka’s” from the Ukraine. They took the audience from one climax to the next, flying, jumping, throwing their bodies around under the rooftop. Wet-hands time for the audience, especially when the spotlights were switched to black light, and the stunts were performed in complete darkness, whilst one could only see the shining white body suits. There was probably no one, neither adult nor child, who was not sweating despite the air-conditioning, and all were very relieved when these young artists were safely back on the ground.

After an intermission of 15 minutes they started soft and easy again with a Cat Dance; feline grace in the form of their very own Royal London Circus dancers in cat suits, who made the perfect interlude to the real thing.

Abdou, lion tamer from England, combined lions and tigers in the very same cage, which is rarely seen. With nerves of steel, he put those cute big cats to their paces with the highest degree of control and respect.

One of my favorites followed after another performance of the dancers, the Shandong-Liaocheng Acrobatic Troupe from China. With a playful and cheerful style, these 3 young boys demonstrated some amazing feats of hand balancing and strength. Smiling, joking with the audience, it all looked so easy, which shows once again the art of mixing acrobatics with humor! No wonder they are the winners of several international acrobatic and circus competitions!

Very much loved by the children was Alexei, a magician from Russia with his chickens, birds and some really amazing tricks.

High class entertainment followed with Yarusa, another juggler, and his most beautiful assistant, who changed costumes according to the balls he was throwing in the air. And believe me: there were many!

The final highlight of this night was the performance of the motorbike group, “Los Machos” from Columbia, circling in a steel ball, 3 at a time, with one man standing inside. One needs nerves of steel just to watch!

The Grand Finale was a cavalcade of performers who bade farewell to the audience, wishing everybody a safe journey home, leaving the arena with the Thai Song of ‘Loy Krathong’, and one could see the smiling faces of both kids and adults walking back to their cars, talking and chatting. Almost 3 hours of family entertainment, gone in the blink of an eye! The memories, however, remain for a long, long time to come.

You still have plenty of chances to catch the show, as the Royal London Circus will continue on the pitch in front of the Lanna Poly-Technical College in Chiang Mai for another week. The final performance will be on Wednesday, November 20.