HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Donations from Samsara and Wilde Ganzen benefits local schools

Hmong villagers pay respect to the Thai Royal Family

Thailand is not Utopia for alien laborers and Burmese migrants

Donations from Samsara and Wilde Ganzen benefits local schools

40,000 euro spent on the underprivileged

Annelie Hendriks

During the school season 2003/2004 the Dutch Foundations Wilde Ganzen and Samsara have spent 40,000 euro for school facilities at poor schools in the mountains of Mae Sariang. The first 20,000 euro projects were finished in January. The second 20,000 euro projects were finished during the last three months.

Karen and Hmong schoolgirls at Chaw Poo primary school

You can do much for this amount of money. We have built two dormitories at the schools in Luum Naam and Long Phe (a day after completion the latter was unfortunately washed away by the flash floods of May 20, 2004), two canteens in Khun Wong and Chaw Poo, a kitchen at Kapoeang school, water purification installations in Huai Luang and Mae Lep and four sets of batteries and generators in Mae Poeang, Oem Pok, Um Long Luang and Chiang moo.

Do you want to complain of bad roads? Look at this one. But we wanted to get there. Now imagine this in the rain!

All schools are isolated primary schools, located in the mountains of Mae Sariang. The schools are attended by hill tribe Karen and Hmong children. They are from very poor families. The schools do not have many facilities. Many do not have safe drinking water, nor electricity, nor proper toilets or dormitories or canteens. The accommodation for the teachers is often appalling.

Manus Brinkman (from Samsara) with his bike on the raft, which was the only way to reach the village, where the projects were completed.

The annual budget of the Department of Education in Mae Sariang is much too small to facilitate all those schools with the basic necessities. And while it is a very good policy that the compulsory school age is extended from 12 to 16 years, it makes the financial situation of the Department of Education no easier.

Karen boys at Luum Naam School

Samsara and Wilde Ganzen working under the umbrella of the local NGO the Foundation for Education for Rural Children (FERC) will try to raise in the Netherlands 50,000 euro for the school year 2004/ 2005.

The new dormitory at Luum Naam

This time the opening ceremonies took place during the rainy season. And that gives us an opportunity to experience what life must be like high in the mountains at that time. The roads were very bad and the 4 WD could barely make it. Sometimes the road was washed away and we had to continue on motorbikes (for hours) and on rafts (with the motorbike). One month later we will not be able to visit the schools anymore. Construction of the buildings can only be done in the dry season.

The new canteen at Chaw Poo

We were very much impressed by the dedication of the often young teachers working under very difficult circumstances. They teach with their hearts and try to make most of it, often lacking food, books and basic facilities. It is sometimes touching when they ask us for better facilities while never asking for better dormitories for themselves.

Hmong villagers pay respect to the Thai Royal Family

Life prolonging ceremony explained

Autsadaporn Kamthai
Photos courtesy of
the Royal Project

Hmong villagers of Ban Mae Ya Noi in Chomtong district have shown their respect on the occasion of HM the Queen’s birthday and have also carried out a “life prolonging ceremony” for two people they honour dearly.

HSH Prince Bhisadej Rajani (third left) and Thanphuying Datcharee Rajani (fourth left) have a sacred thread tied around their wrists by the old Hmong villagers.

A group of Hmongs of Ban Mae Ya Noi in Chiang Mai’s Chomtong district on June 30 donated rice to HM the King in honor of HM the Queen’s 72nd birthday next month. The rice will be given to other villages that lack rice for their rice bank.

A medium at the ceremony after a spirit possesses his body.

In the past, before they turned to rice cultivation, Hmong villagers of Ban Mae Ya Noi used to plant opium. However, this practice was stamped out in 1985 and following HM the King’s mandate, they were given money to buy 100 pails of milled rice. Later on, a rice bank was established at the village for the villagers to store their spare rice.

Yapao Saewa (left), a village headman of Ban Mae Ya Noi, gives a sack of rice to HSH Bhisadej Rajani.

Since they now have enough rice for all the members of their village, they have donated their surplus rice back to HM the King to supply other needy villages.

Their rice bank has been well managed, and they have honoured the agreement to pay back to the bank their milled rice for the pails of rice borrowed.

The Hmong villagers throw a special stick to ask the spirit to prolong their respected persons’ lives.

The Hmong villagers also performed the ceremony for a long life for HSH Bhisadej Rajani, chairman of the Royal Project Foundation, and Thanphuying Datcharee Rachani to show their gratitude for their assistance in improving their standard of living.

This ceremony is ancient and sacred in the hearts of the Hmong villagers and it is performed only for respected persons.

The ceremony of supplementing rice and water is carried out to increase the standard of living of the two respected persons, HSH Prince Bhisadej Rajani (second right) and Thanphuying Datcharee Rajani (right).

The ceremony for prolonging life starts with a sorcerer calling a spirit to possess the body of a medium. At the same time, an elder sits in front of the door and throws a special stick to ask the spirit to prolong the life of their respected persons.

After the spirit agrees, the respected persons are allowed to enter the house and have to cross a Je Ta Jhia knife to symbolize that they will “go over inauspicious things”. After that, they have to cross over a pig to symbolize making an agreement with the spirit that they will live in good health. Then the pig is killed and its blood is painted on their backs. The sorcerer’s assistant burns a white paper next to the dead pig to send its spirit forth.

Afterwards, a ceremony that includes rice and water is performed to bring good standards of living to the respected persons, who are then invited to eat rice and chicken that have been specially prepared for them.

After protecting their spirits, a sacred thread is tied around their wrists to expel evil from their bodies. The ceremony ends after the threads are completely tied.

These ceremonies are very significant for Hmong villagers and they are rich in cultural history.

Thailand is not Utopia for alien laborers and Burmese migrants

From oppression to suppression

Story and pictures Autsadaporn Kamthai

The issue of alien laborers has become a national problem in Thailand and the government’s attempts to solve it apparently are not working. Alien laborers and migrants have been fortunate to escape the oppression of the Burmese military regime only to be faced with suppression from the Thai police and government and unfair treatment by Thai society.

Armeema at the hut in Kon Nguen Song slum, which she rents for 300 baht a month, with her 3-year-old child (right) and 5-month-old baby (left) who has a deformed left foot. Six people live there. She cannot afford medical treatment for her baby’s foot.

Taking the Burmese as an example, Burmese migrants make up the largest group numerically compared with Laotian and Cambodian refugees in the country. Between 80-90 percent of them previously lived in areas beset by civil wars, and the Burmese military regime regularly relocates the dwellers, according to Sansern Dongdee, coordinator of the Migrant Assistance Program (MAP) Foundation.

The general life of slum people

“Most Burmese migrants will tell you they did not really want to move to Thailand, where they suffer indignities. However, because of the many hardships they encountered in Myanmar, they felt they did not have any other choice,” Sansern says from his experience in working with a number of migrants.

Alien laborers and migrants live in unhealthy conditions in the middle of garbage.

“The fact that whole families moved to settle and struggle in Thailand is evidence of their unbearable feelings towards their living conditions in Myanmar.”

The Kon Nguen Song slum where the migrants have to pay monthly rent of between 300-600 baht, with no electricity, water or other basic facilities.

Some attempts that the Thai government and Ministry of Labor have instituted to control the alien laborers seem to be misguided. For instance, registration has become a burden for them and increases their suffering, reckons Sansern. “The registration fee of 3,800 baht is very high for alien laborers, who earn their living in low paid jobs that Thais shun. That is a whole month’s wages to pay for the registration fee, with no money left over even for daily meals.”

The garbage and standing water leave a stench at the Kon Nguen Song slum.

Orachorn Rattanamanee, head of Chiang Mai Employment Services Office said she did not agree that the registration fee was exorbitant. In fact, it was “very worthwhile” for the laborers since they would get benefits in health treatment and a legal work permit for a year after being registered.

She added that the Thai government meant well with its actions. “For instance, it allows alien migrants to stay in the kingdom for a year to seek jobs before they register with the government, which shows it is benevolent enough.”

The condition of the slum toilets. Only six toilets are provided for 250 families.

By law, alien laborers are restricted to eight types of jobs, as housekeepers, agricultural and livestock laborers, water transportation laborers, construction workers, rice mill workers, mine laborers, fishermen and fishery laborers.

On average, female alien laborers earn between 80-120 baht a day, while male alien laborers earn between 120-150 baht. This is contrary to Thai labor law, which stipulates a minimum daily remuneration of 140 baht. Even though many migrant workers are familiar with the labor legislation, they cannot complain because the language barrier prevents them from approaching government officials.

While they face major obstacles and are hunted down by immigration and other authorities, alien laborers are in great demand by Thai employers. One of the easiest ways of cutting overheads is to employ alien laborers who do not have any alternative and meekly accept low paid jobs.

Commenting on the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Burmese government to allow the issuing of passports for two year work permits for its migrants, one Burmese, who is a staff member of the MAP Foundation, says that she and other Burmese migrants are concerned whether the Burmese military regime will vouch for their citizenship and the security of their relatives who still live in Myanmar, seeing they left illegally.

The 23 year old MAP staff member, who asked not to be named because she fears for her safety, says “I decided to migrate to Thailand together with my sister because of these reasons (oppression), as well as the high cost of living in Myanmar so my parents could not provide for us properly.”

Regarding their concerns on their insecurity, Orachorn responded that the Thai government realized that the Yangon regime probably would not approve the citizenship of most of the Burmese alien migrants and laborers in the north. Therefore, the government had assigned the National Security Council to be responsible for these groups of migrants if the regime does not accept them when the MoU is applied. However, she could not point out just how the Council would do this.

A 25-year-old Lisu woman, Armeema, is a typical Burmese migrant. She arrived in the kingdom six years ago and lives in the Kon Nguen Song slums with her husband and two children. Abject poverty led her and her husband to Thailand after they heard from other illegal migrant workers about how easy it was to earn a living here.

“If we were still living in Myanmar, we would not be able to raise our two children because it is very difficult to earn a living there,” Armeema says. However, on 140 baht a day, they are just making ends meet. Most of the Thai landowners renting out to Burmese migrants like Armeema however, ignore their financial plight.

The media itself does little to present the real picture, other than pictures of alien laborers being captured by police, but rarely does the media explain the motives, background and wretched existence of the Burmese who have fled to Thailand.

Even though the Thai government is starting to address the controversial subject, the population needs to change its attitude, as global citizens have a duty to do, to reduce the suffering of these outcasts.