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Thailand Update 4

Thailand Update #4
by Blane Baker

From Saturday, January 14

Today we enjoyed visiting two local villages that have benefited greatly from interactions with UHDP. The first one, called Toong Kwang Tong, is made up of the Black Palaung people, originally from the Shan State of Burma. Toong is about 5 years old and is located on land that was originally rice paddies. Water is readily accessible in this village due to its lowland location and, with sand filtration, water is suitable for washing clothes and bathing. From our conversations today, however, further testing is needed to ensure that the water is safe for drinking.

Most families here are engaged in backyard farming to provide basic food needs. One of the crops is the rice bean, and, during our visit, most adults were participating in the collection of rice bean seeds. Amazingly, their diligent work only brings 28 baht (less than a dollar) per kilogram of seed. In addition to gardening, villagers raise catfish and pigs and work in factories or as day laborers to generate small incomes.

According to villagers, their priorities are sanitation, water resources, and food. From our observations it looks like all three of these are adequate but tenuous. As mentioned, more work is needed to ensure clean drinking water. People in Toong are friendly, engaging, and by all accounts very happy to have escaped the hardships of ongoing conflicts in Burma. They are determined to thrive on land that does not officially belong to them and and that can be taken by the Thai government at any moment.

Our second visit was to Huay Wai, a village with long connections to UHDP. Villagers here are engaged in agroforestry in which corn and beans are grown among larger plants/trees such as pineapple, tea, coffee, mango, fan palm, fishtail palm, bamboo, black sugar palm, and others. The land on which most agriculture is done here belongs to the Thai Forestry Department so that villagers must abide by strict government regulations. Several years ago, this agency threatened to displace villagers, but, following negotiations, allowed villagers to remain provided they adhere to strict regulations present today. According to Tui, the clearing of even a single tree must be approved by the Forestry Department. Villagers also are allowed to rent certain property outside of Forestry Department land on which to grow additional crops for income. Beyond growing crops, villagers are very successful in raising pigs for sale. One breed here can produce 15 piglets per litter and 3 litters per year with each piglet bringing 1400-1500 baht.

UHDP has been influential in helping villagers to organize two savings' groups and a women's group. All are functioning very effectively. Another source of pride for this village is their management of water. Several wells provide water for the village, and recently a large storage tank was installed on a hill just above the village. The storage unit provides water when wells run low and possibly generates a "pressure head" for the water system. In June 2014 a 2BC Mission Team worked with villagers to build a cover and short wall around one of the wells at Huay Wai. Today, this well is able to produce water year round even when other wells are dry during the driest times of year. UHDP continues to work with villagers on citizenship and rights for non-citizens. One particularly disheartening case involves a Huay Wai man born in Thailand (but not in a hospital) who has been denied citizenship. To complicate matters, his children born in Thailand are not allowed to become citizens either. Progress in the village of Huay Wai has been extraordinary and is ongoing but certain human rights problems remain.

Our visits today were very impactful. We are amazed by the human spirit to thrive in the midst of hardship but also are saddened by our inabilities to establish basic human rights for all people groups on this Earth.

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