The Poverty Trap
“Over the past decade, Thailand has witnessed an unprecedented level of development. It will meet most, if not all, of its Millennium Development Goals (MDG) well in advance of the 2015 target, and has seen poverty tumble from 38 per cent in 1990 to 11 per cent in 2004. Malaria is now under control and new HIV infections are down 80 per cent from their peak in 1991. Indeed, the UN Development Program uses the country as a luminous case study on the success of the MDG concept.
However, this picture hides a darker side, for unlike regional neighbours Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, where economic growth has lead to a decline in inequality, the disparity between rich and poor in Thailand has been worsening for the past 40 years. And the hill tribes, which mainstream Thai society perceives as backward and primitive, are right at the bottom of the pile”. ( “On the Margins”, Geographical, Sept, 2008, Ben Winston).
The term ‘hill tribe’ refers to the ethnic minority groups living in the mountain regions of Thailand. Each hill tribe has its own language, customs, way of dressing and beliefs. Most are of semi-nomadic origin and have immigrated to Thailand from Tibet, Myanmar (Burma), China and Laos over the past 200 years. Traditional farming methods have mostly consisted of slash-and-burn agriculture, as well as opium farming, moving back and forth over the borders of neighboring countries.
Some issues that hill tribe people in Thailand contend with on a daily basis include poverty, land rights, deforestation, human trafficking, lack of access to adequate education, restricted freedom of movement (non-citizens must remain within certain limited areas – if they are found outside of these areas they face instant arrest), community and cultural breakdown, drug abuse, discrimination, human rights violations, and lack of Thai citizenship for nearly 50% of all qualified people. (The population of the hill tribes in Thailand is estimated at 1.2 million). Without Thai citizenship, state rights and benefits are not accessible, including such things as free secondary education, the right to vote or affordable health care.
Since the 1960s, various government policies have relocated tribal groups to areas that have been less suitable for traditional farming. Reasons have varied, but examples include the increasing competition for land, attempted suppression of the drug (growing) trade, the belief that hill tribes are responsible for deforestation, the development of National Parks, etc. While the re-located groups are encouraged to grow cash crops instead of traditional agriculture, the shortage of available ‘permitted’ land, as well as the above issues, compound to keep a large portion of Thailand’s hill tribe people in poverty.
Children of the Homes represented on this web page come from areas of severe poverty. Some are orphans, some abandoned by a living parent, most not wanted, and in peril of being exploited by an opportunistic broker or relative. The desire of these homes is to help the children break free from the poverty and exploitation cycle that they have inherited.
Two of BridgeWorks Goals are aimed at developing programs that:
1) Help the Homes help themselves – Provision – (and thus help the children learn to ‘help’ themselves),
2) Equip and empower the children and young people to build a foundation for productive and meaningful adulthood.
The Homes themselves face similar obstacles and challenges, but persistence and creativity can help the Homes overcome the difficulties.
Case: A well-known Thai business that had been donating rice regularly to one of the Homes demanded 2 girls as ‘payment’ after more than a year of donating. The children and carers of the offended Home determined to grow their own rice from then on, to avoid obligations to and exploitation by others. They joined the Rice Cultivation program, and have been successful in growing sufficient rice for their needs.