From Accountant to Activist

From Accountant to Activist

When La was a little girl, her village had a visit from an organization called ADRA. Her people had never had much to do with ADRA, and so knew little of the benefits that may await them. During the visit, the Country Director gathered all the children and asked them what they wanted to do when they grew older. Some wanted to be teachers, doctors; even a farmer. Yet only La stated she would become the village Chief.

She wanted to be able to come back to her people; provide children with a better education and help empower them.

Most villagers have no Thai Identification, which makes it hard for children to get into schools. Fortunately, La and three of her friends were provided scholarships from ADRA to attend school. As part of the program they each received their first bike to ride school. They attended school and were happy as the principal was understanding and helped them with many things. “I was happy because each term I was given a new uniform, new books and pencils” La said. Unfortunately, not everyone in the community was so understanding of these indigenous students.

La stands close with Project Coordinator Sunita Winitkoonchai, who has been with the KGS project since Katima was at the shelter.

Photograph by Brittanie McLean

 

It started causing lots of pressure upon the school. All these outside influences ended up causing La to leave, where she stayed at home with her family. A short time later a staff member from ADRA’s Keep Girls Safe (KGS) project came to the village and asked her if she wanted to go and live at the KGS shelter. She had trouble deciding as many  of the villagers were cautioning her not to go, and likewise telling the other girls. They had heard about scams before, and with no Thai ID her family would not be able to visit for fear of getting caught by the police. It was her father who helped her decide when he said to her ‘Go to the shelter, for every step you take in life is for your future’. La never understood that until today, but she did as he told her. She would go to the shelter.

 La was the second group of girls to be brought to the shelter in Chiang Rai and was in year nine at the time. At first she did not like the shelter at all, there was no feeling of belonging. Yet in time, and with the help of a staff member she came to call the shelter home, and the girls family. She connected to the others she shared a home with; and even felt an obligation to care for those younger than herself. Partly because she was older than many of the other girls; but also because they were now her family, and she loved them.

 Perhaps an even greater gift than having a safe place to live or going to school was her eagerness to let God into her life. The girls had the opportunity to go to church every Saturday, have communal Bibles at the shelter, and other Bible study periods throughout the week.  Many girls have come to accept Jesus into their lives through this program, and more still have this opportunity today. “I stole a Bible from the shelter” she admitted. She now walks around her house all the time singing songs from the gospel.

 La attended vocational school for 3 years in accounting and upon finishing the staff at the shelter asked if she wanted to stay or leave the shelter. Although the shelter held many memories and she would miss those there, her family wanted her closer to home. Her move to Chiang Mai would be both closer to her village and study. La found her own place and is currently living and supporting herself.  “KGS helped me to adjust myself to different types of girls and how they live, and that’s how I can live on my own and deal with many different people”  After a further two years studying an associate degree in accounting, La went on to obtain a bachelors degree at Ratchapat University in accounting; graduating in 2013. She is the only one in her family to have obtained such a level of education, and so she is looked up to by her family and others in the village. She did not particularly like accounting, KGS staff told her it would be much easier to get a job in this field than an arts degree, and so a good part of her life was taken up with all things accounting!

However, for all her studies La’s passion has been present, and now she has the chance to use her gifts to help others. There is so much she is involved in right now that we can hardly begin to understand what a brave and compassionate woman she is.  Currently, she is a committee member for the Indigenous Woman Network in Thailand in which she represents the Lisu people. This committee gives projects to those on the committee to work with communities.

They discuss how to manage natural resources by involving men and women. La had noticed when she was younger many disputes were about who owned what land in the village and so for the committee produced a village map.  This map showed all the different plots of land and who owns them, a document that is now presented in court to settle disputes. She makes a point of telling women whenever she has the chance that women’s rights are equal to men, and for them to stand up for themselves.  La is also a member of the Forestry Restoration Committee. She acts as a translator in court and is contacted about any issues on the forest surrounding her home. Unfortunately, in ten years time the government wants to take back the land the indigenous people live on so they can regenerate the forest. This will displace all the people living there, and La hopes with hard work and determination they will come to a compromise. “So essentially you are still living up to being chief of the van ADRA staff member remarked during a recent interview.

This is a small part of the work La currently is doing. Her good deeds have been captured on film, even receiving a ‘Good Samaritan’ award for what she has accomplished.  La doesn’t know where she would be without this project that helps girls out of unsafe situations. It provides pathways to a brighter future. Every chance she has she asks if she may visit the shelter and would like to share her story with the other girls.

Southern Thailand Flooding Wreaks Havoc After Torrential Downpour

Southern Thailand Flooding Wreaks Havoc After Torrential Downpour

The situation became severe in January 2017 as increased rainfall became torrential, causing severe flooding across twelve provinces in Southern Thailand. This is the worst flooding that Thailand has seen in thirty years, causing more damage and destruction than even the 2011 floods.

The twelve affected provinces are as follows; Chumphon, Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Patthalung, Songkhla, Trang, Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Krabi, Ranong and Prachuap Khiri Khan. At least 91 deaths have been reported as of the 2nd February; 4 persons are still stated as missing and the evacuation of 65,000 individuals has occurred across the provinces. It has been revealed that a total of 590,000 households and 1,800,000 people have been affected in the Southern regions.

 Nakhon Si Thammarat province was the most severely hit by the flooding, where rainfall was measured as high as 700 milimetres in Maung district and over 400 milimetres in other districts. Thai average rainfall in the southern regions is usually about 132 mllimetres, making this over five times the regular amount of rainfall in this period. The monsoon season usually begins in August and ends October, however this year the rain has continued to fall for much of January, an unusual precedent.

 During the days following the downpour, it was reported that the flooding had also damaged 70 government installations, 270 drains, 126 weirs, two reservoirs, 4,314 roads, 348 bridges and 2,336 schools. One particular incident of flash flooding washed out a bridge on the country’s main north-south highway alongside several others, backing up traffic for 200 km (125 miles). Many rivers; such as the Ta Pi River; flooded its embankments and nearby communities, forcing them to evacuate to higher ground.

Organised chaos at the distribution site. Photography by Sarawut Tummati.

 In addition to structural damage, farmland and supply yields have been compromised. Southern Thailand is home to many rubber plantations, yielding much of the world’s rubber supplies, and the expected yield for 2016-2017 is 10% lower because of the flooding. Close to 1 million rai of farmland has been destroyed by the continual rainfall and prolonged flooding. Of that figure, more than 990,000 rai were crop plantations, 39,000 rai were livestock farms, and 19,000 rai grass plots.

 Currently, much of floodwaters have been drained and relief efforts have been carried out in affected areas thanks to the joint efforts of the Military, Government and NGOs working in the sector. More than 70 water pumps and 50 jet propulsion machines were installed to discharge water to the sea, and local army bases have been providing vehicles and manpower for rescue operations; many houses have also been relocated to prevent additional flooding. Subsequently, it is estimated that 897,000 farm animals have been evacuated; 480,000 kilograms of animal feed distributed and 14,000 animals received medical treatment.

 The National Command Centre for Disaster Prevention and Mitigation is evaluating areas that flood repeatedly and the overall risk in the southern region. They hope to improve the current monitoring and prevention system, which includes remodeling warning and evacuation systems, as well as equipment and shelter for when flooding occurs. At this time, 251.37 million baht in donations has been received to assist those in crisis and the government is still welcoming additional funds.

Foodkits delivered to victims in crisis.

Handing out food packages to families on the ground.

The emergency response by ADRA Thailand was implemented in Prasang, Cahiburi & Vieng-Sra District, Surathani Province Thailand. Initial assessments by Phuket Mission Hospital indicated the greatest needs of affected communities were food and water. It was announced that ADRA Thailand & Phuket Mission Hospital would deliver food aid to these areas in Sai Khueng, Prasang District; Songprak, Chaiburi District and Tung Luang, Vieng Sra District. The response was split into stages; with two distributions. Distribution one was carried out to 218 families in Prasang & Chaiburi District and distribution two for 260 families in Vieng-Sra District. The areas selected for ADRA intervention were decided by working with the Mission Hospital and local authorities to narrow down the sub-districts, and subsequent villages most overwhelmed by the flooding. Families chosen to receive support were recommended by village chiefs of the predetermined villages, who assessed by location the worst situated homes and selected accordingly.

 The bureau of meteorology has indicated less rain for the coming weeks, and families are returning to their homes to start the cleanup. The flood situation remains critical in five provinces; however rehabilitation efforts have already begun in several cities, namely Ranong, Krabi, Trang, Chumphon, Prachuap, Khiri Khan, Yala and Narathiwat. The inundated areas will have flood waters diverted and stored in catchments to be used in the dry season. Homeowners will be entitled up to 250,000 baht depending on the degree of damage and a home repair program will be run by soldiers and vocational students to get people back on their feet. Additional funds of 3,000 baht will be given to farmer families. The government plans to assess response initiatives and warning systems for future disasters, as well as preventative measures so that they are well prepared for what is not an uncommon occurrence in Thailand.