On Monday, Jan 2nd, we met with the director of the IMPECT organization (www.impect.org) which stands for Inter-mountain Peoples Education and Culture in Thailand. They describe the organization as a collective of independent indigenous groups that come together to address issues impacting indigenous peoples in northern Thailand. The 10 represented groups are: Karen (largest), Hmong (2nd largest), Lisu, Mieng, Akha, Lahu, Lua, Kachin, Thai Yai, and Data-ahng. The three primary issues they address are 1) alternate education and cultural revival, 2) development of the indigenous peoples network (capacity building and leadership), and 3) natural resources and environmental issues. Interestingly, 70% of their funding comes from abroad. The remaining 30% comes from the Thai government and is primarily focused on education.
Mr. Sakda, IMPECT director, and Ms. Mee, IMPECT program coordinator, explained how changes in access to land has impacted the hill area people. Before they were able to practice a natural cycle of crop rotation – moving from year to year on a six year cycle to a different place for planting. Thus, they did not deplete the soil. However, now they must cultivate a particular parcel of land every year. The soil gets depleted and they must now use chemical fertilizers in order to grow the crops. Additionally, about 30 years ago, the government worked to eliminate the growing of poppies, a native plant on the mountains. They introduced non-native crops which require fertilizers and pesticides to grow; this has created environmental issues that were previously non-existent.
Ms. Mee talked about the Hmong New Year Festival we would be visiting shortly. She shared that at this time of year, Hmong families gather and offer food to their ancestors. They also gather as a community to have fun. Young men and women toss a ball back and forth as a way to meet each other. Elders share their cultural traditions and inculcate values in their young people. A very interesting addition to contemporary festivities is holding a gender debate to talk about the changing roles of men and women in Hmong society. She said they focus on the good aspects of being wife and husband, highlighting the positive side of relationships in order to strengthen families during rapidly changing times.