Human Trafficking in Thailand

Human Trafficking in Thailand
Before taking this course, it is fair to say that all three of us had very little to no knowledge on the topic of Human Trafficking. Through lectures we learned that those who live in poverty are most vulnerable to human traffickers. It doesn’t matter what gender or age anyone can be taken advantage of and forced to do free labor. Most victims are kidnapped and forced to do free labor. Limited opportunities and resources are some main causes for human trafficking. Families who have no way of making an income feel pressure to sell their child to human traffickers in order to receive an income.  They will become sex slaves and possibly die young from HIV. young children will do free labor, doing various activities from selling flowers to begging on the streets where most tourists are found. What made all this information real derived from our experiences with human trafficking in Thailand, especially our tour guide Eve’s personal story. We are here to observe the environment and interactions around us; had we been solely vacationing tourists, these realities would probably not have made it to our attention. To proceed, we would like to share our personally observed accounts of Human Trafficking, that have occurred throughout our time in Thailand.
             human trafficking pic.jpg
                                                    Mai Zong Vang
Thailand is one of the most well-known places for human trafficking, due to the high demand and supply for sex slaves and child labor. During my stay in Thailand I’ve observed several instances that I believe are examples of human trafficking. Some of these instances were of a boy selling flower necklaces and seeing numerous girls sit on a row of chairs outside of the bar and restaurants late at night.
I will never forget an incident that occurred right in front of me. I was raised with morals and values that taught me to always give to those who are in need even if I don’t have a lot. While at the night market in Chiang Mai I met a little boy who seemed to be no older than 6 years selling flower necklaces in the food court. My first instinct was to question why this little boy was working in the middle of the night. But then I thought about it again and wondered if he had to do it to feed his family. So,I gave him 20 baht and told him to keep it.
I went back to the night market again on the second night we were in Chiang Mai and saw the same boy in the same food court. This got me super curious about whether the boy was really working for his family. I started to doubt it and observed the situation. I noticed that he asked all the tourists  to buy his flower necklace and most of them did buy them. Then I noticed a lady who was at the end of the food court watching and waiting for him. I kept wondering if that was his mother or not.
On the third night, I saw the little boy again. He was doing the same thing- selling his flower necklaces. Then a police officer came into the food court and I noticed the little boy walking the opposite direction from the side trying to avoid him. The boy exited the food court with the same lady from the previous nights and they both disappear. I asked Mongkon if that could possibly be his mom and Mongkon said maybe. After the police left the little boy came back and did his usual routine of selling flower necklaces to the tourists. Some tourists gave him money then went back to eating and drinking. Mongkon decided to give the little boy some coins and asked if that was his mom, but the little boy didn’t say anything and gave a strange look. The weirdest thing was the little boy’s face expression when Mongkon gave him the money. He had the saddest look, but after receiving the money he smiled and said thank you. It seems to be all acted out like the boy knew exactly what to do to get people’s attention and for them to feel sympathy. Everything seem to all too similar from what I read on the human trafficking website of how “children from neighboring countries are forced to sell flowers, beg, or work in agriculture or domestic service in urban areas. Evidence suggests that the trafficking of men, women, and children into these sectors represent a significant portion of all labor trafficking in Thailand” (Bertone, 2001). It got me questioning a lot about the issue of human trafficking, especially since it’s a universal issue. If human trafficking is such a huge issue throughout the world, what are the government officials doing to limit the number of traffickers? Why isn’t there a collaboration between all the counties to  bring down the main pipeline of the human traffickers?
                                                                      Pahoua Vang
Before this course, I had very little knowledge on the topic of Human Trafficking. It is a topic in which I wanted, in the past, to wither away from because of its gruesomeness. Yet through this past week, I have gone on a journey in which educated me that awareness is crucial. I have learned that Human Trafficking is a real issue. We were shared a very personal story from one of our tour guides, Eve, and her story touched the heart of everyone. Eve came from a place called the Green Zone district. It is one of the most heavily trafficked area in Thailand. She had friends and family who died from HIV in which they contracted from their work in sex trafficking. Her uncle sold her cousins into sex trafficking and they too, died. Her mother worked very hard to keep her out of the business and because of this she was granted a scholarship to ChaingDao School by being the top student of her class. Throughout my trip, we had the chance to meet two villages and the question of human trafficking aroused. Both leaders from the each village stated that trafficking is not a problem with them because of the strongness of their community. In addition to this, we was able to do a tour at the Hall of Opium and something that I learned is that where there is drugs, there is trafficking going on. Many people gets addicted to drugs and they themselves gets sucked into trafficking one way or another. This is why some areas are higher in trafficking than others, like the Green Zone in comparison the villages that we visited. Drugs can destroy a community. It is where poverty is high, education is lacked, resource is limited, and corruption is occurring.
I personally witness trafficking at the Chaingmai Night Bazaar. I met a little boy, about 6 and quite skinny, by the food court. He was going around selling flowers. He didn’t even need to say a word to me to advertise his flower. There was this sadness in his eyes and it lured me in. I went up to him and bought a strand of flower and left. This happened around 10:30 at night and yet this very naive american didn’t think much about it. I was unconscious of what was happening.This happened about one week ago and other students who witness more of this said that the same little boy was at the same food court for three days selling the same thing. He was accompanied by a lady from a distant. This may very well be an example of human trafficking. It was very hard to take this in. A child who is so pure in heart and have so much potential in life is being held back by traffickers. I want to go back to that very moment to take that child’s hand and lead him into a light. Yet, there is a lot more children out there being trafficked the same exact way or worse. Awareness about human trafficking is important and it is happening everywhere. It first takes awareness to trigger some kind reaction toward it and this experience definitely trigger something in me. This is an eye opening experience, one in which will definitely lead to some action in my part.
Janey Kroneberger
Before coming to Thailand I didn’t really know what human trafficking was, I just knew it was bad, and thought it had something to do with sex. Now, my idea of human trafficking is much different, and it’s victims can be anyone, it doesn’t discriminate, and can take form in many different ways such as children being sold away from their families for money, it’s not just about sexual interactions.
Our tour guide Eve told us her story, and how human trafficking has affected her and her loved ones. Eve grew up in a village in Thailand referred to as the “green zone,” which is a huge area for human trafficking. Eve has had friends and sisters die from HIV due to human trafficking; and the pain in her eyes was one of the most impacting things I have ever encountered. You might hear in the paper, or an online article about human trafficking, but Eve’s story was up close and right in front of me, that’s something that you can’t ignore. Eve had the chance for a better life due to being at the top of her class in school, so she received a scholarship, if this wouldn’t have happened, she too may have been among the deceased victims. Being able to hear Eve’s story really opened my eyes to the realities of human trafficking, and it makes me want to help fight against this harsh reality.  During my time in Thailand I have also witnessed a scenario in Chiang Mai, which seemed like a stereotypical human trafficking incident.
I went to a late dinner with another student in our group, Kya, and we sat out on a patio near a busy road.  Just before we finished eating a little boy approached our table trying to sell flowers for 100 Baht; we said “no thank you”, but he was persistent. After he realized we weren’t going to give in, he asked Kya to arm-wrestle him, and if he won she would pay him 100 Baht. There was no way in hell we thought this little boy would win; being probably a mere fifty pounds, so the arm wrestling match begun. The little boy turned out to be much stronger than we thought, and won the match within seconds! Now the question was, what are you going to buy with this 100 Baht? In an infomercial type of way he told us how he was going to buy books for school, that’s when it struck me, there’s something off about this situation, and my gut could feel it. The little boy quickly scampered away around the corner with his money; we’ll never see him again.
Immediately after the situation occurred we knew something wasn’t right, and our observations helped to confirm this. There was a red pick-up truck sitting in the grassy median nearby with it’s lights off, but was in full view of everywhere this boy was trying to sell his flowers. Also, it was almost eleven at night, so what was a young boy of age eight or nine doing alone at this time? Where we’re his parents? Why was he so persistent to get money from us? I can’t say for sure that this was human trafficking, but it looked and seemed like it without a doubt. I will never know for sure what the boy did with the money, or if he is okay, but my heart tells me he is suffering from the consequences of human trafficking.
It’s so easy to overlook these kinds of situations when they are far from home, or read in an article, but when it’s up close and personal, the impact is paralyzing.  I think the biggest thing I will take from hearing and seeing these experiences concerning human trafficking is my newfound desire to help other’s who have suffered from human trafficking’s effects. Awareness is key, and my eyes have been opened to an enormous issue; one of my duties now is to bring back this information and share with as many people possible. It is impossible to combat human trafficking with one person; the more who know about this issue, the better.

These are our personal accounts on Human Trafficking that each of us witnessed. With a bit more knowledge on the problem of human trafficking and personal eye-witness, we all have a better understanding. Trafficking is a problem not only in Thailand but globally. Though we are doing our studies in Thailand, it is important to note that the United States is the second most heavily trafficked country; in specific, women and children. In an article we read. “As many as 50,000 trafficked victims [women and children] annually”(Garrett-Akinsanya), which include sex and labor trafficking. In specific, the Twin Cities rank 13th in the most heavily trafficked area in the US (Garrett-Akinsanya). Now that we are all more aware of human trafficking, our next step is to get involved one way or another to stop this. A person has the right to live their life to the fullest, and trafficking denies people this right. Let’s all work together to make people aware of human trafficking and help prevent children, women, and men from ever being trafficked. Awareness is key. There are many agencies in Minnesota that are helping  fight against human trafficking, and also providing aid to its victims, including: The International Institute of Minnesota, Breaking Free, and the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force.


Antitrafficking. (n.d). Human Trafficking. Retrieved from
Bertone, M. (2001). Human Academy for Educational Development. Retrieved
Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking in Thailand. (n.d). Not for Sale.
Retrieved from
Garrett-Akinsanya, Bravada. “Human Trafficking: The New Slavery.” Insight News RSS.   Insight

             News, 12 Mar. 2102. Web. June 2015.


Hmong Diaspora and Globalization

Elaine Vue
Introduction: Who are the Hmong?

Though Minnesota and California have the biggest Hmong populations in the United States, there are still many people who don’t know who the Hmong people are and about their diasporic movements. The Hmong are a nomadic people who have a beautiful culture that has been preserved orally throughout history. Though their origins are still debatable due to many centuries of migration, the Hmong are said to have migrated throughout Southeast Asia, settling in China for hundreds of years before once again having to migrate again due to persecution – this time, they settled in the mountains of Laos.

During the Second Indochina War, also known to Americans as the Vietnam War, the United States sent troops to South East Asia to back up the South Vietnamese in their fear of the domino theory spread of communism. In what is now known as the Secret War, the United States Central Intelligence Agency recruited the Hmong people in order to navigate the coarse and unfamiliar jungles of Laos. With this recruitment, the C.I.A. also promised the Hmong that they would be protected by the United States from persecution and that they would be given land to call their own.

In 1973, the Paris Peace Accords was signed and the United States agreed to pull out of Vietnam; though the North Vietnamese troops and Pathet Lao agreed to release all U.S. and other prisoners of war, the Hmong were left to fend for themselves. This started a mass genocide and the Hmong were forced to flee their homes, running through the jungles and seeking refuge across the Mekong River in Thailand in order to survive. Many of those who chose to stay in their homes were sent to re-education camps where they were abused, tortured and/or killed. After this mass exodus from Laos, many Hmong families relocated to the United States, France, Canada, and other Western countries as refugees and asylees. Populations also stayed in Thailand, and others were forced to go back to Laos.

This year marks the 40th year of the Hmong people resettling in Minnesota; throughout history, there have been mass migrations of the Hmong people throughout the world. As Hmong-Americans, we navigate our Hmong lives in a world that isn’t dominated by our own language and culture. There are things we accept, struggle with and are still learning about to learn more about our roots. With our trip to Thailand, we have met and encountered a number of Hmong-Thai men and women who have helped us learn more about things such as preservation of culture, religion, Hmong marriage practices, and Hmong women in society. As Hmong-Americans who have very Western points of views and approaches, we hope that everyone will learn something through our simple observations and conversations.

Yer Her
Topic: Hmong Women

What does it mean to be a Hmong woman? I have always asked myself this question, but I never had a real answer. I noticed many Hmong women struggle with their life because of their culture. Many of the things inside the culture have been practiced for so long that it seems impossible to change. Such as when a Hmong woman gets divorced, she will have to carry the stigma for the rest for her life. People will point at her and talk about her. The Hmong people have such a small community that everyone knows almost everything about each other. The most challenging thing is as a Hmong woman of this generation, what can I do to help the next generation so that they don’t face the same struggles?

I interviewed a Hmong woman in Thailand named Tsiab. I wanted to know what did she thinks about Hmong women in general. My interest was the different perspectives between Hmong American women and Hmong women that lives in Thailand.

I asked Tsiab what she thought about the bride price. The reason I wanted to know was because I knew that each country had their own bride price. From what I knew, once a Hmong women got marry, she would be considered as one of her husband’s people. She was no longer able to walk home easily like before. She could not give birth inside her parents’ home. I did not understand. I asked Tsiab about the bride prices. I wanted to know if the bride price was worthy or important. “I think the prices are not worthy if I think about my mom”, she replied. Each bride is worth four silver bars in Thailand. Each silver bar is worth 5,000 in Thai baht. As a Hmong woman, once you get married, your life belongs to your husband. Hmong parents would always teach their daughters to be a diligent wife in order to be loved by her husband and his family. A good wife should take care of everything in the family and should not complain. She must be penitent and be a good wife. Tsiab graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business management. She said that the money cannot compare to what her parents had given to her throughout her life. She would increase the bride price if she is able to. I agree with her. I thought, if I were to spend the rest of my life with someone, that person should really work harder than my parents.

I’m really glad that I got to talk to Tsiab and learn from her experience and her life. As a Hmong woman, I did not think I can change everything by myself. However, if all women come together and talk about this issue, I believe we can create change in the community.

Chee Moua
Topic: The challenges to learn and preserve Hmong language, writings, culture and practices in America and Thailand.
I noticed that there were many Hmong students struggling to learn the Hmong language, writings and culture as well as practices in America.  I thought that this was only an issue in America because even though English isn’t the official language, it is the dominant language. There were also many families that have converted to Christianity and have moved away from traditional Hmong religion and practices.  I later found out that this challenge is not only for the Hmong in America, but that it is also a challenge for the Hmong in Thailand. I had the chance to talk to a few Hmong Thai people about this issue and asked their opinions and thoughts on it, as well as ways to help preserve Hmong language, writings and culture for the younger and many more generations to come.  
One of the many things that they have here to help Hmong students learn the language is by teaching Hmong in Thai schools. In Ban Xong district, there are schools that teach Hmong from kindergarten to fourth grade, said Qai. Hmong-Thais live in Thailand and speak Thai because it is the dominant language just as English is the dominant language for the Hmong in America. Tom, the young Hmong man that I interviewed from the Mekong School, said that he discovered he wanted to be a Catholic priest when he was 19. Ma Ha, another Hmong gentleman that I interviewed who still practices Shamanism, said he teaches and speaks Hmong to his children when they are home. He does this because they’ll learn Thai in school so there is no use for him to teach them Thai. Ma Ha also noted that ‘it doesn’t matter if we believe in Christianity or Shamanism, as long as we don’t forget that we are Hmong.’ The challenges to learn and preserve the Hmong language, writings, culture and practices is really an international issue for the Hmong people.
Crystal Yang
Topic: Abusive International Marriage
I have heard many Hmong American perspectives in regards to abusive international marriage. Based on what I’ve learned from social justice advocates such as the Building Our Future Campaign, international marriage is becoming a public health issue affecting Hmong families abroad and in America. This issue involves husbands leaving, sometimes disappearing for weeks and months, and then returning with news of a second wife from Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, or China. In the early years, this practice was more common among men in their 50’s and older. However, in recent years, men in their 30’s also started going overseas to marry underaged girls. In addition, there is a trend recurring in the Hmong community defined as “transnational abandonment” which is sometimes referred to as “marry and dump”, where Hmong American men marry women and girls abroad with no intention of sponsoring their brides to live in the U.S. (Dabby-Chinoy et al., 2012). The Hmong women and girls who are left behind would be looked down upon by their community, with many being forced to move out of their parents’ home.
I felt appalled by the knowledge I’ve gained this year in regards to abusive international marriage. My thirst for knowledge grew as I connected with Hmong women advocates such as Bo Thao-Urabe, co-founder of VivNcaug (Hmong women support group in Laos); Bao Vang- CEO of Hmong American Partnership, and volunteers of the Building Our Future Campaign- a network of change agents who are working towards ending gender-based violence. Seeing the passion and work that these individuals are doing in the Hmong community has empowered me to explore this issue, gain the perspectives of the Hmong in Thailand, and share my knowledge with others.
To better understand the perspectives of the Hmong in Thailand, I decided to interview three Hmong Thai men who were invited to join us for dinner at the Mekong School. First, I asked them how they felt about international marriages in general. Qai responded, “I think international marriages and relationships are okay. As long as they respect one another and love each other, there shouldn’t be any problem”. He further explains how international marriage is more common in Laos because many families there are poor. Hmong daughters are encouraged to marry men in America to increase their future success and to ensure that they are financially secured. I then delved deeper into this topic and asked how they felt about abusive international marriage. Ma Ha answered, “Many of the elders don’t agree with this practice. However, abusive international marriage isn’t as common. Many married men from America just dates the young women in Thailand, but they do not proceed to marriage”. He also agreed with Qai that Americans are rich. When this component is combined with love, then girls will be more inclined to marry men who are already married. I also talked about “transnational abandonment” and how problematic this can be for Hmong women. After a few moments of silence, Qai shared a story of a Hmong woman who encountered this in his village. The woman got pregnant by a Hmong American man but was left behind with uncertainty. She lived with her parents, but her reputation changed the way others view and treated her. She began to carry the negative stigmas of being a single mother.
After dissecting the issue and reflecting on the conversations I’ve had with the Hmong Thai men, I have come to understand that this is an ongoing problem because there is a lack of conversation. The men that I interviewed acknowledged that this topic is not often talked about. Many individuals know that this problem is impacting their loved ones, but many are also not willing to engage in conversations; maybe in fear of provoking those above the hierarchy who are participating in these practices, or in fear of not knowing what the conversations may lead to. I believe that by having courageous conversations with the community, and through collaborative efforts, this problem can be alleviated. My passion towards community empowerment has certainly grown from this experience. I hope to become more informed on the various issues in the Hmong community as I continue to engage in courageous conversations with those around me.


Susan Xiong
Topic: Diversity in Religion

Where do I stand with my religion, do I know enough about my religion to say that it is my own belief? Do I believe in the practices of Shamanism, or am I just thinking that because my family practices it? My stepmom is a Shaman and being born into a Shaman family with little knowledge about why it is practiced the way it is, brings a lot of questions about the root of my religion. Coming on this trip and being able to be exposed to the diversity in religion with Hmong people has given me a different point of view about religion. Many people do not know but Hmong people are scattered around the world and because of that Hmong people adapted to religions that will help them survive. This trip has opened my eyes to understand the reasons why Hmong people are not limited when it comes to religion.

Animism is the most practiced religion in the Hmong community. For those who do not know what Animism is, according to Animism is defined as “the attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena or the belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.” Hmong people believe in healing sickness and health through spiritual calling and supernatural. The way how Hmong people get in touch with the supernatural power and practice the acknowledgment of a soul is through a Shaman. Shamanism is the second most practiced in the Hmong community. For those who do not know what Shamanism is, according to Shamanism is defined as “a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.”

By coming on this trip and getting the opportunity to visit two Hmong villages that are so opposite with their religion has helped me gain insight to my own religion. The first Hmong village that I had the chance to visit was in Chiang Dao District. In this village, more than all of the families have converted into Christianity. The head leader said that there are only probably two families in their village that still practices the old way and he was referring it to Shamanism. I was so shocked to hear that Christianity was such a big part in the Hmong villager’s life because I came to Thailand expecting Hmong people to still keep the old ways so that I will be able to learn more about it. I told myself that by coming on this trip, I wanted to learn more about where the root of my religion or shamanism came from but it felt like a dead end hearing that it is not practiced in the first village. I asked the head leader why they decided to choose that route and he answered that it is because of survival. By being shaman, there is a lot of animal sacrificing which results in a lot of money and living as a hill tribe in the mountains, they are not provided with the resources to continue the old ways. After hearing their decisions to why they converted, it made me realized how survival can play such a huge role in religion. Even though the questions I had about my shaman beliefs were not answered in the first village, there was still the second village.

The second Hmong village in Chiang Khong had a head shaman that answered many of my questions to why Shaman is practiced the way it is. Everyone in the second village still practiced the old way and it made me felt like I was home because I finally realized why things were done the way it is when I participate in the Shaman ceremonies. I finally gained knowledge to why animals are sacrificed and the use of each tools during the rituals. Some of the things that I have learned from the head Shaman are that the gong used during the ritual symbolizes the calling to guide the Shaman spirits back into the house, white horse symbolizes death or a bad omen, and pigs are sacrificed to protect the bad spirits away.

Animism and Shamanism is most practiced but Hmong people are adapting to their religion based on where they live and the resources that are given to them. Having the opportunity to go to a Monk Chat and meeting Prab Jo Lee was an amazing experience, especially knowing that he is a Hmong monk. He said that the reason why he decided to become a monk at such a young age was because becoming a monk, he was provided with food and education. He lived in the mountain and was not given the chance to go to school so becoming a monk gave him a new life and opportunities. Like many others, religion is based on survival and on what will bring happiness in the future.
As Hmong people move into different locations, religion is changing and our old ways are slowly disappearing. The diversity of religion in the Hmong community is depended on geographic, the lifestyle that will help them survive, and the resources that are provided from them. Now the religion of Hmong people can be anything from Animism, Shamanism, Christianity, Lutheran, Catholic, and even atheist.


Culture is something that is always changing and evolving right before our eyes – as you can see, even the Hmong culture has changed through migration and time, and sometimes people see it as good and sometimes people see it as bad. One thing that we should all keep in mind, though, is that “we are all Hmong, no matter how far and different we are. Don’t ever forget that and each other.”

Education in Thailand- By Ka, Amanda, and Katie

Education- A Human Capital Asset in Northern Thailand

A wise friend once said, “your education is your religion.”  From the moment we are born, we enter a lifetime of learning and education. This is true no matter who you are and where you live. As elementary education and family social science majors, the three of us (Ka Vang, Amanda Bartholf, and Katie Zellner) decided to focus on education in Northern Thailand. During our two weeks here, we have witnessed education and teaching take on many forms. The three of us will be approaching education from different angles and in a variety of domains. We hope that by the end of this, everyone will expand their understanding of what education is. Teaching and learning is not just in the classroom, but stretches out to the home, to the community, to the world, and back to us. What we learn in life shapes our way of living and view of the world. It is what guides us to become who we are. Education is in many ways, life.

Ka: Like all other young adults, I’m fearful of my future. What if I don’t know what to do in life? What if my life becomes meaningless? For my entire life, I was told to strive for the American dream. To go to school and graduate college… to own a house and start a family… to retire happy and content with my life. As a Hmong-American, the American Dream was supposed to be my purpose in life. At a very young age, I was taught to believe and value certain things: independence, physical health, speaking up, beauty, intelligence, etc. Back in the US, we call it the “hidden curriculum”. It’s not stated in our academic standards, nor is it a requirement for students to take courses in it. Yet somehow, certain morals and values have been instilled in us. We all have been educated to think and behave in a particular way. The hidden curriculum is culture itself. While I have been here in Thailand, I have learned about their culture and way of life. There’s one thing I am sure about; it’s that Thai people believe in having a pure heart and helping others; that’s their “dream”. The way America paints the American dream is the same way Thailand teaches their people to value a generous heart. I want to focus particularly on Buddhism and how its teachings have influenced Thailand’s curriculum. Acharn Kathy states that students take official courses in Buddhism. So while not completely “hidden”, Buddhist teachings appear outside of the classroom as well. During our chat with a Hmong-Thai monk, Jou Lee, in Chiang Mai, I learned a lot about Buddhism and its teachings. Some of the main highlights I remember were:

  • To not commit bad acts (killing, hurting others, etc.)
  • To not follow blind faith and follow what’s true to your heart
  • Take care of your mind and body
  • To release yourself from suffering
  • Happiness is giving and getting
During the monk chat, I felt like I began to understand why Thai people behaved the way they did. I think Buddhism plays a lot into this. Thailand is a country where 90% of its people follow Buddhism. What I know about Buddhism seems to come to life when I interact with Thai people. Buddhism teaches people to have a good heart and give to others. No matter how little or much a person has, they always seem to work hard and help others. I saw this prevalent in many of the people and places we met:
  1. Mekong school (local leaders coming together to empower communities who live by the Mekong river).
  2. Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao School (providing educational opportunities for students in poverty)
  3. Eve’s story (working hard in school and life and giving back to schools like chiang Dao)
  4. Hmong villages (structuring their village on equality and generating income)
While strolling the market one night outside out Chiang Khong hotel, a couple friends and I stumbled upon an elderly woman selling eggrolls. We stopped by her cart to buy some food and ended up with a conversation about her life. She told us that her daughter was all the way in Bangkok for school, a story that seemed to be common among many Thai parents. She also said that on nights that she didn’t sell food, she cooks for students in a school in Chiang Rai. No pay at all. She does it because she understands in giving and helping others. She does it so that the students can continue their education. She does it because she has been learning from Thailand’s hidden curriculum.
Beautiful  Thai-Vietnamese cook from the streets of Chiang Khong

Education and Families in Northern Thailand 
Katie: As a family social science student I think primarily about the family as a system, interacting with environments such as schools, communities, culture, etc. When it comes to education, I thought it would be interesting to explore how education impacts the family system. I want to focus mostly on boarding schools, where children may leave their families at a very young age to pursue an education. Specifically, what happens when that child finishes their education and returns home?  While I may not know the exact answers at this time, I’m going to use some of my own background knowledge to understand ways this might play out.

During our first week in Thailand we visited Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao School. This is a diverse boarding school for children from 9 ethnic minorities or hill tribes. These children often live in rural communities who don’t have a lot of other opportunities, and in some cases, may be at risk for being sold into human trafficking. I do not want to downplay this amazing opportunity these children were given because it’s possible that for some of them this was their only shot at a better life for themselves. However, boarding school means that many of the children live at the school away from their families. In many ways, especially for the very young students in first grade, their teacher becomes a stand in parent for them. The teacher is there to put them to bed and take care of them when they are sick. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for the children’s actual parents to know they aren’t the ones doing this for their child. I think of my own mother who still wishes she could come to take care of me whenever I’m sick even though I’m 21 years old. Then I think of how much trust these mothers must have in the teachers. The mothers are essentially trusting the teachers to take care of their children the way they would. Knowing that the teacher is taking over these mothering roles for the young ones, I’m interested to know if they eventually develop a closer attachment to the teachers than their parents. To my understanding, attachment seems to form based on not only the amount of interaction, but also the ability to fulfill a child’s needs. Young children attach from birth to their primary caregivers, so it seems likely that before coming to school, the child did achieve attachment with his or her mother, but as the teacher steps into that mothering role I have a hard time imaging the child not forming an attachment with the teacher. How does this attachment affect the mother child relationship? It must put at least a little strain on it I believe. When the child grows up and looks back at their childhood who are they going to credit as their primary caregiver?

We also observed at the school that the children are being taught the Thai language right from the start of their education. I’m not sure how many opportunities the children have to speak their native language, but I can see possible problems stemming from this. For example, if they retain enough of their language to communicate with their families verbally, it’s possible that they won’t be able to write in their native language. This is very extreme, but what would happen if the child didn’t retain enough of their native language to even communicate with their families? I think back to the native American children who were taken from their families and sent to boarding school. When they returned, many of them could no longer communicate or even understand their native culture. While I’m not implying that this is in any way happening at the boarding schools in Thailand, we have talked a lot about how there is an emphasis on being Thai here opposed to another identity. The kids learn Thai in schools, they sing the Thai national anthem in the morning, and are taught aspects of Thai culture such as dance. I’m not sure what opportunities there are to learn about their native culture. I think the boarding school we visited was better about integrating some of the children’s native cultures, but I don’t know that every boarding school is the same way. If a child doesn’t have the same connection to their native culture as their family, I would imagine conflict arises out of that. For example, immigrants who move to the U.S. often experience generational conflicts with their children. I think it’s hard for parents when the children begin adopting more and more of the American culture and leave behind aspects of the native culture. Culture helps forms bonds through celebrations, rituals, and many other things. When a parent and a child no longer share the same culture I could imagine relating to one another would be difficult.

Finally, at the boarding school we learned that the main focus is teaching the students vocational work so that they can return to their villages. When they do return I would imagine at that point they are more formally educated than their parents. How does this affect the roles of parent and child? The child may take on a more authoritative or instructive role if they are teaching the parents something they learned about farming for example. In that instance they are stepping out of the role of child and the parents are no longer in their traditional parental role either. There is almost a role reversal happening. This role reversal often happens over the lifespan especially as parents require caregiving from their children. Even towards the end of life, this role reversal is hard on a parent. negotiating the new roles is even harder. Imagine this role reversal happening earlier in the lifespan when the child is 18-20 and the parent is middle aged. There has to be conflict or at least strain on the relationships in the family when this happens.

Formal Education in Thailand
Amanda: Once only provided by Buddhist monks to boys, Thailand now provides formal education to all genders and mandates schooling from ages six to fifteen. Although it is not compulsory for children to attend preschool, there are nurseries and preschools offered for children age’s three to five. Government or public schools are free for Thai nationals. Children that have at least one Thai parent are considered Thai nationals if their birth was registered in Thailand by the Thai parent. As a Thai national, they are able to register in a Thai public school and receive all of the educational benefits allocated to a Thai national. Despite these large strides to make formal education inclusive, UNICEF claims that 600,000 primary school age children in Thailand are not currently attending schools. Reasons for this range from having to work and help support their families to lack of accessibility with no efficient transportation to reaching these facilities.

During my time here in Thailand, there have been numerous stories and sights that have moved me both as a future teacher and as a human being. On the border of Laos, children beg around merchant shops to new coming tourists; one girl had her face half-scarred from scalding water due to her mother’s hopes that she could obtain more money that way. In Chiang Rai, I encountered a girl trying to steal money from my bag for reasons I will never truly know. On our rides back to the hotel, I often sat in silence—feeling powerless that I could not help or change the situations that transpired before me.

I had the great pleasure of getting to know our Buffalo Tour Guide, Eve Rungrada. Born and raised in a poor, rural border village in southern Thailand, Eve studied with the rest of her six other classmates, all of whom were girls. It was not uncommon to see unfamiliar men come into the village and approach parents, offering work for their daughters and sons in Bangkok. Unfortunately for these children they were part of the Green Zone, completely unaware that the parents that were supposed to protect them were selling them off to work and sex traffickers. Eve was lucky as she was top student of her class and obtained a scholarship to continue her education at Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao School. Her best friend, however, placed second and received no such aid. At the age of twelve, Eve desolately watched her friend leave for Bangkok, unaware that this was the last time she would ever see her. Years later while attending Mae Fah Luang University, she discovered that her best friend was involved in prostitution and died of HIV/AIDS.blog2.jpeg
Research shows that people born into poverty are likely to continue to live that way as adults. This is a recognized problem in Thailand and it is laws like the National Education Act, that institutions like the Chiang Dao School are helping to bridge the equity and opportunity gaps. Among the rural population of Thailand, hill tribes such as the Karen, Hmong, and Lahu, are disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of society, being largely dependent on agriculture for income and employment. The role of education in improving socio-economic conditions through human resource development is well recognized. While there is no single solution to the alleviation of rural poverty, I believe education, whether formal or non-formal, is one of the most critical elements for a better life. With basic education people are better equipped to make more informed decisions for their lives and communities, while being active participants in promoting the economic, social and cultural dimensions of development. It is equally accepted that without basic literacy and numeracy, people face limited employment opportunities, except for basic wage labour. Promoting education and training opportunities is therefore essential for poverty alleviation and sustainable rural development.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed my time at the Chiang Dao School and was thrilled to connect with the many children who attended there. The continued incorporation of home language, dance, and dress was a welcoming sight and the students who attended looked genuinely happy. With that being said, I think Thailand is on a good path but can continue to make improvements.  I was curious how the school’s push for learning the Thai language and culture was affecting their own self-identity. Personal identity is the way one sees themselves and is closely related to their self image. It is very important because it affects the way one feels about themselves and how they behave in challenging situations. I also believe Thailand needs to find more ways to further accessibility of education to all children of Thailand whether it be formal or vocational training. No child, whether they are from the hill tribes or on the streets of Bangkok should have to worry about selling themselves to survive.
The Mekong River School
    The two main river systems of Thailand are the Chao Phraya and the Mekong (Mae Nam khong). Together, these two rivers support the irrigation for the agricultural economy in Thailand. The Mekong River is the 11th largest river in the world and runs through China’s Yunnan province, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. For hundreds of years the Mekong’s predictable rising and falling water levels have: Deposited sediments that improve soil fertility, sustain the productivity of freshwater fisheries, provide water for irrigation, and dilute stagnant and polluted waters.  According to Great Rivers Partnerships, “of the 60 million people who live in the lower Mekong Basin, 80 percent rely directly on the river system for their food and livelihoods.”


    In 2008, massive flooding brought devastating damage to Thailand as hundreds of homes were submerged in water. Many locals had thought it was due to พญานาค (Phaya Naga) that aggravated flooding in the region. . The true nemeses, however, were the Chinese dams and the destruction of small Mekong river islands to give passage for Chinese cargo ships. These dams allow China to control water levels in the water, and when their cargo ships become stuck, they release great amounts of water, leading to the floods. In recent years, locals in Thailand have reported less fish coming from the river and less water available in the dry season for agricultural use. This is where the role of long time advocate Kru Ti and others who founded the Mekong School play a crucial part in the welfare and sustainability in these communities.
It was always a dream of Kru Ti to have a school right on the river and work to preserve the natural environment and resources of the Mekong. The Mekong School serves as a bridge between locals and government and provides them both with valuable knowledge. The Mekong River school network wrote a book that consists of community knowledge of fish populations and species. This information really showcases the necessity of local knowledge and how it can aid government officials in their political decisions. The Mekong School has also provided the community residents knowledge on how dams, runoff, Chinese ships, rapids, and construction on habitat has lead to the current changes of the Mekong and how Northern Thailand can unite their voices and bring change through the court systems.


One of the most intimate experiences I had with the Mekong School was our visit to Moung Chum, a nearby Thai village, and the work they have done to conserve their wetland and community forests.  Oot, the Mekong School ecologist, and others went out to local villages and worked with them on creating more sustainable communities. The village leader spoke of how their biggest problem 10 years ago was that the people had cut down most of the trees and did not have enough water for irrigation in the dry season. By replanting trees and allowing the forests to regrow, the trees brought groundwater up to the surface. This and the community’s  joint effort to build small, eco-friendly dams allowed them to retain the water they needed. I was shocked when I was told many of the locations were completely cleared of trees only a decade ago. The beauty of these areas were breathtaking and the pride in the village leader’s eyes made it all the more brilliant.

The people and work of the Mekong School will be something I remember for the rest of my life. Through informal education, villagers are empowered to stand up for their environments and ways of life. Not only has the Mekong School brought a voice to the adults in the community but they have instilled healthy practices by involving youth in active learning. Children physically participate in conservation such as learning how to plant saplings and learn about their cultural history and traditions through practicing dances and playing traditional instruments and keeping their languages. This involvement reiterates the importance of collective contributions and its role in actual change and improvements. Like Kru Ti has voiced, the Mekong it is not one person or country’s river; for all to benefit there must be a united effort in conserving the environment for present and future  generations to enjoy.

Education is intertwined in many aspects of life here in Thailand. We each see it playing out in different ways based on our past experiences and future professions. Ka used her perspective as a future educator to discuss the hidden curriculum found in schools as well as Buddhism. I (Katie) used my perspective as a future family scientist to discuss how education might impact the relationships within the community and the family systems. Amanda used her perspective as a future educator to discuss how education might shape the identify of an individual, help aid in environmental stability, and provide opportunities for youth. There are so many things that haven’t been said in this blog that could be said about education but our time and space are limited.  We hope that reading our perspectives on what we’ve learned from our experiences and interactions while in this course will give you a glimpse of some aspects of education in Thailand.