Before coming to Thailand, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. I’ve seen photos and videos of Hmong villages within my classes, but I only had a small glimpse of what life was like in Thailand for both the Thai and Hmong communities. Coming to Thailand had allowed me to get a deeper understanding of the lives and people in the country. I believe the most influential part of the trip was getting to know the people in the country, and breaking stereotypes which I have had previously before coming to Thailand.
On the first day of the trip, I quickly fell in love with the homey-ness of the shops around the city. Coming from Minnesota where stores are typically large corporations, it was a nice change of scenery to see that there was no pattern to the jumble of shops around Chiang Mai. In addition to the scenery, it was incredible to see the forests of Thailand and how closely it resembled home for me. I could see how the plants which my family grew in my home resembled the plants surrounding the mountains of Thailand such as banana trees, tall plants, and tropical flowers.
During our encounters with the ethnic minorities in Thailand, I was surprised to see how many ethnic groups there actually were in Thailand. Going to the ethnic minority museum allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of a large amount of diversity and histories of the people which make up Thailand.
During the trip, the part which I was most anxious for was meeting the Hmong people in Thailand. Because I am not fluent in the language, I was worried about what they would think of me as I could not communicate well with them. Initially, I did not speak much during the first visit with the Hmong Village. However, as we continued to meet more of the Hmong community, they began speaking with me and teaching me more about their lives in Thailand. This allowed me to feel more comfortable using my language skills to try to speak to them. On our visit to the Chiang Dao School, we interacted with the 9th-grade students of the school and attempted to get to know more about each other through cultural exchange. With the combination of English, Hmong, and picture drawing, we were able to ask questions and learn more about each other.
During our time at Laos, we were introduced to a family who worked in the Dauuw Village. We learned more about the owner, and his move from Thailand to Laos to selflessly help the vulnerable populations of the Hmong in Laos. Through their work, they house children without parents, provides childcare and education to the children, houses single mothers, and creates job training for women through their women shelter. Through this, I could see how the family was inspired to use their means to uplift the vulnerable populations of the community, and to give them a chance at life.
The last way which I saw the dreams of the community was through the Mekong School. We met with Ku-Thi, the founder, who told more about his mission to work with the Hmong people and give them an opportunity to have a voice regarding their home and environment. The work which he did truly inspired me as he and the other Hmong student-researchers worked to collect data and advocate for the dreams of the Hmong people in preserving their homeland against large corporations and environmental destruction. His passion for helping the Hmong, as well as educating the community about the lives of the Hmong truely touched me as the voices of the Hmong often go unnoticed.
Throughout the trip, I have had the privilege to meet many people of the Hmong and Thai community in Thailand, and to see that their dreams were to become educated, encourage others to become educated, to show their cultural pride, to give a voice to their community, and to protect those most vulnerable within the community. This trip was a small glimpse of some of the inspiring individuals in Thailand working to fight for what they believe in, yet it has allowed me to see that the similarities are much greater between us when it comes to the fundamental core of who we are as human beings, and the hopes and dreams that we have for the future.