At first the word "hilltribes" provoked in me curiosity and interest. They have colourful clothes and distinctive jewlery, their own language and culture and are attractive to most of the tourists in Northern Thailand. What I didn't know, however, is that most of them are extremely poor, with no vision about their future and have a lot of uneducated children they are not able to cope with. Many of them are alchohol addicted and their villages are turned into Thai borderline slums. Their life is anything but fairytale.
Let me give you some facts:
Most of the hilltribe families live in remote upland areas where the nearest school is 10 km away. They dont' have the time or the means of transport to deliver their children at school. As a result, their kids work with them in the steep mountains to gather some food or stay at home alone with no meals all day long until their parents come back home in the late afternoon. Every day children in Northern Thailand are being orphaned by AIDS, disease, accident, abandoment or suicide. Many of them choose drugs and alchool as their best friends. Many children are being sold to the pirates - people who would give you money for your 7 year-old daugther to "take charge of her" and "give her an education". What really happens is that these girls are driven to some big city, put alone in a locked room with no windows for two years, serving 10 to12 customers a day. The men do NOT wear condoms because the competition is too great between the brothels and the friction wears sores on the girls. They will eventually get HIV and are beaten if they protest. After 2 years they are allowed to work alongside other sex slaves in the brothels and are watched very carefully. This is however the worst scenario.
If, anyway, a hilltribe daughter is lucky enough to escape such a horrid destiny she will be married at the age of 13-14 continuing the same chain of a life in poverty, misery, illiteracy and hard labor.
Stephen is an Australian guy, married to a hilltribe Lahu/Thai wife Sammy. They live and minister in Mae Suai, a village between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and are the founders of Give Kids Hope NGO. They live in a lovely children's home, which they built by themselves solely relying on donations. Currently they live together with 22 children from hilltribe familes (including their own son, Mathew).
The organisation does not take children away from the families by force. They are just aware of orpahned or abandoned children as well those in need of immediate care and usually the parents themselves approach them. They provide the children education, loving home environment in well-maintained facilities, warm home-cooked meals, everyday care to drive them to and from school, home activities, guidiance and assistance and most importantly - a vision of life that they can achieve whatever goal or dream they may have. For a European person it is hard to imagine that someone should be taught to have dreams in his life but this is what these children lack the most at their homes. Talking with Steve every evening about each child's case I start realizing how their personalities are blossoming out in this home full of love, care, play, security, faith and friends.
Living already half of month with all of them proves my initial intuition - the organisation doesn't try to replace their uniqness with Western identification. On the contrary - they preserve their own hilltribe culture maybe even stronger than they would preserve it at home - sewing their traditional clothes, learning how to read and write their tribe language, celebrating their holidays. What Stephen and Sammy are daily doing is simply to give children faith - in God, in themselves, in the good, in life.
I came on 5th of May and I am leaving on 5th June. I landed in this country with half mind and heart still in the desert and Thai charm escaped me at the beginning. Thanks to the lovely family I stayed with, to the welcoming schools and the great passion and love of the students I am now full of happiness and deeply thankful I lived within their small society and was part of them for a month. I am heading for the Thai Northest province.
The same girls on the rocket festival around a temple. The festival is an interesting street parade at the beginning of the rainy season, which is held to celebrate and encourage the coming of the rains. It includes dancers, musicians, chili smoke, rocket firings, drunk people and a lot of models of penis and vagina.
A world is a book, which I am writing travelling and discovering that anything goes in a path full of miracles. Beast or an angel - it is up to you. My greatest life affair is just to keep on walking with respect.