Setting up a reading room in a Lisu village north of Mae Hong Son
Setting up a reading room in a Lisu village north of Mae Hong Son (July 2002)
1. The project
2. Preparation for the trip
3. Realization of the project in Lisu Kung Patueng village
4. Travel information
5. About Lisu Kung Patueng village
By the help of Khun Jon or Chan (Nature Walks) and Bom
Naing Naing Tun / Ms
8 Parc Bocquet, 59260 HELLEMMES, FRANCE
1. The Project
KSS Wise Ltd., Part. where I am doing my internship, has community projects to help the hill tribe people. This year it is decided that we would create a reading room in a Lisu village near Mae Hong Son town (northern Thailand), and I am to take charge of this project. The selection of this village is a deliberation. The company manager knows this village and villagers since he visited the village a year ago. When he was there, he didn't see a thing for the villagers for their education and well being such as health care.
These Lisu villagers came from Shan State of Myanmar 14 years ago (in 1989), fleeing the war between Myanmar government army and rebels. They have been living on a mountaintop in the northern Thailand (3 hours trek from the current location, and a half day trek to the border) until early 2002, when they were moved to the present location not far from the car road.
They are classified as illegal immigrants in Thailand, and they don't have right to travel or to cultivate the land. However they have a place to live. The children are now attending school at a nearby village of Ban Kung Mai Sek.
As they are in this very new place they don't have necessary things such as running water, proper toilets, and electricity. Since the parents do not have a regular income, the children do not have proper study materials. That is why we want to send some useful books for both children and adults.
2. Preparation for the trip
There are two kinds of preparations I do before going to the Lisu Kung Patueng village: preparing necessary materials for the project and preparing myself mentally.
First, we try to imagine what kinds of books the villagers should have. We contact the people we know in Bangkok, asking for donation of books that could be useful for the villagers. We get donation of some study books for school children, cartoon books and some clothes from friends.
We also buy some study books for mathematics, Thai and English languages, as well as health care, hygiene, cooking Thai cuisine, doing small business, growing plants, raising animal and so on. Most of the books are in Thai language. Even though we know that some old people can speak Myanmar we don't know whether or not they still can read Myanmar, and also it is difficult to find books in Myanmar language.
We get 200 books in total: 14 books in English and others in Thai language. In addition, we buy maps of Thailand, Mae Hong Son and the world. My participation is limited in this preparation because of the language problem; I don't speak and read Thai.
On the other hand, I also have to prepare myself for this trip. I have no idea about this village. I only have some information from the company manager about their status in Thailand, their life in the old place (mountaintop); and from Khun Jon, who is a trekking guide in Mae Hong Son, about their new place. Khun Jon tells me that in that new village there is no running water, no electricity, no toilet, but a lot of mosquitoes.
I say to myself that I am going to stay only for 4 days and it should be fine. I think about all these villagers who have to stay in this condition for long time. I am just afraid that I might not be able to communicate with the villagers and have to stay like a tourist.
However, this is my first trip for a community work in a foreign country, and I think I could learn a lot of things from this trip.
I make this trip together with Bom from the company, who is Thai and participates actively in this project. We leave Bangkok on the 20th of July 2002 at 6 p.m. from new Mochit bus Terminal near Chatu Chak weekend market.
With us we bring 200 books, maps, clothes, dolls for young children, all packed in old card boxes.
3. Realization of the project in Lisu Kung Patueng village
We arrive Mae Hong Son on the 21st of July 2002 at 12hr noon. It is a very beautiful town with a lake and a hill overlooking the town. The mountains surround this town. Khun Jon and his people come and pick us at the bus stop. Khun Jon is one of the most famous English speaking trekking guides in Mae Hong Son. He takes us to a guest house called Diamond to take a rest for a while, and than we come to the market to by such things like mosquito's net and bottled drinking water for us, and note books, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, and candles for the village.
After a walk in Mae Hong Son, Khun Jon and his group bring us to the Lisu village by motorcycles; our things and book boxes are sent by a pick up car. Riding to the nearest point to the village takes us nearly 30mins, from Mae Hong Son town. We walk 15mins on a trail to get to the village. We arrive there in the afternoon. There are 17 huts, really close to each other, made of wood and bamboo and leaves roof. The village is inside the forest that is right next to a Thai army station compound. From the village it is 10mins walk to fetch water and 30mins walk to the nearest village where the primary school is.
When we get to the village I see some village women selling handicrafts to a couple of tourists who accidentally drop by. Khun Jon says there are not many tourists coming to their village.
All the villagers can speak Lisu, their dialect, and some adults can speak Myanmar, and some adults and all the young people can speak Thai. Young people can speak Shan as they are living near Shan villages. They welcome us warmly and we start to try to know each other. I stay with some adults who speak Myanmar and try to get as much information about their life as I could. My Thai colleague stays with children and has fun with them.
The first problem for us is - we don't have a specific place to use as a reading room. Therefore we put the books in the village leader's house where we would stay. Villagers tell us that place is the most proper place for the books. We take out all the books from boxes and put on a wooden stage and let children and adults have a look. They look happy to see all these books. My colleague and me do the book list in a notebook to give to a person who would take care of the books.
At that night, I talk with some men of the village, while we are listening to Radio Lisu broadcasting from Philippines. We talk about their life in Myanmar and how they move to Thailand and why. We stay up late and I learn that they have a lot to tell about their struggle.
On the second day, I go out to see the village's physical condition and the water sources near the village. There is no natural water source from where villagers can draw the water by gravity. But there is a stream (10 min walk down from the village) and a well right next to the stream. We also find a lake on the hill, which is 30min walk from the village. Water in the stream is not very clean and it can not be used. We need something to take the well water to the village. The easiest way could be to take water from the lake on the hill. But this lake was built not for the Lisu village.
In the afternoon, Khun Jon and his friend come and pick us to go and see Red Karen Refugee camp that is taken care of by United Nations. That camp is 1hr motorcycle ride away. There are 6000 families in the camp and houses are piled up on hillsides in the camp. One family there tells me that they get a school, clinic, and church inside the camp. But what they can't get is job. They don't know how can they make their living, and they just have to wait for the help from outside. However they can get work in the paddy fields in harvest season or planting season for a pay (approximately 50 Thai Baht per day) that is much less than others do. And the villagers from surrounding don't like them much because they (make) them feel unsecured.
On the third day, we weak up early to see the children going to school, my colleague wants to take photos of them in school uniforms. After a few hours, we go to see the nearby village named Ben Kung Mai sak where the school is. That village is 30min walk from the Lisu village, and has approximately 150 houses. Villagers are originally Shan and now they are Thai citizens for generations. They have a nice temple, a monastery, a primary school, running water, electricity, a clinic, nice road and some shops. In fact, Ben Kung Mai Sak village is the nearest place that can provide basic needs for Lisu village.
At night, we call every parent to come to the house we stay to get the clothes that we bring. They have a system of sharing clothes. They try the clothes they like, and if it fits you then it is yours. Mothers share the baby clothes between them.
On the fourth day, we stay in the village the whole morning and have conversation with villagers. We ask the accountant of the village to take the responsibility of the books. We suggest him how to take care of the books and give him list of the books and 200 Thai Baht money to do a bookshelf. One man of the village tells me that we can not have a room just as a reading room but we can leave our books in the village leader's house and they will make a bookshelf to put them on. Besides, that man tells me that in one or two years all the houses in this village have to be rebuilt. First reason is that the houses are not solid enough to live more than 2 years, and the second reason is that the way they are built does not conform to Lisu traditional belief.
4. Travel information
There are several ways to get to Mae Hong Son. From Bangkok, one can take flight, train or bus to Chiang Mai (northern Thailand capital). Chiang Mai is linked to Mae Hong Son by air and car roads. There are also buses linking Bangkok and Mae Hong Son directly. New Morchit bus station in Bangkok is located near Chatu Chek weekend market. Its phone number is 02-936 2852~3.
We take direct bus costing 569 Thai Baht each for one way. We can not buy a round trip ticket in Bangkok. You can buy the return ticket when you arrive Mae Hong Son. The bus leaves Bangkok at 6p.m and normal arrival time is at 9a.m. It can take longer especially during the raining season. The bus passes Phitsanulok, Phrae, Ngao, Phayao, Dokkhamtei, Jun, Chiengkham, Thoeng, Nakornsawan, Khampaengpet, Tak, Teong, Doitao, Hot, Maesarieng, Maelanoi, Maelaluang to get to Mae Hong Son.
It is a comfortable air-conditioned bus except for the long legs. And if you have a seat under the air-conditioning unit you might get some water drops. There is a WC inside the bus, but it is so difficult to go most of the time because of the spinning road. Besides, you have to be careful of the things put into the luggage case over your head. Things can fall down when the bus makes a sharp turn. The bus stops two times during the trip; first stop for the supper and second for the breakfast.
During the ride you can see the amazing sunrise and sun set among the mountains (depending on which way you are going) if you are not sleeping. The landscape you will see during the trip is really breathtaking.
From Mae Hong Son you can rent a car or a motorcycle to go to Lisu Kung Patueng Village. But the village is not accessible by car and hardly accessible for motorcycle. You have to ask your driver to drop you in front of the wood signboard with the village name. From there you have to walk inside the forest for 15mins to get to the village.
Or you can contact a trekking guide from Mae Hong Son to arrange the trip for you. Some guides know really well this Lisu Village and keep a good relationship with the villagers. If you want to do a home stay in this village, you have to know that they don't have any kind of comfort and that they eat only two meals a day. They only have rice, vegetables and some beans. They can not afford meat, but sometime if they go fishing you could have some (small) fishes.
5. About Lisu Kung Patueng Village
I stay three nights and four days in this village and have a chance to talk to four men and a woman every night after their work. Two men and a woman are around 50 years old and one used to go to school until 8th grade in Myanmar. Other two men are above 30 years and one is educated until secondary school.
This is what they tell me about their life and their village.
This Lisu village used to be near Loilin in the southern Shan state of Myanmar. Their life was not easy as Myanmar government army and Shan rebels had been fighting since 1960's. Myanmar government army used villagers as porters. The villagers had to hide and are scared to travel because they could get caught. They could even get killed. On the other side, Shan rebels asked villages to support them by providing food or money. They had to live under the fear all the time. After 8.8.88 students uprising and coup by army, the fighting between army and rebels were intensified near Myanmar-Thai border. It became more and more difficult for them to live under the battles.
A young girl of the village keeps with her this story of struggle. She is the only one who doesn't go to school and I ask villagers about her. They tell me that she was born when rebels set the fire at their village (in Myanmar). The weather was then really very bad and her mother had to go into the forest to give her birth. Because of this terrible situation, they said, the child got cold and it made her mentally disordered.
One day, the whole village decided together to flee. They took everything they had and started to walk. All of them, old and young walked for nine days to get into Thailand. They tried to find a place to live in peace and they decided to stay on a mountaintop near the borderline in Mae Hong Son province. They started building their houses and cultivating the land for living. They also managed to send some of their children to school, which is 3hr walk down the mountains. Little by little, they were settled in that place and some trekking guides became aware of their village and its beautiful location. Near Mae Hong Son this is the only Lisu community.
In the beginning of 2002 they were moved them down to the present place. There is a three years settlement project for them. There are two Thai teachers who come quite frequently to teach the people Thai language.
At present, the most important problem though is to make a living. Since they have no land to cultivate in this new place some of them go back to their old farms (on the mountains) to grow things. Some people especially young men of 20 to 35 years old start to try to get jobs in nearby towns. One old men tells me that as they are living close to the city and have no farm to make their living, they have to go out of this village to survive. So, he thinks that the existence of this Lisu village would not last long.
Since they came to the new place all the children from this village have been going to school. In this fact, even though we couldn't have a proper reading room, this is the right time to let them have books to read and get something useful from it. To maintain the reading habit and to continue the project is another matter that needs attention from people.
But when I am there, I see that the most important problem is they don't have any kind of resource to live on. It is very difficult for them to earn money because they are not Thai citizens. They are not allowed to travel far, and they can't read or speak Thai properly. Young people have to go to small nearby towns for low paying jobs when old ones do the framing in other people's farms or in their old farms illegally. These villagers never have enough to eat.
There is an urgent need of some effective helping program in which the villagers themselves must take part.
I find that this village has a great hope for their children. They hope that the children will become Thai citizens and get proper jobs and will be well settled in Thailand. This village needs some help form outside, so that they can keep at least this hope.
7. Maps (drawn not to scale)
Map showing the original place of Lisu people in Myanmar, and the current location in Thailand.
Map showing the route to Lisu village from Mae Hong Son
Map showing the Lisu village and surrounding