• Published Date: 26/07/2021
  • by: UNDP

Hundreds of Years Dear Nature: The Soil Is Our Land

“Hello? Hello? Do you hear me there?”


Somporn, do you hear me? Would you like me to call again?


“Yes, yes. I do. The signal is not so good here. What’s the matter?”


Where are you?  In the forest?


“There would be no signal in the forest. I came to the city.”



I see. I would like to ask you about the way of life of the ethnic people in the forest, could you tell me about that?


“Our community lives in Sangkhlaburi, Kanchanaburi. It is west of Naresuan-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, along the Myanmar border. There are six Karen villages, seven communities. Mine is the nearest so we have some signal, still it’s not good enough. I had to come to the city to make a phone call with you.”


Is it a difficult way of life living in a wildlife sanctuary?


“Now it is. To live our way of life is getting harder and harder, especially with this new law amendment. According to our way, our rotational farming takes up to twenty years until we turn to use the same land again. Think about how much the forest will be revived during that length of time. But the new law gives us only two years, with a piece of 20-rai land allocated by the authority per family, according to residence registration. This will ruin our way of life, this will ruin Karen’s land that we use to make a living. The length of a rotation farming should be at least seven years. Not to mention other wildlife sanctuary regulations imposed on us, which has greatly impacted us.

Rotational Farming: Local agriculture belongs to many cultures, especially the ethnic people in the highland. It is a short production which leaves the forest and the soil to recover for a long time until they get back to producing again. It is a sustainable agriculture that preserves biodiversity and fertility of the soil. Some misunderstand that it is shifting cultivation which just slashes and burns then relocates to another area after the land loses fertility, which it is not.
The new law: National Reserved Forest Act, amended B.E. 2564 states that one can do the rotational farming not longer than two years in the designated area. This affects the local way of life since rotational farming takes up to 7-20 years. With the law, the trees cannot reach their full growth. The right to the land also belongs to the person who signs the deed, after that it will belong to their heirs up until the time frame left in the decree.


Are they forcing the community to leave somehow?


“We were exiled once in 1993 back when they came up with so many projects to kick us out. Just three succeeded. We insist that our way of life has been protecting the forest. This became a world heritage because we have always protected it. From the elder’s words, we’ve been here at least 300 years, and from tangible evidence, we’ve been here for a thousand years. We alway move with….”


(Toot …. toot… toot…the call got cut off. I called again and again. I took a while for him to pick up)


“All right. Okay. We always move. When there was a war with Burma, we moved to another mountain, when there was a pandemic, we moved to another corner. This is our way. It is recently that the country was mapped out that we’ve had it hard. The cartographers never even glanced at us. Never. And the new laws keep destroying our lives.


Why do you think the government has to do all this?


“They think that we destroy the forest and they follow through with the national strategy, which sees things from that of a map. The map can only be traced back to 1997. And they don’t stop to consider that we’ve done a lot to this land. They only see us as a threat to the forest. If we’re out, they’ll get more forest back, that’s what they think.


How has the community been adjusting?


“We rarely get any effects from the pandemic. Only some youth who went to study outside. Here we do farming to feed our own stomachs. But the online classes here don’t work at all. Some had to stop studying or went to live with their relatives whose village is closer. But the signal still isn’t stable.”


Do you think we need to create understanding with outsiders?


“I think creating understanding inside the community is more important. We built this school for children to understand the importance of their way of life. The authority doesn’t get this so we have to do this. If a child has to go study far away from home, it might trouble them. They might see another way of life, people who are better in another way and feel bad about themselves. How can they be proud of their way of life then?”


So you built this school. How did it start?


“A foundation worked together with our Office of the SAO. Back in the old days, the children had to go study far away from home since we didn’t have a school around here. So the private sector came to help. We set up our own learning center and now we teach up to grade 12, at first we could only teach up to grade 9. Now the students don’t have to go so far away, still, students from other villages travel up to 80 km to study here. But this is the best we can do. The authorities just don’t care.”


What do the students get to learn?


“In compliance with the compulsory education subjects, students get to learn Thai, math, and English. Besides that, they can learn anything, especially something they are interested in. Say a student wants to study about a variety of rice in rotational farming, we then design the curriculum according to the student’s interests and the compulsory subjects, rice in math, rice in health education, for instance. It is really difficult to design the curriculum this way, but we want the students to know that our community has up to 30-40 varieties of rice. This is our legacy. We have rice to eat without having to buy for hundreds of years.”


And things are going well?


“Now I reduce my own salary to pay for a new graduate to help teach here.”


(We didn’t know what to say, neither did Somporn, there was silence for a short while.)

“My main responsibility now is to protect and seek fundings. It is very important. Not only has it been harder, but it is exhausting. Our regular funders are all gone. Now there is only one left, and if they leave us then it’s the end for us. Now we only have the money to pay for teachers and we have 150 baht per meal for 30 students and seven teachers. More students can access education, but if their parents are comfortable, they won’t let their kids eat this scanty meal, do they?”



Will it help if the community has other means of making a living, like selling their agricultural products?


“We’ve always done that. But governmental structure is hardening things. They call for me to attend meetings every month, so I can’t teach full-time. I have to write reports, via this and that program. Because of this, the learning center lost a staff member. I once said in a meeting, if you want us to do this and that, just let us hire another staff to help. We’re not against development but we want to have been a part in designing the structure of development. The authorities never come to us with this goal, they only care about the land, but they don’t see that what we’ve been doing helps preserve varieties of plants. They don’t implement the laws for people to breathe, it’s like they give us some tubes, but not the oxygen tanks.”


After you have built the learning center, how has it been?


“Now we have 24 students in the learning center. Three are studying in universities outside. Three are working in companies. And another came back to work here after finishing high school. Our students learn to read and write without having to go study in the city.”


If you can say something to the authorities, what would you like to say?


“You cannot impose the same law everywhere. You can have a different law for different places like you have the special laws for Chonburi. And in every committee there must be the locals as part of decision-making. The law enforcement has completely impacted us and this is excessive use of power. They need to let us participate in the decision-making. ”

I would like to say please keep going and don’t give up.


“I do. I never give up from the start. Now more than 80% of Karens have national ID. Things are better because we keep going.”



He told me at the end of our call that if I need something from him, I should tell him in advance because he will have to come to the city to talk to us like this. (And I contacted him again for his photos to be featured in this article, thank you P’Somporn.)


Somporn’s story is a story of one who fights peacefully for change, and does make change. In the middle of the forest, the community fights to have a learning center to preserve their varieties of plants and their culture so as not to be lost with the older generations. Somporn hopes that the children in his community will not be ‘forgotten’ that they are a force which drives this country forward. They are the ones who preserve and heal nature.


How much better would it be if they had more chances? The chance to make a living, to learn, and to just live peacefully, at home.


Notes: The second paragraph of the decree states that the objective must be to assist those without the land to make a living and they must be able to live and make a living in the national park openly under the time frame specified in a Cabinet Resolution on 30 June B.E. 2551 on resolving problems in the forest or according to NCPO Announcement No. 66/ B.E.2557 on additionals for agencies that prevent deforestation and policies, dated 17 June B.E. 2557. The order states that there must be a map that shows the area of the land by geoinformatics system or the like. The time frame must not exceed twenty years and its content should be about criteria and qualities of people living or making a living in the area on how one should preserve, recover, and care for the nature, ecosystem and biodiversity in the area. Criteria, implementation, conditions, termination, measures and evaluation are included.




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  • Published Date: 16/07/2021
  • by: UNDP

The Massage of New Life, In the World Where Everyone Deserves a Chance

Have you heard of the wonder of Thai massage? The hands that heal your body, your pressure points, your soles, and maybe your soul too. Hands of a masseuse transfer energy to your muscles, and give life back into your exhausted body. The money flow in the Thai massage industry accounts to as high as 35 million baht. It is one of Thailand’s major exports (which is closed for now according to government measures) but the cost for a massage course is dear, ranging from a few thousands to even ten thousands.


Would you like to know how to learn massage for free? Just get into a prison after which


“not a single employer will hire you.”


While we live in a society where people hold a pessimistic attitude towards former prisoners, the owner of ‘Lila Thai Massage’ opens her arms to them. “Most employers deny jobs to former prisoners, and if they find out later they will force them to leave. Some just reduce their payment to the point where ex-inmates have to leave.”


Thailand’s proportion of female prisoners to 100,000 population is the highest in the world, even higher than the US. Statistics from the Department of Corrections tell us that 80 percent of female prisoners are imprisoned from drug cases, followed by theft. It is important to note that most of these cases are harmless, it causes no severe harm. Two out of three women in prison are breadwinners of their family, and two out of three did not finish compulsory education. It is not difficult to surmise from this that these women turn to ‘wrongdoings’ because they have no other choices left.


Many women who are imprisoned with drug cases meet a dead end to support their family, and they turn to drug-dealing as a solution to their daily expenses. A woman who was accused by her husband of dealing 25 tablets of amphetamine, was imprisoned for 6 years and fined 250,000 baht. And she did not enter the life of incarceration alone, she went with a baby in her 4 months of pregnancy.


“Ex-prisoners? What if they bring drugs in here?” A building owner asked with solemnity when Lila Massage wanted to open their shop in their building. The question was cloaked with the long-entrenched bias against prisoners, but answers later manifested itself to the owner, to see that giving a chance to former prisoners is to prevent repeated offense, and to change their lives. With the belief that no human wants to be confined, and ripped of freedom, this is the path where former prisoners can go on with their lives.



“If I had income like this, I wouldn’t have turned to drug-dealing.”


This is part of a telephone conversation between a massage therapist and her mother. The masseuse finished the 150-hour massage course provided by the Department of Skill Development during her incarceration. Some might wonder: Why do you choose to be a massage therapist? Why not something else? The answer is this: being a massage requires little to no investment. The prisoners can just get out of prison, and start their job right away.


Career building courses are one of the few good things in prison. Life in confinement is more difficult than one can imagine: crowded space, three blankets provided for you to DIY into a pillow, a bedsheet, or a blanket, you can shower with little water, and buy your own sanitary napkins with hard-earned money inside the prison. One baht in prison is a prized possession.


Not to mention pregnant women who bring another life in there with them. According to prison regulations, when a baby reaches one year of age, the incarcerated mother must send the baby outside where they have no idea whether their relatives, or the person they trust with their child, will take good care of them. And in cases where mothers have to leave their children with other people before they enter prison, they do not know if they can trust the caretaker. If a child had 200 baht to bring to school a day, they might get none now. Nothing is guaranteed of the wellbeing of the child. 


Change the society with one’s heart, and two hands.

Naowarat Thanasrisudarat, former Director of Female Correctional Institution in Chiangmai understands a mother’s heart, and difficulties in a woman’s life. She began her ‘Lila Thai Massage’ business after retirement which was supposed to be the time she got to rest after 42 years of hard work. But she knows that hardship, poverty, and equality does not end with her retirement. She decided to put up the “Ex-Inmates Working Center” sign in front of the massage shop, with the strong intention to tell society not to judge a former prisoner, before you get to know them.


Naowarat’s method is uncomplicated. She depends on sincerity, both with the customers, and the former female prisoners. If a customer just steps into the shop, they will understand the life of an imprisoned woman, and get to take their relaxed body back home. 


She does not consider her business a social innovation whose impact is wide and far. Naowarat just knows at heart that there are many former female inmates out there who need a chance, an understanding enterprise, and someone to look at them with bias before getting to know them and their potential. Throughout the ten years of Lila Massage, there were only three prisoners who got back to taking drugs for personal reasons. But it was only a few, compared to the hundred lives who got to build their future again here.


Still, there is more to do to prevent repeated offenses and to leave the old beliefs about prisoners behind. According to the Enforcement of Health Establishment Act, B.E. 2559, the health establishments are regulated and those working there must not commit crime related to sexual offense, property, or drug within one year before work.


The question here is, within one year that the women cannot work in the field, what other options do they have? Social bias only runs them out of options that they do not even have in the first place…










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  • Published Date: 09/07/2021
  • by: UNDP

Blue Snake and the Green Fish Tank: My Mom’s Narrative of Bangkok and Dream of a High School Girl


“Fffwwwwwwhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeueeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuueeeee!” There goes the sound of heaven when someone steps on the yellow line. Just a step and the traffic cop blows his whistle. Oh god, who steps on the yellow line again? Oh? It’s me. A girl from Nakhon Phanom who just got into a university in Bangkok. What a developed city, I tell myself. The cars are speeding and gliding day and night. If this were Nakhon Phanom, we would have dinner at six and go to sleep at eight already. My campus is in a Bangkok suburb but mom told me to come visit central Bangkok. “Go widen your horizon,” she said.


Mom once told me (in Isan accent), “There is the Blue Snake in Bangkok.” And I imagined something like those creatures in the Fantastic Beasts movie I saw on the internet. But no, no, no. It’s actually a skytrain. My mom used to be a factory worker around Nawa Nakhon, and once in a while she would go shopping at Pratunam. She said the Blue Snake was slithering terrifyingly in the sky, she could have told me it was the skytrain and I would get it, you know? Of course I would, I saw it on television so many times before. When I called to ask whether she had ever got on the skytrain, she told me it was very expensive and she could instead spend much less money on the public bus. And I found that just one stop costs 15 baht. Back at home getting someone to go grab things for you in the central district is more expensive.

Besides Bangkok Metropolitan Region, other provinces in Thailand do not have subway or skytrain. In other words, around 66.18 million do not have this mode of transportation as an option. This accounts to 77.90% of the population who spend more on public transportation than people in Bangkok. These people do not have the means to conveniently go to see a doctor and they are still waiting for quality public transportation. What can we do to make public transportation accessible to everyone?


Bangkok! What a charming city! I wasted my 15 baht for the skytrain which was fast like a roller coaster. It usually takes me two hours getting stuck in this hellish traffic to reach my apartment, and I miss home badly because of this. My mom called her room in Bangkok a green fish tank. It was so little that if she turned around a bit, she would bump into the refrigerator, if she turned the other way, she would hit the closet. Mom said missed home badly when she had to live in the fish tank so she endured the conditions for only a year before going back to rice farming at home. I asked her, “why would you come here in the first place then?” She said it was predetermined that a rice farmer could never make ends meet, and what would you do if you have no money to invest? Meanwhile I have to live in this fish tank room for another four years.


A metropolis is a source of income for diverse groups of people. However, under the facade of development are the urban poor hidden in its nooks and crannies. Land inequality and housing issues arise out of unequal land distribution. Inadequate housing drives the urban poor out of options and forces them to live in suburbs or run-down neighborhoods. Adequate, affordable, and quality housing is a right to the city everyone deserves. What can we do to enable equal access to safe and affordable housing, including land use? 


It’s great in Bangkok if you have money because everything costs something. Just the fresh vegetables in the market in front of my street are indeed costly. 20 baht for a bunch of mushrooms? Who would imagine?  Back at home Auntie Maew grows mushrooms with her own sustainable agriculture innovation. She builds the mushroom farm up from the ground, within her small space. The mushrooms grow abundantly and are used for cooking, selling, and they’re sold out fast. If only she knew how to use the internet to sell her products, she would be a billionaire. Once I finish studying, I might get back home and help her expand the business all over the country. And I will get to be with my mom and do rice farming, with the innovation ideas borrowed from Auntie Maew. I’m not sure if I could do it, but other people can, so why can’t I?


Social innovation is finding new solutions to the problems you face on a daily basis, to replace the same old quick fix that might no longer work.  The more limited our resources are (natural resources, labor, time), the more we need to use them in the most efficient manners and for the people. In this way, we can walk towards sustainable development. How can we adapt local wisdom with innovations, and add value to community products?



I’m getting lonely here. I’ve got some friends but still, I’m alone. I usually talk to the security guard at the apartment and the apartment staff, they’re from Isan just like me. For someone who is from Isan, I don’t know if other people think I stink of pickled fish. Some people, just seeing my low nose bridge, look down on me. I want to tell them that I have a 10-rai rice farm back home, which is bigger than your mall (but ask again if we have the money to invest, the answer is no.) Mom says it’s better now because they’re more people from Isan getting good jobs in Bangkok. Still, there are those living hand to mouth with only the 315 baht minimum wage. I think this takes time, but if everyone has access to education and opportunities, change will come.  We need to do something like Auntie Maew who creates her own innovation. And I believe that we all have ideas, we just lack opportunities and money to invest.


Every worker is entitled to the minimum wage of 313 baht a day according to the Minimum Wage Board Announcement (No.10) as of 6 December 2019. But even now, a lot of people still get less than the minimum wage. They are left behind because of their socio-economic status and the economic structure that dehumanizes them with undervalued wages. Poverty has a price, and sometimes it is more costly than wealth. How can we create jobs that are valued and accessible?


Mom works until her spine hurts because she wants to support my higher education. Back at home, finishing high school is a rarity. Parents all pray to the ghosts that their kids don’t get pregnant or get into a motorcycle accident before finishing school. Not that it’s wrong or anything. Mom actually had me when she was fifteen and things here are different from the city.  My friend Pooky got pregnant one year after getting her first period. If only she had seen herself in the next 4-5 years, if she had seen what she could be. Pooky is actually really smart and there’s so much she could do. She’s just left behind and forgotten in so many ways. I believe that Pooky and every person is part and parcel of the society we live in, we all contribute in different ways.


In the past ten years, 23,615 children were born to girls aged 10-40. The highest was in 2012 when 3,710 girls became mothers, or around 10 girls a day. The lowest was in 2020 when 2,180 girls became mothers, or around 5 girls a day. What can we do to make sex education accessible to everyone? 


Four years seems like a long time. But we have lived with COVID for over a year now. Some people are unemployed and have to go back home. If there were universities close to home, I wouldn’t have to come here at all. I miss mom, always. I think of the sound of her laughter when she’s exhausted from work but still joyous. I fear that she would catch COVID and disappear from this world before we could meet again. People back at home take good care of themselves, they wear masks, they check their temperature even though there doesn’t seem to be a screening system to help them.  I still have hope despite all this, I think everyone now wants to see their own village, their own neighborhood get better, with access to infrastructure. 


The COVID pandemic has unveiled every aspect of inequality. People with financial security seem to be the ones who get away from the crisis. Meanwhile the ones living in poverty such as children in low-income families, are living with higher risks. Having no access to online education, falling out of the education system, getting out of school to work instead, these are the issues we are facing, to name but a few. And this affects people  in the long-run. What can we do to protect fundamental rights and enable everyone’s access to welfare?


“Don’t be afraid of the scorching sun. Don’t be afraid of the rain. Blow your hot rice before eating,” mom always recites. This is meant to teach me to calm down and take things step by step. There are things that are out of our control. But there are also things that we can solve if we take them one step at a time. Mom might grow up and have to endure a lot. But within our generation, it’ll certainly be better, if we can change things for good. For now I just don’t want to live so far from home.

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  • What are The Sustainable Development Goals?
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