• Published Date: 29/08/2021
  • by: UNDP

Informing the ‘New Normal’: What We Have Learned From Listening to Southern Thai Communities

If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown one thing, it is that we are all vulnerable, yet not equally fragile. This is well illustrated in the case of Southern Thailand — a region that has been particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and its devastating ramifications. For the approximately 2.4 million residents of this culturally dynamic, but largely impoverished region, the pandemic is still inducing new hardships and exacerbating existing ones every day. At the same time, COVID-19 has also proven to be an opportunity for the region to create a better, stronger, more sustainable, resilient and inclusive future.

What is clear, is that business as usual just won’t cut it. As a complex, wicked issue, COVID-19 cannot be addressed by specific technological innovations or single-point solutions. What is necessary is a deeper understanding of the social, economic and cultural dynamics that are conditioning the evolution of this crisis.

One group that is particularly exposed to the pandemic are young entrepreneurs. In March 2020, Youth Co:Lab, a project co-led by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Citi Foundation, surveyed 410 young entrepreneurs across the Asia-Pacific. The results showed that 90% of youth-led businesses were negatively impacted by the current crisis. Among these, 1 in 3 reported a major slowdown, and 1 in 4 have stopped entirely. This paints an alarming picture of how already vulnerable youth-led businesses are struggling to survive in the face of an unprecedented economic shock.

To tackle this and other challenges, the UNDP Regional Hub in collaboration with ALC, a Basque Innovation Lab supports the UNDP Thailand Social Innovation Platform to experiment with an alternative approach that captures perceptions and behavioral changes in real-time, to forecast emerging changes in a COVID-19 context and contribute to co-designing public policies. In the context of Southern Thailand, UNDP and ALC started an active listening process to gather narratives through ethnographic interviews with a diverse set of key stakeholders in the local food system.

A whole set of complex narratives emerged from the listening. These narratives revealed perceptions, behavioral and thinking patterns on different levels and in different thematic areas. Put simply, they are the untold stories of the region; stories that represent key challenges and opportunities of Southern Thai regions and communities — for instance of young entrepreneurs in the food industry facing difficulties in managing their businesses in times of crisis. To validate these narratives, ‘personas’ were drafted — visual profiles consisting of people’s unified perceptions, behavioral and thinking patterns that represent specific segments of society. A key advantage of this extensive ethnographic work is that it allows the mapping of an area or community in a highly segmented way — for instance by gathering opposing ideas and collectively making sense of their associated values and beliefs.

COVID OUTBREAK: Using Digital Listening tools for a new normal

To capture and analyze the emerging narratives from the crisis, a wide variety of digital listening tools and AI-powered language processing techniques were put into place. From this, it became clear that each region, community and group was experiencing the pandemic quite differently. For instance, a group of Thai workers — approximately 200,000, mostly young migrants, many of them small-business owners, chefs and line-cooks — affected by the crisis and returning from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — faced very specific challenges.

Examples of digital sources being used in Thailand

What did we discover? Attitudes towards migrant workers were generally not positive even before the pandemic, and now it seemed to only worsen. In Southern Thailand, many held strong views on this returning group as they were seen as potential disease-carriers. Also, there was a religious link to draw. Most of the returning migrants are a part of the local Malay-Muslim group and their religious practices were viewed by some as a potential source of infection. Dangers of stigmatization and discrimination emerged: “I feel stigmatized back home. I live in a village, and perceive that people from the cities tend to think that because of religious gatherings, or vaccination we are more likely to spread the virus. Besides, I’ve come from Malaysia, where the virus started spreading earlier. Prior to the border lock between Malaysia and Thailand, about 50,000 were already home”.

Digital listening in Southern Thailand in combination with traditional ethnographic work helped assess the impact of the crisis and found changing power dynamics — the pandemic further weakened already vulnerable communities and local businesses, yet also provided unexpected business opportunities to some. One of the discovered stories was of Tirmizi, a young and energetic entrepreneur from Narathiwat who encountered an unexpected business opportunity during the crisis. Tirmizi is the owner of a meat-producing business and specializes in the production of burger patties. When he opened his business, he was the only producer of this popular snack in the region. “Three years ago there weren’t any local meat manufacturers here. That’s why I started this business. I arranged all the certifications very quickly, I wanted this process done fast so I focused on achieving that”, he explained.

Power dynamics: the influence of COVID-19


Fast forward three years and Tirmizi is still the only meat producer in the region. For him, this illustrates the region’s challenging business climate — a sector that is structurally underdeveloped and often considered uninviting in the region. In particular, Tirmizi constantly struggles with challenges related to the local supply chain and the region’s lack of diversification. “80 percent of the people’s income in here depends on the agricultural economy, agricultural prices, agricultural product from the rubber price. But we lack a proper upstream supply chain for livestock, machinery and standardized slaughtering houses”.

When COVID-19 hit the region, just like many other business-owners, Tirmizi suffered. His sales dropped, forcing him to cut his own salary for months. However, when the government issued containment measures and the nearby borders to Malaysia closed, restricting travel to prevent the virus from spreading, things started to change for Tirmizi. His competitors, mostly from Malaysia, suddenly couldn’t export their products to Thailand, which created a vacuum and a huge opportunity for him. He jumped on it. Using his entrepreneurial skills and attitude, he took bold and decisive action to introduce several new products to the market and consequentially increase his sales dramatically. Tirmizi: “It seems that my business is among the very few that are actually growing in the time of the pandemic”.

Tirmizi’s story is an example of an entrepreneur who sees a challenge and imagines an opportunity, someone who takes initiative rather than waiting for others to deal with an issue. Many young people, similar to Tirmizi, possess the key traits to become a successful entrepreneur but still fail because of the region’s underdeveloped entrepreneurial ecosystem. Young entrepreneurs in Southern Thailand face significant barriers in creating start-ups, as they lack mentors in business and management skills, as well as financial constraints, funding, and access to markets.

These stories’ collected using ethnographic fieldwork and digital listening have illustrated how people, groups and communities are experiencing the impacts of COVID-19 differently. Gaining real-time insight into these differences and their social, economic and cultural implications is crucial to co-create new and better solutions tailored to each segment of the population.

This bottom-up approach is part of a NextGen Governance learning trajectory that will allow decision-makers to make choices, manage complexity and identify a more impactful response that looks beyond recovery, towards 2030.

In the coming months the goal is to establish Digital Observatories of Citizen Narratives that can provide valuable data to local authorities and cities, private sector and community organizations that are in search of innovative solutions through co-creation:

1. Bring together existing data on COVID, segmented by field and geography.

2. Visualize systems mapping in each geography.

3. Visualize key stakeholder networks.

4. Generate new listening channels to understand perceptions and how cultural differences are conditioning COVID impact.

5. Provide a digital sensemaking protocol to interpret data collectively.

6. Facilitate digital co-creation processes.

7. Design and manage a portfolio of options and prototypes.

8. Manage and evaluate the platform collaboratively.

9. Communicate this process

10. Attract transformational capital.

Currently, in Southern Thailand, this process has led to a series of co-created solutions that kickstart socio-economic transformation by responding to the local situations and interests and values of the communities involved, including many initiatives to help young entrepreneurs in the food-industry rebuild their businesses after COVID-19 and adjust to the ‘new normal’

This blog was co-written by Stan van der Leemputte, Social Innovation Consultant at UNDP in Asia and the Pacific and Itziar Moreno, Programs Lead at Agirre Lehendakaria Center (ALC). Both are working on a regional initiative that supports UNDP country offices to develop Social Innovation Platforms to tackle complex challenges, realize socio-economic transformation and help to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Original post from Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific

  • Published Date: 18/08/2021
  • by: UNDP

Youth Dialogue: Ethnic Youth x LGBTI Youth, Together We Learn about Diversity

The beauty of nature is its diversity, millions of plants, several thousands animals, and the ever-changing seasons. Categorization of living beings is recent compared to the age of the world, but humans do, we categorize and cause problems. The more centralized development is, the more it pushes the marginalized away, especially those with pride in their own identities.


Some people are defined as ‘the vulnerable’ because they are disenfranchised and do not have access to welfare, which sometimes is like a cake shared between a limited number of people. Thai welfare often comes with conditions, be it citizenship status, or cisheteronormativity. But should people be stripped of their rights just because they defy social norms? Just being a human being should guarantee everyone of their dignity.


“How do you think ethnicity affects your daily life?”


The opening question interestingly invites the stakeholders, the ethnic youth, to discuss and exchange their perspectives and the problems they face.



Living with Insecurity, the Life without Nationality

‘Nationality’ is a main topic of discussion which brings together the ethnic minorities. Chart, a representative from Tai Yai ethic group, mentioned how ethinic identity can affect even confidence when having to contact governmental agencies since the ethnic people have been discriminated against all along, and feeling like they are a third-class population who have been shouting, but unheard of. The naturalization process is also complicated and burdensome, ranging from travelling a long way to the governmental agencies, correcting various documents, and some have to pay money for the authorities, which most of the people do not have, Chart mentioned. This also applies to Karen people, Siri, a Karen representative, explained in detail that some ethic people are not sedentary, they move from places to places depending on social conditions, this, the government does not understand.


Intertwined Problems: Children, Women and LGBTI Are Excluded

At the margin of marginalization, there are those who are left behind further still. Before the pandemic, Siri conducted research about women and children. She found that they lived in difficulty since they are not head of the family and most of them depend on the men. Siri found three main problems: 1) Women and LGBTI’s lack of power 2) Domestic violence and 3) Poverty. Even though the ethinic people are experts in the field of agriculture, Siri found starvation. An ethnic woman told her that they only had the rice to last another meal. 


Another pressing issue is education. Some children have to leave their home at five years old to go study. They have lost the chance to learn to absorb their own culture in their community. Even after graduation, there is no job in the community for them to do. The root cause of this is the lack of citizenship status which hinders them from getting jobs despite the fact that they are fully capable. Life outside of their community allows them to explore the world, but not actually living out there. The elderly are experienced, but they do not know the Thai language, and are discriminated against when going to hospitals.

Innovation Is Not Merely the Result, But the Process

Nam, a representative from the Akha ethnic group, admitted that she has been living in the city more than at home. She is experienced at cooking and she has found that the food in her own small community is even more diverse than in the city. She imagined her home without the people, and feared that the legacy will be gone. She went back home to explore the food in the community, invited the youth to join her project, and grew traditional plants to sustain the community, and exported them.


Chart has found that ‘Mong and the 13 boys stuck in the cave’ finally got their Thai IDs because of the media attention. He thus started to work on communication, to share knowledge, and create confidence for ethnic people, especially the younger generations who have more access to social media. His goals are to teach the youth to learn about transparency, to eradicate discrimination, and corruption.


For Siri, her research is the hope of the whole community. She hosted meetings head-on with subdistrict organizations and came up with the project for the community to earn from weaving. She travelled to different places to learn about the art, and came back to teach the women in her community. The women were ecstatic to be able to weave, and earned their own money for the first time. Even though the production has stopped since the pandemic, Siri believes this is just the beginning, and they still have a long way to go.


Welfare State to Leave No One Behind

The ethnic minorities have lived in Thailand for hundreds of years, they are part and parcel of this country, but they get the least support. They do not receive compensation from the government, not a single dime when the world of jobs stopped spinning because of the pandemic. Not to mention access to health care or vaccination, the state simply does not have their names in any register. All of this is because they are denied nationality. 

Several problems remained for them to resist, especially LGBTI people in the communities who face both internal and external pressure. There is little space left for imagination about the ethnic LGBTI, who deserve acknowledgement, and space.



This Is Not a Binary World

Another online dialogue is ‘Youth and Gender Diversity’ in the world that does not belong merely to cisheterosexuals, understanding differences is how we create a future for everyone.


No More Bias, Embrace Identities, Create Understanding

Some might say that Thailand is acceptant of gender diversity, but come to think about it, why is the same sex marriage still not legalized? Is there really equality at work? Or do people really understand diverse gender identities? Some still misunderstand that LGBTI are the women who want to be men, or men who want to be women. Some do not believe that trans women can be lesbian.


K (pseudonym), a representative from the north identifies as a trans man and the pronoun he (you can use any pronoun that the person you are referring to is comfortable with.) K feels like he is not tom (Thai word referring to masculine lesbians), but he is a trans man. Most of the times when K visits a governmental agency, he is oddly looked at because his identity does not correspond with that on his ID card. It would help a lot if trans people were able to change their name title according to their identities, K mentioned.


S (pseudonym), a representative from the migrant youth, shared that Thailand is much more open towards LGBTI than Myanmar. He still cannot come out to his family, he does not want them to feel sorry because his identity defies social norms and their expectation.


A representative from Pink Monkey, comes from a family that embraces his identity but he still faces sexual harassment at school. Being a person from LGBTI community does not mean that one is always interested in sex, he said. One time, a teacher showed him a video with genitalia, and told him that he would love this when he grows up. S wants the school to be a safe space for everyone, especially students from LGBTI community.


B (pseudonym), a representative from Free Enby Thailand, identify themselves as a nonbinary person and would like everyone to use the pronoun ‘they’ when referring to B. B supports not identifying a newborn’s gender since one should have the right to choose one’s own, and the gender box mainly contains just the binary men and women. When in fact, the world is a lot more diverse.


These are some of the voices from the participants. In the future where diversity is embraced, there is no need to live your life according to social norms. Just like what the participants discussed in the four breakout rooms.

Room 1: Nonbinary and Invisible Identities behind the Diversity

If you believe that gender is changeable, so does the nonbinary who believe the world is much more than just ‘men’ and ‘women.’ There are the ‘Q-Questioning’ or people who are still on the way to find out which identity sparks the most joy for them to live their life. The answer is ‘you can be anything.’ Being a nonbinary is to defy the gender norms and embrace the fuidity of gender. To give an example, one does not need to be a beautiful trans woman according to the norm, all it takes is for you to love who you are. But it takes the government to support and eradicate discrimination against these diverse identities.


Room 2: Mental Health, Acceptance, and Identity

“Someone from LGBTI community needs to pass more social tests than others who conform to gender norms. Why is that?” A powerful question was posed in this room. For many, family is not the safe space for them to be and express themselves, see a traditional Thai-Chinese or Thai-Muslim families that expect the sons to be the head of the household, to be the leader, the men. And when the hope falters, the quarrels, the pressure from the family, causes depression.


A participant shared their friend’s experience as a tom who studied hard, worked hard, and seemed to be the hope and dream of the family. But when the friend got married, the family chose to not attend the wedding because they felt ‘uncomfortable.’


Even when a person from LGBTI community did everything they could, there never seems to be enough, and the family rarely understands. Family is the factor of good mental health in the long-run. The family should open their mind, and embrace their children as a human being.


Room 3: LGBTI in the Democratic Movement

“The demand for same sex marriage must be side by side with the demand for democracy.” P, a representative from the Young Pride Club mentioned. She is well-known for holding a protest sign “I will be the first trans woman prime minister.” In a society rife with inequality, LGBTI are excluded from the public conversation, and some still think there are matters that need ‘more attention.’ P told us about pushing for LGBTI rights under the military realm, which she said was not possible. The military’s patriarchal mindset is not ‘LGBTI friendly’ for a bit. She came to the conclusion that demand for democracy and LGBTI rights must always go side by side.


She was filed with 116 Act because she defied the authorities. This affected P’s mental health for a while until she went to speak at an event where a lot of people showed her their support. She got better. And got back to advocate for her rights.


The LGBTI movement in Thailand is now paving the way for the marginalized, for people who are invisible to be seen, and to give them back the rights they are entitled to.


Room 4: Gender Diversity in School

School should be a safe space for every student, physically and mentally. But the teachers still perpetuate gender bias, and shove the burden off on the students’ shoulders. Some schools treat LGBTI as comedic figures, some try to inspire them with pressure such as ‘you’re a trans person, so you should study hard.’ Some teachers expect the students to behave according to the name title given to them from birth. Sometimes, it is the school that creates trauma for the children.


The participants suggested that schools should be responsible in creating understanding about gender diversity and try to eradicate discrimination. The parents should also stand up for their children’s rights, even if it is against the teachers.


Everyone should learn about gender diversity and stop creating boxes to confine human beings. Not every man likes the color blue, and not every woman is into pink. Gender diversity is fluid and endless, if society just understands this, we can go further and further, to the future where no one is left behind.


Both ethnic and LGBTI people are marginalized, and some can be even more marginalized when they are both an ethnic minority, and a person from LGBTI community. These are the people who are faced with daily prejudice and structural inequality, which can be fixed, by both individuals, and the state.  The government must try to create an enabling environment for people to thrive, with self-confidence and self-esteem.


When a human being is able to stand up right, and be proud of their identity, creativity and innovations will follow. No one will be the judge of anyone’s life, the vulnerable will live their lives with dignity, and diversity will thrive in our society, as it has always been diverse.


This event is made possible by our partners. UNDP would like to thank you to IMPECT and Plan International for bringing Ethnic youth and LGBTI youth to make this meaningful dialogue happens.

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  • Published Date: 16/08/2021
  • by: UNDP

Welcome to the Bangkok Aquarium, Our Future History


The rain is splashing down like the wrath of God. Kim Ki-taek, the father and head of the family, scurrying back home with his children, Ki-woo and Chung-sook. The home is not part of anything estate-like but a basement shared by four members of the family. The underground dwelling depends on sunlight and air bestowed by sidewalk grates. The rainfall transforms into a tsunami flood, inundating the whole house and leaving them with few belongings. It is an unforgettable nightmare. The family now curls up at the gymnasium shelter, wearing donated second hand clothes which smell like rags and tatters.


This is a scene in Parasite (you might have seen the film and remember) which portrays difficulty in life of the marginalized. All four family members are smart, they have potential but lack the opportunities due to their social class, and they cannot even protect their own safety. While a country like South Korea portrays inequality head-on, back in Thailand, some people are worse off every time there is a flood. Not everyone has enough money to defend their own life, and not everyone has a second home to run off to. We all need to ask ourselves: are there people who are left behind every time there is a natural disaster?


Bangkok, an Aquarium City

Bangkok is the capital city which imitates Ayudhaya city plan. This includes flooding season which is a war tactic to prevent enemies from crossing the river to attack the city. Bangkok is sometimes called Venice of the East since it has a river flowing in the central part, with canals around the city, and boats as the major means of transportation in the past. Most people in Bangkok used to be farmers, with traces of the past now are the farmers around the city periphery. With this information, even a six grader can tell that we have lived with water for a long time. Bangkok is good-natured with the sea level, since it is only 1.5 meters above the level. Flooding season is only natural. 


But what is unnatural is centralization of development which hastens the sinking of Bangkok in the next twenty years. The water from the north, climate change which precipitates heavy rainfalls and rising sea level, are all the factors. As of now, some parts of Bangkok are already two meters below sea level, Sukhumvit and Ramkhamhaeng, for instance. This is due to incessant water pumping for industrial use, in other words, the land is sinking every night as we are asleep. Another thing that helps assure the sinking of Bangkok is the city plan. When there is a 30-minute rainfall, Bangkok faces at least one-foot flooding, the traffic is paralyzed, and debris from sewers floating along with lives in the city. Academics forecast that in the next twenty years, flooding in Bangkok will be as high as three meters, or that of a two-story townhouse.


And no one will be able to escape, even if they wanted to.


Torn Apart and Bled Dried in Every Crisis

Do you know who is the most affected when it has been raining in Bangkok for around 30 minutes? It is those with low-income! The skytrain fare from home to work accounts for 50 percent of income when minimum wage is the basis. This is why they are left with no choices. Imagine the wet sidewalk, drenched clothes, and smell of the damp. Daily life costs much more when you are poor.


Let’s go back to our flooding crisis in 2011, the worst natural disaster in fifty years in terms of economic loss. Behind the numbers, there is something we did not see which is the invisibility of the urban poor. When the affected took their house registration or identification card to get compensation, people in the crowded, poor neighborhood had none. They were the first and the most affected, but the last to be cared for. They did not have the power to demand, and did not have even the second floor to escape to when the water came. Their possessions, their insecure jobs, all floated away with the floods.


Even though the authorities had been warning about the forthcoming water, it was not easy — nor possible, for the urban poor to retreat anywhere. Every move had its cost, not to mention children, the elderly, and people with disabilities who had to be cared for. They did not have the financial means to be safe, even the simple task of moving electric outlets was not possible. It was estimated that the loss of possessions for each housing was around 52,500 baht, the loss of income was 52,500 baht, and the increased debt was around 73,423 baht. The numbers exclude social impact, stress, loss of pets, or family disputes.


In the country where being poor means being hapless, only money solves life problems.


Plastic Sheets for Walls, and Paper Boxes for Roofs

A basic need in a human life is housing. But not for the 3,000 homeless persons in Bangkok who are seen by the authorities and the public as troublemakers and threats. In actuality, up to  half of homeless persons have been victims of violence, mostly from family members which compels them to run away from home.


Frail equipment cannot protect them from nature, be it the scorching weather, smog, or sudden floods. The homeless encounter natural disasters face-to-face with almost nothing to protect themselves, and lack of understanding from the public. And much more than understanding, they need welfare and quality of life, as they are citizens of this country. Access to jobs, food, health care, safe and adequate housing are what every human being is entitled to.


Nature is unpredictable, but to leave no one behind can be planned for.


Sincerity Is a Quality of Decent Government

In 1991, Tokyo faced the heaviest flooding in 30 years, the flood inundated for more than 100 kilometers, causing incalculable loss. In the following year, the government decided to build giant tunnels to protect the city from flooding. The tunnels took 20 years to build, with 100,000 million baht cost. The result is 70 meter high tunnels spreading more than 6.2 kilometers, the drainage system is able to empty 200 tons of water per second. The Tokyo citizens can live safely even in the days of heavy rainfalls.


After a great flood in 1953, the Netherlands decided to build the ‘Delta Project’ which accounted for 0.84 percent of its GDP. It is the biggest water management system in the world to prevent flooding. The Netherlands is the second biggest exporter of agricultural products in the world and the water system is a visionary decision from the government to solve the country’s problems. When life is safe, people in the country are able to work and pay taxes.


Visionary innovations and creations should be able to tackle inequality and ease access to everyone. Sincere government should follow this step, with no behind-the-scenes intentions to implement policies that do not benefit the people. Policy-making should be human-centric. If the new ideas to move the capital city, to replan the city, or to build a giant water management system do not aim to benefit the people, problems will still be dragged on.  A problem is that of a race, if we are not well-prepared, we are going to lose, which means everyone in the country will be defeated, and we see more clearly now considering the pandemic management.


Bangkok is sinking, we are dying. And we need to be prepared.











Keywords: ,
  • Published Date: 12/08/2021
  • by: UNDP

The Untold Stories of the Ethnic Youths


The Dialogues with the Ethnic Youths on the Occasion of the International Youth Day 2021

One-third of the world’s population are children and youth. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which many countries in the world are committed to achieving by 2030 or only ten years from now, might not be attained if we do not include the youth, who will become the majority of the future population.

Even though we can achieve all 17 SDGs, does it mean that sustainable development is realized? The answer can be yes or no because the core of sustainable development is not just a matter of what, but how is also crucial for achieving sustainable development. More importantly, we should question the development process whether it is inclusive and leads to beneficial results for all. Does our development leave anyone behind? Leave No One Behind is, therefore, the heart of sustainable development.

Who is left behind? We may think of people who live in remote areas, with limited access to infrastructure or stateless people who do not have access to basic welfare. We may also picture disabled people with limited access to transportation, education opportunities, and proper education equipment or methods, or poor people in the cities who lack economic opportunity, or even LGBTQ persons who are deprived of opportunities to take certain roles in society. And the list goes on. Why are they forgotten in the development?

They are deprived of these opportunities because of their identities, such as ethnicity, gender, age, body, place of residence, etc. These are the things that hinder access to equal opportunities. Everybody has these identities. However, have we ever considered these factors in terms of how they affect our everyday life?

The Online Youth Dialogue on Leave No One Behind activity consists of four dialogues that invited young people to become acquainted with vulnerable groups often left behind based on their identities. There are four dialogues: the dialogue with the ethnic youth, the dialogue with the youth from coastal communities, the dialogue with the LGBTQ youth, and the dialogue with the youth with disabilities. This activity is based on the belief that a space for discussion or a place where we get to know each other, make friends, and ask questions to understand each other’s lifestyles, identities, and needs, is the beginning of an inclusive society.

A relaxing discussion group for young people is a space to reflect on how our identities can impact our everyday life, shine the light on one’s vulnerabilities and those of others,  and embrace diversity in a society where everybody respects one another.

On the occasion of the International Youth Day 2021, below is a part of the Dialogues with Ethnic Youths which narrates the untold stories of the ethnic youth.


1. As ethnicity is related to access to citizenship, it hampers one’s access to opportunities.   

Ethnicity does not exist on its own; it is also related to another factor: citizenship. Many tribal young people are questioned about their citizenship. As there are many different ethnic groups, including those who live in remote areas, many do not acquire their citizenship by birth. Instead, they have to apply for Thai citizenship, a process that takes many years. As a result, many tribal young people have the status of stateless persons, which hampers many opportunities, such as basic welfare and traveling. Being young, they are supposed to learn about themselves and discover the world but they are allowed to travel only within their province. Their education and career opportunities are also limited. Without Thai citizenship, the stateless youth cannot choose certain careers, and they may not be able to choose an occupation in their fields of study. These are the obstacles that the stateless youth encounter. Despite being born in Thailand, they do not have an identity, right, and a chance to design a life they truly want.

Being stateless also causes other minor problems to the ethnic youth who have to adapt to society. For example, some stateless young people do not have a surname, and they have to repeatedly answer the same questions about why they do not have a surname. They are also teased by their peers, making them feel different from everybody else and unworthy because they do not have Thai citizenship. These problems lead to the stateless youth feeling alienated from society.

This is the story that Suchart, a Shan youth, shared with his peers in the discussion group. Even though he has not been granted Thai citizenship and has been in the application process for over ten years, with many of his friends and family members facing the same problem, Suchart has come up with a creative solution. He created Titang Facebook page to be a space for educating and helping stateless persons so that they have access to the rights, welfare, and citizenship application process. He hopes that someday the society will acknowledge and understand the experience of stateless people and make a change in the system so that everybody in Thailand has equal access to rights and welfare.


2. The tribal youth and their hybrid lifestyle

If we talk about tribes, we may picture people living in communities with unique ways of life and tribal cultures. But do you know that in reality, many young people no longer live in their communities and start to question their identity as a tribe? This is the story of Nam, an Akha young woman. She told us that she remembered living with her grandmother and the diversity of local plants used to create various dishes. As she grew up, many young people in the tribe needed to leave their village to receive formal education. When they graduated and returned to the village, they discovered that much of their way of life and local resources had been lost. Growing up in cities brings about various experiences, and they have to reflect on their identity and self as the tribal youth. Nam’s childhood memory is closely linked to local resources. So she decided to do Seed Journey activity, which started tourism activities and invited chefs to learn about local seeds in the community. Through this activity, people in the community see the value of biodiversity and create new dishes from resources in the community to add value to local resources.

When we talk about the tribal youth today, the word may no longer connote young people who have grown up in communities that are totally separated from cities, but now it means young people who integrate local wisdom with modern knowledge, perspective, and technology from their experience in cities. Sometimes this leads to self-reflection and the adaptation and evolution of tribal wisdom so that it coherently exists in the modern world.


3. Karen people whose way of life does not always equal rotational farming and weaving

If we talk about Karen ethnic group, we may think about a way of life intertwined with the forest, such as rotational farming, an all-year abundance of food, or the unique hand-weaving that uses resources in the community. In the discussion group, Siri, a Lao-Isaan young woman who grew up in a Karen family, said that the reality is not always like the stereotype. The Karen community in Mae Sam Laep, Mae Hong Son Province, which is her family’s community, has been ravaged by border wars that have caused them to migrate so many times. They, therefore, cannot settle down and do rotational farming like the picture we might have had in mind. Moreover, the terraces in the area are not suitable for rotational agriculture. As they are forced to escape from wars all the time, the local way of life and wisdom faded away and are replaced by problems, such as problems regarding standards of living, domestic violence, education, etc. Covid-19 pandemic even exacerbates the existing problems. Siri and her friends, therefore, initiated the Rainbow Textile project to create jobs for women. The rainbow-colored design also raises awareness about gender diversity among people in the community; an issue that is still new to the community.

However, weaving has not been easy for Mae Sam Laep women because women in the community had lost their weaving skills due to migration and occupation changes. They needed to take a long time to revive the skills. Siri and her friends had to travel to other provinces to learn to weave and came back to teach women in the community (the women cannot be brought out of the province to learn to weave because they are stateless, making inter-provincial travel difficult). However, women in the community could earn income for the first time from these rainbow-colored textile products. The women are empowered to be equal to men, who are usually the breadwinners. Also, when people wish to buy the rainbow-colored textiles to support gender diversity, people in the community are made aware of gender diversity in society.


Ethnicity – the identity we all have

These are a few of the untold stories of the tribal youth, which were shared in the ethnic youth dialogues so that other young people could learn about different ways of life in various aspects. Also, everybody exchanged their perspectives about their respective ethnic identities; how the ethnic identities impact their everyday life in multiple dimensions, such as food, traveling, education, interests, belief, love, etc. We can see how ethnicity creates diversity: things that we like, such as food, the feeling of attachment to different ways of life, or different access to opportunities, such as traveling and education. We have also discovered that sometimes our difference in ethnicity is not an obstacle that separates us; we still share the same favorite food, other interests, and our mutual dream for society.

Ethnicity might be a factor that contributes to some people being left behind. Still, if we realize that ethnicity is merely an identity that we all have and if we recognize the impacts of our ethnicity, we may see the gap of inequality within the development. If we understand that ethnic diversity is normal in a society, we may look for innovations for development that can access everybody.


Learn more about the stories of Ethnic People in Thailand at www.you-me-we-us.org

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  • Published Date: 05/08/2021
  • by: UNDP

When a Day’s Pay is Half of Your Child’s Formula Milk


“Hard-working farmers are the backbone of the nation.” This is the beginning of the song ‘life of a farmer’ written to laud the agricultural profession, especially the rice farmers who produce for people in the country, and export it to other nations as well. But a conundrum remains, why such an essential and skilled occupation still makes such a low living wage? The family of a rice farmer earns on an average 210,139 baht a year or around 17,511 baht a month (the number includes income from other sources as well.) And to emphasize, the income is that of the whole family which means they are living under limited conditions. This results in farmers migrating to the capital for more money, and more chances in life.


Bathed in sweat and tears, toiling with work and the unknowing 

On 28th June 2021, the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) ordered the construction camps around Bangkok and its vicinity to shut down with the intention to control the pandemic. The order was effective from 30 June onwards. A larger number of construction workers decided to travel back home while some others could not with different reasons: the lack of money, getting sealed off by the military, or migrant worker status. Considering the Labor Protection Act B.E. 2541, there was not much to be concerned about. The act assuredly indicates that the employer must be responsible to the employee welfare such as providing clean drinking water, medicines, and compensation to which the government is accounted for. The construction workers did not need to worry. But reality struck back when necessities were not even available for the workers stuck across the camp sites. They did not have enough food, water, and health care. The employers and the government neglected these human beings as if they were not ones. The workers did not demand anything, they did not know how, they did not know who to contact when they were behind the galvanized walls.

Bathed in sweat and tears, toiling with work and the unknowing: A lyrics from the song Life Drama [ละครชีวิต] by Mike Piromphorn a popular folk singer among the laborers. His lyrics often describe the hardship of migrant workers and give them support.
the Labor Protection Act B.E. 2541: https://www.labour.go.th/index.php/hm7/73-2562-01-04-06-01-50


The Overseas Chinese took up the role of ‘coolies’ who worked in the capital city from the reign of King Rama V until the end of World War two when a larger number of them managed to move up their social status. New faces of laborers became the faces of the ‘Isaan People’ who migrated to work in the city temporarily after the rice farming season was done. The expansion of the capital city and the restriction of foreign migrant workers at the time resulted in an increase of people from the Northeast who came to work as unskilled laborers (in reality every job is a skilled job.) They traded their sweat and labor for a small amount of money, and people remember them as the uneducated country people. For decades, Isaan people (or people from other similar areas as well) struggled with life, until they were eventually assimilated into the city culture. 

New faces of laborers became the faces of the ‘Isaan People’ who migrated to work in the city temporarily: https://www.silpa-mag.com/history/article_69898


‘Welfare state’ becomes a topic of discussion once again, with the public attempting to understand its meaning. The labor unions have fought for welfare, they fought for 300 baht minimum wage, they fought for maternity leave, but universal welfare has not been achieved and the authorities do not seem to care. The pandemic has highlighted the need for a welfare state such as the need for effective vaccines to create herd immunity and for the situations to get better.


‘Welfare state’ is thus a powerful concept which believes that everyone is entitled to welfare and basic rights such as education, health care, transportation, and safety. It will ensure the well-being of the citizens, and people will not have to invest in basic necessities such as expensive tuition fees, health insurance, or cars. Imagine that the nation can take care of citizens this way, people living far away will not have to migrate to the city because they can access welfare from anywhere.


Living in a small rental room to save up, but even a one thousand banknote takes months  

Female migrant workers in a construction site have to work 13-14 hours a day but they get only 190-300 for that. This is the actual payment they get, even before the COVID situation. Some migrant workers accept this because they still get paid better than in their home country. But should human beings work with this low wages and rarely any welfare to support?

Living in a small rental room to save up, but even a one thousand banknote takes months: Part of the lyrics from “Draw the Dream on the Walls” [เขียนฝันไว้ข้างฝา] by Ratchanok Seelopan. The song is about a woman who left her home to come work in the city, and to support her mom and her family.


According to the International Labour Organization (2018), there are 772,720 migrant workers in Thailand and 557,724 are in the construction sector. The number has not included unregistered migrant workers, which could be as high as millions. Migrant workers registration is a hurdle created by the Thai bureaucratic system. Those with passports have to pay 7,500 baht to get a ‘pink card’ which allows them to work in Thailand. Sometimes the employers pay for this, sometimes not, and they have to pay for themselves. Several employers choose to not register the migrant workers since it is a ‘waste’ of their time and if they hire an agent to proceed with the registration for them, they have to pay 2,500 baht for a migrant worker. Unsurprisingly, some migrant workers live in Thailand illegally, and do not receive any welfare.

Those with passports have to pay 7,500 baht : https://apwld.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2018_BOOM-FPAR-MAP-Country-briefer-TH.pdf


Registered migrant workers have to stay in Thailand for at least six months to get the same welfare as the Thai workers such as social security or maternity leave. And they are rarely allowed welfare. Employers tend to find ways to fire pregnant women, some pregnant women decided to leave because of the pressure.


From the registration, there are around 200,000 female migrant workers in the industry sector. This accounts for 40 percent, the highest among 49 developing countries. In England, there is only one percent of women in the construction sector. Scopes of work of the female laborers in Thailand are usually ‘hauling and carrying’ the materials. While the more skilled work goes to the men. Even though some women have developed their skills, they do not get the same payment as the men. Not only in the construction sector, some migrant workers get only 3,000 – 6,000 baht a month, they stay in the accommodation designated by the employer, save up and send money back home to the families in their home countries.


Then there came the construction site shutdown order.


If you are in pain, do not take a step back

Seven days after the construction sites were shut down, voices and cries of the workers reverberated. The situations were critical. ‘No One Cares Bangkok’ was then formed by a group of volunteers to bring food and necessities to the construction camps. The workers did not have food to eat, water to drink, not even formula milk and children’s necessities. They could not go out, and if they could, they cannot afford to buy necessities anymore because of the shutdown.

If you are in pain, do not take a step back: From the song “For Mom, I Will Not Give Up” by Siriporn Ampaipong which tells a story of migrant workers in the capital city, with her mom as a source of strength


The volunteers found that a baby’s formula milk and diapers are costly compared to a worker’s income. The formula milk costs around 1,000 baht every 7-14 days. While the mother’s income is only the highest at 300 baht a day. As clear as day, the authorities do not care about children who are future workers. Some requests from the mothers are disheartening, some ask for “the milk for my baby first, food can be later.” Because children cannot just eat like adults do. In some construction camps, the volunteers even found a one-day old baby, meaning that they were born during the shutdown.


Female migrant workers often work as their husbands’ assistants. Some employers accept female workers because they simply want the husbands to work for them. Women in the construction camps need husbands for their own safety, since most of the workers are men and they enjoy their after-work drinking culture. Single women in a construction site is a rare sight since that status subjects her to sexual harassment. Still, married women do not enjoy safety. From interviews with children in the camps, it was found that fathers and men often physically and verbally abuse the women. This causes anxiety among the children. The bathrooms in the camp are also shared, with no sense of safety and privacy.


No One Cares Bangkok received requests to buy birth control pills along with other necessities. From a conversation with a female migrant worker, they found that men in the camp are not responsible for birth control, meaning that they do not buy condoms because they are expensive (but contraceptive pills are, too.) Birth control becomes the responsibility of the women who live under patriarchal society and are pressured to do the chores besides their work, child-rearing, cooking, and cleaning. When a female worker is pregnant, she enters the cycle of getting fired, and struggling to make ends meet on her own. Some newborns do not have a birth certificate since the migrant mothers do not know how to access that; as a result, the baby does not receive welfare, education, health care, nor safety.


Who built these skyscrapers, and these roads you walk on?

If one does a calculation: female migrant worker + unregistered + pregnancy + child rearing, one will certainly find that these women are the marginalized of the industry. Some employers do not pay them, thinking that they are not beneficial anymore. In 2017, the Thai government implemented the Foreigners’ Working Management Emergency Decree to punish employers who do not register their migrant workers. This resulted in the employers firing the migrant workers without giving them the final sum of the payment. Around 60,000 workers migrated back home, most back to Myanmar. Among the numbers, there might have been a mother carrying her baby, with the fear of getting arrested, back home. The incident evidently shows that there is not a safety net nor welfare, to support the migrants even though they are part and parcel of Thailand’s economy.


No One Cares Bangkok mentioned that when calling to ask the workers about help they would like, the receiver often responds with ‘anything’ ‘any food’ or ‘anything you could help’ with the gesture of not wanting to ask for more. They might not feel that they have the right to demand because people tend to not listen. Often than not, they are objects of merit, where the ‘charitable persons’ come to take photos with, and part way. 


We do not even have to mention basic rights, we need to take a step back to talk about human decency that they are entitled to. The skyscrapers, the roads, the buildings, the bridges cannot simply be built by the Thais. Once we realize that migrant workers are part and parcel of this country’s development, they will have dignity in life, and the welfare they are well-deserved.

Who built these skyscrapers, and these roads you walk on?: From the song ‘Those Who Are Behind” by Mike Piromphorn, the song is about a man who came to work in the city, with his low level of education for a better life.


  • Published Date: 04/08/2021
  • by: UNDP

Rights and Lives of Transgender Women, Dimmed Hopes in Times of Hopelessness


We could say Pattaya is the ‘capital city of transgender women.’ It was once a city overflowing with career opportunities, the chance to a life with dignity. But sometimes the line between dignity and indecency is so thin that we cannot see it, and with now the pandemic, all hopes are shattered. Restaurants and entertainment establishments are closing down, one by one. 


We had the chance to talk to Thitiyanun Nakpor, Director of Sisters Foundation, an LGBTQ+ activist who incessantly fights in what seems like an epic battle, for the dignity of transgender women.


What do people tend to not know about transgender women in Pattaya?


When I started working at the Foundation, there would be more than 300 tickets in our drawer with various accusations, being a transgender women would get you fined 300 baht, being a sex worker would get you fined 500 baht. Once a transgender showgirl was just getting home from work at night and was arrested by the police. The officer claimed that if she dressed up like that, she certainly was a sex worker. The woman was taken to the police station, stayed there overnight and was forced to sign a confession that she was a sex worker. Once I found out, I rushed there in the morning with some news reporters. The transgender woman’s face was bruised and she was shouting ‘help me.’ I asked the policeman for evidence, and he said she was also arrested for theft, but there was no evidence whatsoever. She was so scared that she ran and jumped downstairs. I got her out eventually, but I can’t help everyone like this, can I? Transgender women face this kind of situation all the time. There was no transparency in the process.

 Transgender Women: The Sisters Foundation does not discriminate against transgender women based on their apperance. Some transgender people cannot afford hormones, some work in governmental agencies and cannot come out. To be a transgender woman is simply to be, regardless of whether the person has undergone physical transition or not.


What do you think is the root of the problem?


It’s the same old stereotype. People think kathoeys are savages. Let’s say there’s a case of a traveller getting robbed, the police will come to seize transgender women first. Lots of them. And fine each of them 200-500 baht then pick a scapegoat. Once I attended a meeting with the Mayor of Pattaya and asked him about the standard of the penalty, and where does the money go?  It’s getting better now. But we had to fight for this. In the past, just being a kathoey is a wrongdoing already.

Kathoey: The word ‘kathoey’ is commonly used in Thai to refer to a transgender woman


But we have to accept the fact that some transgender women are sex workers.


Sex work is work! We have to understand that there are people who become sex workers willingly, and unwillingly. We can’t say that everyone has no other option. But if you ask why many transgender women become sex workers, several studies have shown it is because they are discriminated against. I graduated with honours but I couldn’t get any jobs. Transgender women can be a teacher, they can be a doctor, but they have to face obstacles. With no job, there’s no money. There are few options left, being a sex worker or a showgirl. It’s a limited career path for transgender women.


But society has become more open towards LGBTQ+ now?


It is better. But it is no better than five years ago. A work by Prof. Dr. Vitit Muntrabhorn also states that among all the LGBTQ+ sub groups, transgender people are discriminated the most. Most workplaces still adhere to the binary gender box. If you’re gay or lesbian, you still express yourselves according to the binary gender expression. But people notice transgender women from just a glance. So we are targeted, bullied, and discriminated against. Especially when society loves only the beautiful transgender women, there’s not much space left for the others.


Is it important to legalize sex work?


Think about how sex workers have sustained this country’s economy. But now they are not getting any help from the government because sex work is not leaglized so sex workers can’t fill in their profession as such when they contact social security. But this is basic human rights. You think everyone can be a sex worker? No! Sex workers are professionals. They have to meticulously protect themselves.


If sex work is legalized, the sex workers will not get exploited and they can pay taxes directly. We should never forget how long they have driven the country’s economy. Don’t just use the word ‘morals’ to hinder access to human rights. Still, in terms of legal protection, there is rarely anyone who fights for this. But if we look at the trend now, there is hope. Now if someone discriminates against a transgender woman on social media, people will defend the transgender woman. Some sex workers now come out to talk about their experience openly and get praised by the public. I think society is changing.


Besides legalizing sex work, we don’t even have the legalized same sex marriage, which seems easier to achieve. Do you think this affects transgender women as well?


A study from Transgender Europe under the Trans Murder Monitoring Project has found that a transgender person is killed every 72 hours across the world. This is the result of gender-based hatred. For same sex marriage, some homosexual couples have been together for decades but if their parter gets into a serious accident, they cannot even visit the partner in ICU. They cannot say goodbye to their loved one. The possessions they have together are confiscated despite the fact that they have earned them together from love. Another example is sexual assault. In the past when a transgender woman was raped and went to the police, they would be laughed at, and asked ‘what did you do to the guy first?’ The law also recognized that sexual assault can only be committed between men and women, but now the law has been changed to between two persons. Gender is removed altogether so we don’t have to depend on vague interpretation. 



What is Sisters Foundation focusing on now?


We advocate in every way we can. Our focus is at two levels: the policy level and individual level. The latter is about creating an understanding for transgender people about what welfare they are entitled to. It’s super unfair that everyone pays taxes but only us who don’t get welfare. Society must understand and accept transgender people.


Now I’m focusing on the project ‘Trans Win.’ We send food supplies for transgender women who’ve been out of work for two years or more. We try to send words of encouragement, embrace them, and give them advice. I try to tell them to be realistic that Pattaya will never be the same again. Some have been showgirls all their lives so they’re worried about what to do next. We try to help create positivity. Now I’m creating makeup and cooking tutorial videos for them. I don’t expect them to get a job out of this. I just want to keep their spirits high, and forget all this madness for a while. Mental health comes first.


Which governmental organization should actually be doing this job?


I don’t know, really. I just know that the pandemic doesn’t discriminate between gender nor sexuality. A lot of transgender women in Pattaya got infected and when they went to a field hospital, there’s a problem when the staff don’t know whether to put them into a male or female ward. Transgender women are not comfortable being put in the male ward. We should have welfare for transgender people such as free hormones. Most people don’t know that lacking hormones affects a transgender person’s physical and mental health; it can cause depression to the point of suicide, not to mention osteoporosis. We pay taxes, we should get welfare in return.


Is it still a long way to go in building understanding about transgender women?


We worked with UNDP to provide gender sensitivity training for police officers especially on the arrest of transgender women. They can’t just see every transgender woman and arrest every one of them, or else it also affects tourism. Some of my transgender women friends don’t want to go walk in Pattaya at night, for fear of getting arrested. And there are things people don’t see; migrant transgender women who are sex workers cannot access COVID testing at all. There is a saying that ‘kathoeys are the same’ but we are not the same. Some migrant transgender women are tested positive for HIV but they cannot access free medication. So I support them not because I pity them, but because they are human beings.


What is the next step for Sisters Foundation?


What we are doing and have alway done is being more than a health care center for transgender women, we care deeper to the level of wellbeing. We focus on day to day needs and lifestyles more than policy. So we focus from community level to national level since changing policies need those data and information to support. There are more things to do, more to fight for.


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