• 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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