The Mirror Foundation is a Thai Non-Governmental Organisation, run by Thai and hilltribe staff, working for the social development of the community in general, and for the benefit of ethnic minorities in particular.
Based in the Mae Yao sub-district of Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, The Mirror Foundation commands respect from the authorities and local communities, and earns that respect through hard work and dedication to its beneficiaries. Mirror works directly with the hilltribe communities of the area, as well as running projects in Ranong province. It has an office in Bangkok, and works with the government to create, improve or change laws which are required to enhance the lives of those in most need.
The eBannok Handicrafts Project is run to empower local hilltribe women, giving them a safe environment to work, independent wealth, and maintaining the community. eBannok sells both domestically and internationally, using a variety of offline and online outlets to promote its wares. The goods range from clothing and accessories, to the best-selling clay whistles - handmade and handpainted. eBannok runs a machine sewing workshop and makes clay products onsite, employing local hilltribe women.View items...
The Hilltribe Children Scholarship Fund is one of over a dozen projects run by The Mirror Foundation. There is currently a lot of strain on this particular project, with many of our scholarship students facing an uncertain future. There are simply not enough funds to continue supporting the students’ educational expenses.
Many hilltribe girls fall into the sex trafficking industry to earn money to support their families, and many hilltribe boys get drawn into exploitative child labour work as well.
Just 5,000 baht (about $175) could send a girl to school for a year, and change her future. The scholarship programme aims to create opportunities for women in less fortunate environments, which in turn helps the community as a whole. At vocational school, a girl can learn about accounting, cooking, sewing and the tourism industry. Education empowers women, enabling them to pursue a more constructive career and lifestyle.
Without this opportunity to study it is likely that these students will have no motivation for the future, and possibly resort to using drugs or alcohol (a problem within many hilltribe communities). They are likely to be working long hours in manual labour jobs, for as little as 50 Baht per day (approximately $1.50).
The project (relies on your support) to create life changing chances that are otherwise unattainable to these girls and boys.View items...
The cultures of highland ethnic minorities in Southeast Asia are changing rapidly as the hilltribe people become more incorporated into the lowland majority societies. The Virtual Hilltribe Museum is geared to documenting these cultures and their changes for the world to see.
The Lahu grandmother in this picture tells the story. She is holding a bamboo container as she prepares to take part in a hand-washing ceremony to bless her village's new temple. But instead of dressing herself in the intricately decorated clothes of a Red Lahu woman, she is wearing a Spiderman t-shirt. Yes, the cultures of hilltribe people are in transition.
The Virtual Hilltribe Museum (www.hilltribe.org) has as its goal to document and make available for public edification the cultural transition of highland ethnic minorities in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand. The Museum focuses on both the traditional ways of life and the manner in which the hilltribe peoples have adapted and integrated with majority cultures. The project also hopes to attract an audience among hilltribe youth in urban environments throughout Southeast Asia and even America who no longer have the time, access or interest to receive the oral traditions of their cultures from elders.
The Virtual Hilltribe Museum is sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation's Mekong Sub-Region Project..View items...
Every child has the right to happiness and to grow up in a safe environment. Unfortunately, among the poor of northern Thailand, especially the hilltribes, this right is often not realized. The cities in northern Thailand are full of children who have left school as early as the fourth grade, to struggle earning money for their family. Worse yet, the extreme poverty of the region is fertile ground for those wishing to traffic women and children to wealthier areas of the country and the world.
You might not notice it at first - all the girls in the restaurant look like they might be the owner's daughters. That girl who is stocking groceries next to you might be just trying to make a little money after school.
And those girls hanging out in front of the nightclubs and massage parlors, even if they are...well, you know...they couldn't possibly be hilltribe girls, because the hilltribes have strong villages, right? Aren't the hilltribes firmly rooted in their traditional ways? Don't hilltribe families stay in the mountains protecting their children from the exploitation of the city?
Look again. See their slumped shoulders, their sad eyes, the heavy way in which they carry themselves, the look of self-consciousness whenever they speak Thai? The low-end labour jobs of Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and other northern Thai cities are filled almost exclusively by hilltribe youth struggling to make about $35 per month to help support their family. And while that Akha girl who just served you your fried rice is far from lucky, she at least, probably, is safe and has a choice to go home if she wants. And that makes her much luckier than the many hilltribe women and children who are exploited, trafficked and will never see home again.
Yes, in traditional hilltribe villages, we would not see youth being trafficked or exploited. But, as the Thai government forced these migratory people to become stationary and to farm one piece of fatigued land; as interactions with the material culture of the city became more frequent, turning relative poverty into actual poverty; and as the lack of education, vocational skills, ability to speak Thai, opportunities, Thai citizenship, knowledge and awareness of the dangers of leaving the village converged, the former safe haven of the mountains has become the source of endless stream of innocent people unprepared to cope with the unjust situations they are thrown into.
Sweatshops and prostitution are the high-profile exploitation scenarios, but seemingly honest work can become instantly become dangerous without the naive young people in the middle having caught the subtle warning signs:
Through a program of education about the risks of leaving one's community to work and projects to generate sustainable sources of income within the village, such as eco-tourism or making handicrafts, The Mirror Foundation is working to ensure that fewer hillitribe villagers in Mae Yao are forced to leave their community for work and those who do are prepared to do so.View items...
The lack of Thai citizenship is a serious problem facing hilltribe people in Thailand. Without Thai citizenship an individual is effectively a non-person; they are unable to vote, buy land, seek legal employment or travel between provinces. They are also denied access to secondary education and free government healthcare. Currently, about 50% of all hilltribe peoples who have a legitimate claim to Thai citizenship remain without it.
The process of acquiring Thai citizenship is a long and difficult one complicated by bureaucracy and considerable corruption. The process is further complicated for the Thai government by the tens of thousands of hilltribe people who illegally enter Thailand each year in an effort to escape the oppressive military regime in Myanmar. To gain Thai citizenship, one must prove that both he and one of his parents were born in Thailand. The lack of birth documentation in remote villages makes this restriction a compounded obstacle. A child who needs to prove that one of his parents was born in Thailand, must first prove that one of his grandparents was born in Thailand, and so on.
The Mirror Foundation has attacked the problem of Thai citizenship in a number of ways. At the most basic level, we help navigate people who may speak and read little or no Thai through this complex process. We also have used the internet to lead a vocal campaign against corrupt local officials and to compile a database of the nationality details of 2,000 local villagers so government officials can complete the process more quickly and efficiently. On a national level, we continue to lobby for more favorable citizenship laws for hilltribe people. To date, The Mirror Foundation has assisted over 2,000 people in acquiring Thai citizenship, and is working toward acquiring citizenship for the other 4,000 legally born Thai tribal people within Mae Yao sub-district who remain without citizenship.View items...
The Mirror Foundation assumes a wide range of responsibilities within the Mae Yao community. The Mirror Foundation enlists the help of the volunteer teachers to accomplish these projects. These are committed, dynamic individuals of all ages and backgrounds who choose to devote their time, skills and energy to the work of the Group. Most of the volunteers are technologically savvy and obtain information about the program through this webpage.
Thus far over 2,000 volunteers have already come to Chiang Rai to work on the Mirror Foundation's various projects in the area. A typical placement will last for 4 or 5 days, in groups of up to 50 people. The volunteers live with villagers for the duration, trying to fit in to the tribal culture as much as possible. Projects involve teaching Thai (the second language of the hilltribes) and English, helping the farmers in the fields, and entertaining the children with games and songs.
The rewards are numerous for both the volunteers and the children. Volunteers have a rare opportunity to learn about and form bonds within a minority culture that is misunderstood by the majority of lowland Thais and unknown to most of the world. They also realize new skills as they meet the challenges of a much more strenuous life and gain satisfaction from their interactions with the children. The hilltribe children living in remote villages gain an opportunity to practice languge with native speakers, derive pride in their culture from the genuine interest of the volunteers can use the volunteer teachers as positive role models during their inevitable integration into Thai culture.
Regular volunteer teacher trips occur monthly.
For more information, please visit our volunteer sectionView items...
The ICT Project and Bannok TV projects have been combined - The two projects work closely in so many areas, it was decided to bring the teams together, literally, under one roof.
The Mirror Foundation has one of the largest Internet presences within the Thailand NGO community. The IT Development Programme uses the internet to maintain a substantial online community for volunteers, to design websites for other NGOs, to raise funds, and to spread information about the hilltribes to the rest of the world.
The Mirror Foundation believes that the Internet is the most far-reaching, adaptable and useful tool for mass communication. The Internet is a voice for the underprivileged, a teacher for those willing to learn, a fundraising network for worthy projects, a market to sell local handicrafts to the world and forum for like-minded individuals who wish to exchange ideas.
From the introduction of the internet to Thailand, the Mirror Foundation has been exploring new ways of using its networking power to address social needs. The first year the Foundation used the internet to seek book donations and, to date, has received over 100,000 book. More recently, we have used the internet to campaign against corrupt local politicians and have compiled a database of census records as a part of our Thai Citizenship program, which local officials can access to greatly speed up the process of acquiring Thai citizenship.
Now the IT Development Program is at the heart of everything we do and has a wide variety of roles: to educate about and promote hilltribes and our work with them; to raise resources through the establishment of an on-line community; to establish and maintain a volunteer teacher network that will attract new volunteers and allow old volunteers to continue to make contributions to the community; to give information technology start-up advice and help to other NGOs and organizations wishing to establish an internet presence; and to support Mirror Foundation enterprises in a similar way, for example, www.ebannok.com, our e-commerce site.View items...
The Ecotours project has been developed to generate funding for our projects which are not in a position to finance themselves, such as the Project to Combat Human Trafficking. It has two arms - international volunteering, and ecotourism. Using volunteers to teach English language, and work on manual labour projects, is also a productive method to achieve our aims of educating the youth in the hilltribe communities. Ecotourism, in the form of homestays and trekking tours, educates travellers about the communities they visit, whilst bringing money directly into the local economy.View items...
During the last generation, tighter restrictions on protected forest areas have forced many hilltribes to settle at lower altitudes, abandoning their traditional self-sufficient agricultural lifestyle to become low-wage laborers within mainstream Thai society. The slash-and-burn methods practiced for thousands of years are not feasible on the small amount of land alloted each villager and knowing no other way, many tribal people abandon agriculture altogether or spend hours daily walking deep into the mountains to illegal fields.
In response to this problem, The Mirror Foundation has created the Agriculture Project to allow the villagers to use their land to regain self-sufficiency. The project stresses management of the land to prevent exhaustion of the soil, organic farming to protect themselves and the environment, and general economic development.
The project has two parts, work based at The Mirror Foundation and work based in the village. At the foundation, we are trying to lead by example by raising our own animals and organic vegetables. The village work teaches techniques of sustainable lowland farming and encourages the creation industry. Using the Village Fund from the World Bank, the Foundation is able to lend money to people wishing to start a business in making banana treats or raising pigs. The "interest" demanded on this money is to help other villagers do the same. Employment generated in this project is, for many, the final step of rehabilitation in our Anti-Drug Programme.View items...
While many of the programmes run by The Mirror Foundation deal with the problems caused by drug abuse, the Anti-Drug Community Network is the place, for many individuals, where the support process begins. Through drug awareness programmes and community activities, the Network employs the inherent strength of a village as a source of support for those wishing to embark on the frightening and difficult process of healing themselves.
Once an addict has committed himself to recovery, The Mirror Foundation arranges for transport to and treatment at a rehab clinic in Chiang Mai. The cost of rehabilitating one addict is 1,000 Baht, which is paid in combination (according to the circumstances) by the addict himself, contributions from the village and The Mirror Foundation.
After the addict has finished rehabilitation, he must begin the most difficult and risky step in the recovery process: rebuilding his life and re-integrating into the community. The Network assists by holding a series of counselling sessions for the rehabilitated addict and his family to initiate a reconciliation process. The Network also encourages the individual to join an activity-based support network of former addicts in the community. Finally, the Mirror Art Group provides temporary work for the individual through its employment project.
In two years, the programme has assisted three hundred people with the rehabilitation process. In the adjacent village, Ban Huay Khom, ninety percent of households were affected by drug abuse before the programme began. Currently, eighty-five percent of homes are without drug abuse.View items...
For many poor and disenfranchised people living in Thailand, leaving one's village to work in a risk-filled environment is not so much a calculated risk as financial necessity. Unfortunately, due to the poor communication infrastructure of rural Thailand, once the initial separation from the village is made, it is all to easy to completely lose contact.
Backtohome.org is a data center for information about missing persons in Thailand and the first step in creating a network of concerned organizations and individuals sharing information about missing persons.
There are success stories. The girl in this picture was taken by Social Welfare Services from her Akha village high in the mountains to study in Chiang Rai city. Her village did not hear from her for six years. By working with Social Welfare Services, we were able to track her down and reconnect her with her village.
Backtohome.org project is funded by the Asia Foundation.View items...
When The Mirror Foundation first arrived in Ban Huay Kom they noticed many of the older children were not attending the local school. When asked why, the children replied they stayed home in order to look after their younger siblings. The Mirror Foundation and the villagers met to discuss the problem, and it was decided that a day-care center for these children would be the best solution.
The Child Self-Learning Center is run on the principle that the child is a far better pupil if the desire to learn comes from within. The Center is a departure from structured lessons with a blackboard and a row of desks. Instead, the teacher leads a number of activities in which the child can take part according to his enthusiasm. The environment is one that encourages curiosity and allows the child to explore individual interests.
The Center is also careful to construct activities that will promote independence and pride in the children's Akha identity. Going to the forest to find food that the children then cook for their lunch is a common activity, one which teaches them skills for future self-sufficiency while reinforcing traditional Akha customs. The pride the children have in their traditional skills is evident when they take volunteer teachers, both foreign and lowland Thai, out to the woods to show them how it's done.
Funding for the Center comes only from the profits of the Voice of Earth Clay Workshop and donations. The monthly food bill for all thirty-six pre-school children is $145 US (about $4/day). Other expenses include basic materials such as paints and pens for the children's art activities. As Ban Huay Kom is not the only village that faces the need for such a center, the Mirror Foundation has plans to open a series of these centers through Mae Yao.View items...
The Community Music Programme is a fledgling project designed to help preserve and promote the musical traditions of the hilltribe peoples. From the spirit festival songs of the Lahu to the Akha children’s songs, there is a broad seam of beautiful and diverse music hidden in the hills of northern Thailand. The various hilltribe cultures are each rich in their own individual musical traditions, and music forms an important part of their everyday lives. Traditional hilltribe instruments are still used, but Thai and western instruments such as the guitar have recently been incorporated to produce a distinctly hilltribe sound.
The Mirror Foundation is currently recording and storing a vast array of songs and everyday sounds, such as that of milling rice, that are associated with life in the hills. Much of the effort thus far has centered around the adjacent village, Ban Huay Khom. Using songs sung by the children of the village, The Mirror Foundation has compiled material for one album of Akha children songs to be entitled “Songs Of The Hills”. The proceeds from the album will go to the development of the music programme, with future plans for organizing a tour of the talented Akha group from the local village. The hope is that as Akha children see their older siblings on the stage sharing this special music with the outside world, a genuine sense of pride and desire to learn the songs will be born within the children.View items...
The project has since evolved into the Ecotours project, which can been found by clicking here.
Tourism is a vital industry in Thailand and for many people the unique culture and way of life of the hilltribe people is a prime attraction. Capitalizing on this interest, many trekking companies have exploited hilltribe villages by making them into cheap tourist attractions while paying host families as little as 50 cents of a forty dollar trekking fee. In the end, neither the tourist nor the village--only the trekking company--benefits from this arrangement, as the village abandons that which makes it special and becomes an unauthentic diorama for tourists.
The Mirror Art Group recognizes that the lifestyle and culture of the hilltribes are special and that the penetration of tourism is inevitable. But we also believe that, if handled in a culturally sensitive way, tourism is a fantastic way for hilltribes to pay for their children's schooling costs while sharing their culture with the world. Furthermore, we believe that many tourists want to give back to their hilltribe hosts, but don't know how.
The Mirror Art Group Cultural Experience stresses taking an active role in village life. Hilltribe people are warm and welcoming--with just a smile and a willingness to help out any way possible, you can form true bonds with your host family in just days. By expressing a genuine interest in their culture you will also be giving the most valuable gift you could give, helping them rebuild cultural pride lost in the face of moderniztaion.
Trips can be of any length. One-week programs are available to learn traditional weaving or bamboo-work, but even longer stays are encouraged.View items...
The e-commerce @ ebannok.com project has been renamed, and evolved into eBannok Handicrafts project.
While it may not fit with most peoples' perceptions of a non-profit NGO, marketing is an integral part of The Mirror Art Group's work and vital to their continued existence and growth. Sale of handicrafts both at the commune shop and on-line at ebannok.com provides the villagers with real, dignified work rather than charity and helps to fund children's activities. Marketing the local handicrafts through the internet also raises awareness, both in Thailand and internationally, of hilltribes and the efforts of The Mirror Art Group.
The website, which has been running for 6 months, sells a variety of products, from traditional and modern hilltribe shirts to clay whistles, and even Jingnongs (traditional Akha instrument, similar to a Jew's harp). Although still in its early stages, an English version of the web site is under construction, and will soon be reaching a much larger audience.
The companion to the virtual shop at ebannok.com is the actual shop located on the commune site. It has been running for a year and never fails to delight visitors including such diverse groups as World Bank and International Labor Organization representatives, student parties from local universities, volunteers and representatives from other NGOs. The products have proved so popular that volunteer teachers often take the products to other parts of Thailand to sell, including Khao San Road in Bangkok. Feel free to stop by, in person, at our shop in Chiang Rai or virtually at ebannok.com.View items...
When we purchase something with our own money, we are more likely to feel the value in it. This is the premise behind the Second-hand Clothing Project which takes donated goods and resells them to hilltribe villagers at about one-tenth the cost of new items. While a shirt for 10 baht ($.25) may seem virtually free, the fact that it is not free causes the purchaser to feel a sense of investment and ownership in it, and we are more inclined to take care of those things.
The income from the programme is not large, but it is sufficient to offset the cost of transportation to the villages on "market days." Whatever income is left over is used to fund other small projects at the Mirror Foundation.
During the winter months, the temperature in the hills can drop below freezing, conditions for which bamboo huts provide inadequate protection. Each winter, the Mirror Foundation makes a special call for donated socks and blankets. This year, we were able to hand out over 7,500 blankets to villagers in the area.View items...
As the hilltribe society goes through a period of upheaval the highland people are subjected to numerous external influences which threaten to erode their cultures. Problems linked to drug abuse have left the communities weakened and demoralized, but just as damaging can be the daily interactions with lowland Thais. Most Thais are ignorant to the complex cultures in the hillls and refer to the various hilltribes by pejorative names like E-gaw, Maew and Gariang, names suggesting backwardness. In the face of constant belittlement, the hilltribes, in particular their younger members, become ashamed of their own culture, and begin to reject their rich traditions of music and costume for modes of dress and behavior more like those of the lowland people. Finally, Christian missionaries arrive and often persuade the villagers to abandon their ancient spiritual beliefs and customs, further separating them from their traditional ways.
The Video Community Project consists of two parts: the Video Community Archive and Bannok TV. The Archive is an extensive multimedia collection documenting traditional ceremonies, songs, customs, costumes, farming processes, weaving methods and hunting techniques. Bannok TV is a local-access station funded by the World Bank and broadcasting from the Mirror Foundation that informs the community about relevant issues. Using the archive, the Group makes educational documentaries for lowland Thais, allowing them to discover a beautiful culture within their own borders, and is the foundation for an on-line cultural archive of hilltribe life. Most importantly, this project allows the hilltribes to rediscover their sense of pride and identity in their heritage, essential elements in building a strong community.View items...
For hilltribes in northern Thailand, integration into the lowland society is inevitable and the generation currently coming of age will be at the focus of that difficult transition. Many hilltribe youth already show a faltering confidence (or even shame) in their tribal identity, abandoning traditional customs for those of lowland Thais or the West. The Mirror Foundation's Youth Network aims to restore pride in their identity while giving the youth of Mae Yao a support network and helping hand into adulthood in modern Thailand.
Like with all community-based activities, the foundation of the Network is in the village. Youths in each of the fifteen Mae Yao villages elect a president and vice-president to be representatives in the Youth Network Council. The Council also has a president and vice-president, creating a sub-district-wide democratic structure representing all the hilltribe youths of Mae Yao and grooming future community leaders to take active roles in public service.
The activities of the Youth Network range from Saturday computer, English and Thai lessons to large camps where complicated topics such as drugs, gender issues and sex education are addressed. Special projects also emphasize traditional crafts such as weaving and bamboowork that are prized by the outside world but thought old-fashioned by hilltribe youth.
The Network stresses building relationships with lowland Thai youths, including them in many activities with the goal of eliminating the misconceptions about cultural differences that have long clouded the relationship between Thais and highland ethnic minorities.View items...
The ICT Project and Bannok TV projects have been combined - The two projects work closely in so many areas, it was decided to bring the teams together, literally, under one roof.Of the many forces eroding hilltribe life, one often overlooked is the lack of positive media role models. While the hilltribe youth are bombarded with images of Thai "superstars" and idealized Westerners, the media coverage given the hilltribes is split between negative or pitiful news stories and tourism commercials for Northern Thailand. Seeing the need for positive media images of hilltribe people as well as an information forum capable of reaching the remote villages of Mae Yao, The Mirror Foundation created Bannok TV (www.bannoktv.com).
Supporting Bannok TV is an extensive Video Community Archive. The Archive is a multimedia collection documenting traditional ceremonies, songs, customs, costumes, farming processes, weaving methods and hunting techniques. Using the archive, the Group makes educational documentaries for hilltiribe people and lowland Thais alike, allowing the viewers to take pride in their culture or discover a beautiful culture within their own borders.
The programming developed for Bannok TV is not solely produced by the staff. Under direction from members of The Mirror Foundation, local youth have planned, written, shot and edited their a number of short videos in their tribal languages. Among the topics covered by these videos are village drug abuse as seen through the eyes of the young people and the sense of separation felt by the young people when observing the traditional skills of their grandparents which have failed to be handed down over the generational gap.
Bannok TV has received funding from the World Bank and the Global Catalyst Foundation.View items...
Fifty-five hilltribe students are being helped by our fund, which needs around 300,000B (Thai Baht) to maintain them through a school year. Although we are able to finance the first term, we are searching for this entire amount in order to offer new students the chance to continue their education as well.
Our students are supported through to Vocational College, with a number going on to university to complete their entire education. Without our financial support, many students would be forced to leave school at an early age. This prospect leaves youngsters with a feeling of helplessness, and the danger of being exploited within the labour market, entering the sex trade, teenage pregnancy, and/or early marriage is greatly increased.
The costs of putting a student through high school (or vocational school) is approximately 5,000B per year, which doubles when the student enters vocational college. University fees are relatively low compared to vocational college.