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 emphasise traditional crafts such as weaving and bamboo work 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.