The Situation in the North

The area between the city of Chiang Mai and the border to Myanmar is inhabited by – besides Thai people – different ethnic groups, e.g. Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Hmong, Karen and refugees, with different languages and often without proper citizenship and related legal documents. The ethnic minorities and refuges are often marginalised and extremely poor. Only a few of their children attend schools (it is estimated that approximately 1 million school-age children do not attend school). HIV/AIDS is the other key challenge besides the low or non-existing enrolment ratio of ethnic minority and otherwise disadvantaged groups leaving many children as orphans. Other children have simply been neglected or not at all taken care of by their relatives. 

Child labor is a wide-spread issue, as is child trafficking. The area in question was one of the main locations of the “drug war” of the Thaksin Government during which around 2.500 people were killed. 

Among the key problems of this area are: 

 Extreme poverty, especially among the hill tribes 
• Unemployment or under-employment within the current subsistence economy 
• Drug trafficking with inflows mainly from neighbouring Myanmar 
• Non-sustainable agriculture, namely the destruction of forestry through slash & burn
• Corruption 
• Prostitution and HIV/AIDS 
• Insufficient access to any health care. 

Within this socio-economic setting, many children and their relatives are forced to make a living through begging, stealing, child labor, searching for food in garbage bins and prostitution. 

Prior to the start of the School for Life in Chiang Mai, the project leadership had organised and implemented a 2-year pilot phase including social research in the vicinity of the school and discussion with representatives from local communities, ethnic groups, NGO’s, education and social authorities and the participation in community development activities.