Monday, August 22, 2011

LSDP part 2

"Justice" can be a very hard term to define.  Most people think of "justice" as punishing wrong-doers, or perpetrators as we refer to them at IJM.  This is true.  But justice goes beyond punishment for people who commit crimes.  It also includes a concept that is hard to fit into a nice dictionary definition.  Since you know I can be wordy and less than concise, I'll see if I can force it into one phrase:  Equality under the law.

We were talking about the Law of the prophets that Jesus refers to in Matthew 5.  He says in verse 17, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."  The question is what is the purpose of the law?  In the context of the prophets and the crowd before Jesus, it's clear that Jesus is saying he is coming to fulfill the Law in a way that allows all people to be equals: men, women; poor, rich; sick, healthy; etc.  Turning the other cheek in verse 39 is about standing up to those who try to dominate you and declare in a loud voice, "I am equal."

That is the justice found in the Legal Status and Documentation Project at IJM Thailand.  

The people who are often the "least" in the Thai society are now rejoicing because they have the good news of Jesus and the prophets:  They are God's children, not a second-class people.  

Now, enough preaching.  (Finally.)  I want to share with you the rejoicing of the people and the graciousness they showed us last week.

Field Trip

Special thanks to Compassion & North Park Church
To the left you can see most of the trip through Northern Thailand.  The locations are not accurate, since many of the villages are up dirt roads that Google hasn't quite documented.  In addition, no exact addresses were entered in order to protect the specific details of the individual groups.  

IJM Thailand works in all 8 of the provinces of the Northern Thailand region.  In addition, we work with all 9 of the federally recognized hill tribes.  This trip stayed in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces, and we only met with some of the Lahu and Akha villages.

Now on with the trip!

 A.  First Stop:  The New Life Center

Building bridges is one of the core characteristics of IJM.  We know we cannot do this work on our own, so we seek partners everywhere we are.  In Chiang Mai, one of our close partners is the New Life Center Foundation. This organization focuses on helping ethnic minority girls and young women who are at risk for or victims of labor or sexual exploitation.  Some of the folks they help are in need of citizenship assistance.  IJM Thailand is proud to partner with this organization.

B.  Lahu Village in Mae Tang District

The first village visit was at a Lahu village in the Mae Tang district.  
Reviewing papers and asking questions
Each district is like a county.  Each district has a "sheriff" and is split into sub-districts, led by a "deputy."  We were honored to share a meal with the deputy for the sub-district where the village is located.  We ate a wonderful lunch prepared by the village church members, and then observed a townhall meeting in the local church run by our field staff coordinator and the deputy.  Each village has many villagers who do not speak Thai, so we had an interpreter working between Thai and Lahu.  The church was packed.  So many villagers here are still waiting for their application to go through.  The deputy was very kind to answer questions and help the people understand the process.  

Not only does IJM seek partnerships with other great organizations, we also recognize the importance of working with the government.  The rule of law cannot happen without those who enforce the laws.

C.  Akha Village in Mae Ai District

After the village in Mae Tang, we drove to the Mae Ai district, which borders the border of Burma.  After checking in at our evening accommodations, we drove up the hill to an Akha village for dinner.   The family whose house we ate in received citizenship after waiting several years thanks to IJM's help.  The husband was working out of town, but his wife gathered support from her neighbors to make a great feast.  The akha whiskey was a nice bonus. 

 D.  The Mae Ai District Office
As I mentioned above, partnering with local officials is important to IJM.  Many local officials suspect NGOs.  With many districts, IJM's work has given us a reputation as an organization that seeks to ease the burden of district officials rather than acting as a "tattletale," waiting for a wrong move.  In Mae Ai, in particular, we have such a good relationship that IJM field staff has a desk they work at to assist the sheriff.  Being a sheriff is a very difficult task.  A lot of shady folks seek to exploit those looking for assistance by charging outrageous fees for false documents.  This affects the process for everyone in the district and underscores the value of IJM in seeking justice for these folks.  

E.  Lahu Village in Fang District

This village welcomed us with a dance from the children.  Compassion has a project here, and IJM is looking at how we can get involved with assisting those who still need citizenship.  

F.  Lahu Village on the other side of the Mae Ai District

Rain wasn't enough to stop the warm welcome we received in this village.  And you can understand why:  IJM has already helped over 100 villagers obtain their citizenship cards.  In addition, Compassion is here offering the children educational, church, and community-building support.   The entire village came together to prepare for our visit.  Many people cut the bamboo chutes to use them as cups and serving dishes.  Others cooked the fantastic feast and wrapped the rice in banana leaves.  It was capped by the performance of man who is blind, but through his song, you know he can definitely see.  Before citizenship, he had to depend on others just to survive.  Just like in the States, with citizenship come other benefits.  Now he is able to receive government disability benefits that allow him to afford enough food to survive each month.   

 G.  Lahu Village in Mae Suay District, Chiang Rai Province

For the final village, we were able to break into groups and visit individual homes.  In this village, Compassion has a project, and IJM is exploring how we can help the people, also.     The woman of the home welcomed us graciously.  Her daughter was sick in her lap.  After telling us her story, we asked about her daughter.  She said she would take her to the hospital, but she's afraid of what will happen since she doesn't have any citizenship papers.  The point was hammered home once again:  Citizenship is life.  When rights are denied, an injustice has occurred.    

Without citizenship, the Law of the prophets is not fulfilled in Thailand.  Justice continues to be overlooked for these individuals.  Thankfully, IJM Thailand is doing what it can to seek justice for the people.

He Needs One More Than You

I ran across Proverbs 31 during our Thai Mother's Day at the Cheung Doi Church a bit ago.

It seemed fresh, like I had never read it before.  Maybe I was reading it with new eyes.  Here's the pertinent part:

4 It is not for kings, Lemuel—
   it is not for kings to drink wine,
   not for rulers to crave beer,
5 lest they drink and forget what has been decreed,
   and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
6 Let beer be for those who are perishing,
   wine for those who are in anguish!
7 Let them drink and forget their poverty
   and remember their misery no more.
 8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
   for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Speak up and judge fairly;
   defend the rights of the poor and needy.
 This is advice from his mom on how to be a good ruler.  It seems like a pretty clear answer to the question people often pose about people asking for money on the road:  "What if he just goes and buys booze with it?"

If he does, so what.  He probably needs it more than you. 

If you are a believer in God, then it is your duty to lead our churches and our country on behalf of the poor and needy.  That means no drink for you.

Next time someone uses that as a reason to not give a person some change, I'll encourage them to just go buy him a beer if they aren't comfortable giving him cash.  After all, it's biblical.

Larry James also posted on this a few months ago.  He's also been quoted as saying, "If I feel like I need a drink after a long day, you can be sure someone who has been wandering without a home could use more than one." 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Field Work: LSDP

Up to this point, I have not spent much time talking about my work with IJM.  One of the main reasons was that I didn't want to bore you with the process of learning new laws and discussing the detailed processes of seeking citizenship in Thailand.  After my trip to the field last week, I've decided that I have enough to make a blog entry seem interesting. 

First, I want to set the scene for my readers.  Some people have a hard time grasping the idea of citizenship work.  It's not really "sexy" work like rescuing children from brothels.  Also, with many from Texas to California, the idea of helping people gain citizenship can be controversial.  It's not much different in Thailand, except that almost half a million are legally entitled to citizenship.

Now imagine you are the person without citizenship.  You were born in the village, and your parents probably were, too.  You nor your parents can read or write.  You can speak some Thai, but your parents only know the language of your village.  For generations, you have farmed the land.  Most seasons you produce enough for your family and some to share with the village.  After the drought last season and the heavy rains this season, it has become dangerous to depend only on the land.  You realize you need to seek work.  But you face a few roadblocks:

Since you are not a legal citizen of the country of your birth, the risks must be weighed:
  • Legally, you cannot work.  If caught, you could be arrested or fined.
  • Not many jobs remain for uneducated people.
  • If you leave your district (county), you can be arrested and fined.
  • Individuals and government officials don't mind sharing their prejudice against your lot.
  • If someone tries to exploit you or harm you, a good chance exists that law enforcement will not come to your aid.
But your family must eat.  You meet a man who tells you that you can work in his factory and stay at his place.  The wages he says you will be paid will be enough to care for your family.  You quickly discover that this man is not as nice as he claims.  You work 15 hour days, 7 days a week, and you still haven't received a paycheck.  Or maybe the man is actually a pimp.  Once you get to "his place" you encounter prostitutes.  He threatens to turn you into the police if you don't start turning tricks.  Or maybe you are lucky and you find a job working construction, which as a woman is not unheard of in Thailand.  But one day, you are alone with one of your coworkers, and he decides to abuse his power and rapes you.  You contact the police, but they say, "You brought it on yourself.  What did you expect working construction with men?  What do you expect as a hill tribe person?"  No report is ever filed. 

As our director says, citizenship is not just a card; it's life.

Everyone has a home, but for many hill tribe people, they have few rights in their home.  Citizenship allows one the following rights:
  • To work,
  • To an education,
  • To healthcare,
  • To travel in Thailand,
  • To obtain disability benefits,
  • To purchase land,
  • and more.
Through years of prejudice, largely rooted in the lack of education, money, and different language, the social tolls on the people take place.  I was able to visit 6 villages last week.  In each village, the community leader shared about how the children and adults would be shy and have low self-esteem.  With the citizenship card, "confidence" is a word each leader used (in Thai).  In addition, almost like the apostle Paul who used his Roman citizenship to his advantage, a greater respect is given to a person.  An opportunity is not squashed.  And that's what changes communities:  opportunity and hard work.  There is no question they have the latter.  The former can be harder to come by.

After seeing how long this entry is already, I'll stop here with a challenge.  Picture yourself in your home.  You have lived there your entire life.  But now someone is saying you don't belong and that this is not your home.  What is the just outcome?