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?

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