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.


  1. Justin, could you, if you know the answer, elaborate on why these hill tribes are "federally recognized" but not Thai citizens?

    Are they just basically left to their own autonomy much like Native Americans were in the US in the initial days of the Department of the Interior?

  2. Due to the government's acknowledgement that these groups have been in this part of the country for generations, the government has passed legislation that says they are entitled to citizenship. It's similar to what the U.S. has done with certain groups of people who came during certain periods of time: Vietnamese, Cubans, and others. The "federally recognized" is the definition the government gives for people to include in the hill tribe groups.

    Many of these people actually had citizenship before they changed the law in 1972 to take away "jus soli" citizenship (being born here). So now they are allowed to "reclaim" their citizenship.

    Due to how isolated they have been in the past, it has been difficult for them to take advantage of this entitlement. Does that make sense?