I'm currently in Chiang Mai, getting ready for some trekking, but it seems all-too-common here. With such an influx of travllers doing the same thing, I want my footprint to go the right direction in helping, not exploiting hill tribes, elephants, the environment, et cetera. If this means I have to skip trekking altogether, so be it. Whilst reading some of Paul's entries, I came across a reccommendation to trek with the Mirror Art Foundation out of Chiang Rai. Another group, the Akha Heritage Foundation is pretty antagonistic and had written that MAF is condescending towards the Akha people:
"...noting comments from staff in the early years tended to illustrate this. Both Thai and western staff seemed to have the erroneous and depressing attitude that Akha culture was 1. Inferior to Thai culture. 2. That all Akha people were just dying to be Thai. 3. That the Akha are incompetent 4. What is "human rights"? In other words there is not much mention of the human rights situation that is creating extreme problems for the Akha in the area. Even the killings of Akha and other tribe people near to the Mirror Art Group are not protested by the Thais, and if so, certainly not sufficiently, which would give more an impression of patronizing relationship."
On another note, they seem to be criticizing the goverment's general treatment of the whole of Thailand:
"... Oliver Jufer, a Swiss man, was arrested and charged with insulting the King of Thailand for painting over pictures of the King. Charged with "Lese Majeste", he is now waiting sentencing.
The case is a classic reminder that the King and Queen of Thailand are above the law, above criticism, and do not give the people of Thailand the freedom to express what they really think or demand the democracy they deserve. Most of Thailand is subservient to who ever is pushing them around at the time. Thaksin calling for the killing of anyone put on a black list, the Army taking over the country, a history of many bloody coups and the murder or disappearance of large numbers of protesters or students. All during the King's rule.
Born in the United States, the King of Thailand would not allow his own people the freedoms he would enjoy in a western democracy. He generally remains silent during brutal oppression imposed by police or army. Both organizations operate without transparency and are particularly brutal to the hill tribe peoples. Add to this that the Queen's Royal Projects are directly involved in confiscating Akha lands, a case now at the UN for two years.
In Thailand there becomes a great air of impunity for the violation of the rights of the people.
As historic hatred of Monarchy's grow, the least of a Royal's worries will be getting the likeness of one's head painted."
If you're still reading at this point, my question(s) are, bearing in mind that I have been in Thailand for only a month, and am not even close to grasping the culture:
1. Is the AHF group just sort of spinster group, or are they making valid points regarding MAF?
2. Who/how/where should one trek with, and should one avoid going to see hill tribe peoples? Is this exploitive and damaging, or are there legitimate ways of interacting on a genuine level?
3. Is the ciritcism of the monarchy by AHF really overboard and biased, or are they raising valid points that are relevant and need addressing?
Any help would be much appreciated - I wish I had more time to research, stay, integrate, understand, but I'm kind of just stumbling through this like everyone else on a quick schedule...
MacK the Knife"When love beckons to you, follow him, though his ways are hard and steep" - Gibran