Growing Futures – Lahu Hill Tribes, Thailand

This program is empowering Lahu Hill tribes to be economically self-sufficient and resilient. This will assist them to repel and deter incidences of child trafficking.

About the community we are helping

The Lahu are some of the most recent arrivals of hill tribe peoples to Thailand from Burma and beyond. They have been marginalised in many ways not the least of which is the denial of citizenship. Even though many 50+ year-olds were born in Thailand, the bureaucratic process requires a minimum of two witnesses to their birth and these witnesses must be Thai citizens. Given the nature of village births and the fact that most of the people in the village have been denied citizenship, it is rare to find anyone who meets these criteria. While bribery is offered as a pathway for them, most cannot afford the “fee”. The reason they cannot afford the fee as well as many other basic needs is that as non-Thai residents they are not legally allowed to work and their travel freedom is strictly limited to the district they live in. This of course makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation, firstly because their work options are limited so the only employment they can get is very low paid cash wages from Thai business people who are happy to underpay cash labourers. Secondly, they do not have access to humanitarian services that other Thais take for granted such as state funded education and health care. Thirdly, parents are offered money for their young daughters. While $500 may not seem like much to Australian parents, to Lahu people it is an extraordinary amount. Traditionally Lahu girls often marry in their teens in any case so it is not a big stretch and the deal is often sweetened with promises that their daughters will work as maids for very rich Westerners, enjoy a better life and send money home to the family, or other similar stories. The reality is that most are trafficked into the sex industry and end up in the city. With limited understanding of the Thai language (Lahu being their first and for some only language) they may find themselves in appalling conditions forced to work to pay back their $500 debt (which of course they never do), sometimes addicted to drugs, and even if they escape they may not be able to communicate with the people on the street to find a safe place. See for more information.

Benefits to the community

Providing these enterprising and hard-working people with a means to create income and financial security has built their resilience and protected them from exploitation. No laws prevent these Thai people who have been denied Thai citizenship from breeding and selling livestock. The members of the community are self-motivated and have gained the required skills and knowledge within their community networks. What was missing was the start-up funding to begin establishing their breeding herd. Villages which are in close proximity can now share the bulls for breeding purposes and extend and strengthen the inter village relationships and Lahu culture.

How our volunteers are helping

An Australian family lived and worked in one of the Lahu villages to assess the issues and needs and work with the community to identify potential projects.

Current opportunities are open to volunteers with workable Thai language skills or a willingness to employ an interpreter. Accommodation can either be within the villages or in neighbouring Thai tourist accommodation.

This project is continuing and interested volunteers should email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with details of their interest, skills and capacity.