Why Isaan?

Though Thailand is well-classified as a developing country, the difference between the rich and the poor remains a challenge for the country. A large portion (about 45%) of national income comes from the industrial sector, but only a small portion of the total population (less than 15%) benefits from this. One of the nation's biggest contrasts is between the area in the northeast, widely called the 'Isaan' region and the rest of the country.

Isaan (160.000 km2) is the poorest area of the country. The average per capita income is about $400 per year. 70% of the population is classified as poor. The overall population is about 21,5 million or about one third of the whole Thai population. Most people in Isaan are farmers (about 85%). Rice is the main crop besides manioc, sugar cane and to a lesser extent rubber. Silk production is an important cottage industry and contributes significantly to the local economy.

Despite its dominance, agriculture (generating 22% of the gross regional product) is extremely problematic. Rainfall is very unpredictable. The climate is prone to drought, while the flat terrain of the plateau is often flooded in the rainy season. The tendency to flood renders a large proportion of the land unsuitable for cultivation. In addition the soil is very poor, infertile from overuse and highly acidic, saline. Water buffalos are still used for farm work, but small tractors are becoming more common, while water buffalos are kept as status symbols. Farm implements are fairly rudimentary.

The region’s poverty is also shown in its infrastructure. Eight of the ten provinces in Thailand with the fewest physicians per capita are in Isaan. The vast majority of the rural population depends on dial-up connections. This results in slow service that does not adequately meet modern needs. Mobile phone or satellite connections are the only alternatives, although more expensive, they are unreliable and suffer frequent down-time due to overloading, heavy cloud cover, and rain. While main roads are satisfactory, roads leading to villages are often in poor condition and not paved, requiring a large or four wheel drive vehicle. Water is often gotten from wells or collected from rainfall in large ceramic jars. Villagers usually use charcoal or firewood for cooking.

Rural schools are generally less well equipped than the schools in the large towns and cities and the standard of instruction, particularly for the English language, is much lower. Many children of poorer families leave school after grade 6 (age 12) to work on the farms. Language teachers in the region often don’t have the necessary skills to learn the children a proper pronunciation.

Kids leave school at a very early age because their parents can’t effort to pay for their education. They start working in the fields or look for a better paid job in a big city, often hundreds of kilometers away from home. Seen their limited qualifications most end up in factories, menial labor, on-street hawking, and… the sex industry.

What is needed to yield sustainable healing is to arm the children of Isaan with sufficient education and professional skills - communication (language skills), computer, and vocational training - so that they can build a bright future for themselves and their family.