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The trash dump talks in Mae Sot, Thailand

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Evolutionize It

on 7 August 2013

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Transcript of The trash dump talks in Mae Sot, Thailand

The trash dump talks
Who am I
Social Innovator
Background to the talks
Invited into conversation
Meetings with the Community head-men
The Way out
Next Steps
Letter for visitors
Observations &

Leaders at the Mae Sot trash dump committed to community peace, welfare, equality and consultation
--> Work with the leaders, not with random families
Little general knowledge about health issues
--> Health education is needed, including practical protective actions to take
Willingness to help themselves
--> Invest in the community’s own livelihood ideas (pigs)
Women and youth not represented
--> Involve both women and men in health education
--> Involve women and youth in facilitated dialogue
There is a desire to eventually go back home
--> Facilitated community dialogue can help families learn to think thru complex resettlement issues
Presented by
Christina Jordan
7 August 2013
@ Rotary Club North
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Background Photo
by Jeffrey Warner

Who am I
Background to the talks
What the community leaders said
Observations & recommendations
Next steps & Immediate crisis
Christina Jordan, American born
27 years living outside of the US
25+ years in international development aid
(UN, consulting companies, NGO, charity initiatives, my own organizations)

Ashoka Fellow
(global network of recognized social innovators)
Passion for finding better ways of achieving social justice
Influencing the International Development aid system
--> Inclusion & accountability to beneficiaries!!
Experience involves:
Internet for development
Women’s empowerment
War affected families

Events, Dialogues & Collaborations
For whom:
Social innovators, companies, communities
This is how I
sometimes earn money
Life in Africa (Uganda)
socio-economic development for war affected families
Evolutionize It (Belgium)
supports collaborative events, dialogues & projects
Ci2i Global (International)
An institute for the study of collaborative ways to achieve social impact

99 Ashoka Fellows in Thailand
in Chiang Mai, Thailand since
July 2012
I start organizations that aim for social impact
Proposed a 3 step process
Research visit (mid June 2013)
Invited into informal group conversations about helping the trash dump community in Mae Sot
Coordination among orgs working there appeared difficult
Many ideas, but needed more info to make good decisions for action
Personal experience regarding effective development:
talk WITH, not just ABOUT
1. Research thru interviews with organizations working at the dump
2. Community dialogue (community talking to each other)
Develop a community position on their own development needs
Develop an agenda for discussing with external stakeholders
3. Stakeholder dialogue (involving organizations with an interest there)
Informational discussions:
(child protection)
Mae Tao Clinic
(health care)
Burmese Migrant Teacher’s Association
The Best Friend Library
Eyes to Burma
First visit to the dump:
Introduced to 1 of 3 community leaders, by a founder of The Best Friend Library
specific mention of photography concerns
difficulty communicating directly with visitors & donors
inequality/conflict introduced by donors favoring certain families
they were happy to be there in spite of the toxic environment
Community make-up
Multi-ethnic: Burmese, Karen, Shan, Chin, Pao
115 families: 90 adults, 127 children
48 houses in 3 main community areas
separate community of recycling factory workers nearby
Community dialogue idea
Favorably welcomed,
but later ....
the other head-men had some questions
stated concerns about visitors disrupting their lives, and treating them with indignity
"We are not animals in a zoo."
Step 1b

Acknowledge and show respect to the local leadership structure.

Our side:

me, a photographer, a monk, a translator
Gifts from abroad
craft items made from recyclables (by displaced Ugandans working/living at a stone quarry)
demonstration of a smokeless wood burning stove
Photography Issues
10 “No Photography” signs
A photographer to listen to their concerns,
A photography project with fundraising potential
Ideas for communicating (better) with visitors & organizations
including but not limited to a facilitated dialogue
ideas the headmen could move on themselves
Their side:
3 head-men, 1 teacher, 5 observers
Uzaw (Chin tribe, 20 yrs, former farm hand);
Yishwe (Karen tribe, 4 yrs, firewood collector)
Myint (Burmese, 10 yrs, general laborer)
A pre-drafted letter

that was read/translated to us
A comment (re-stated several times)
that nobody had ever sat down and asked them to discuss their own issues & ideas.
27-28 July (4 hours + 2 hours)
What they said
Letter from the headmen ~
Why we live here at the dump

What they said
On aid delivery
What they said
1. Work
here we have a job (50 bhat/day each)
Going back to Burma is complicated and expensive
No jobs in Burma even if we could go back

2. Access to health care
Mae Tao Health Clinic better than health care in Burma, and it’s free
Two numbers to call for a free ride if someone is sick (Eyes to Burma + one other)

3. Family death benefits
Families get help with burial in Thailand
In Burma we have to cover all expenses
Visitors usually take pictures without asking permission. Feels uncomfortable.
Families at the dump don’t have cameras, so would like copies of the photos. People take photos and then never come back.
On the photo-book project - Opportunity to tell their own story. Will ask families at the dump for comments on the photos.
No cameras signs - would consult with the community about posting them.

When visitors speak to and/or target assistance to only a few families, it introduces division & resentment in the community.

In early July, Eyes to Burma recognized a conflict and asked (for the first time) for community input on how to distribute food aid
--> in case of insufficient supplies, priority will now be given to 16 families with very old people.
Village secretary has a notebook with a list of community residents where gifts are recorded. The aim of this system is to ensure equality of distribution.
On aid priorities
What they said
Education is of primary importance,
Parents cannot afford to send the children to school when there is not enough to eat.
Children are needed at the dump working in order to feed the families.
once received and eaten, is quickly gone.
dependence on ongoing charity.
GROWING FOOD is not possible at the dump.
Increased income would make it possible to


send the kids to SCHOOL

could be a viable option
1-2 pigs per family OR a group project (to work out with the community)
1200-1500 Bhat for a piglet --> 4000-4500 Bhat 6 months later

recycle the investment
profit buys food
pigs like garbage
police won’t chase pigs through the garbage
rearing pigs is very common knowledge in Burmese culture
proof of concept: a few families already have pigs
Photo-book collaboration
(Community dialogue)
Headmen to draft it in burmese
Policy/request regarding photography
key people (w/phone numbers) for different kinds of assistance
Help with translation (Thai, english, french)
Letter to be photocopied for distribution as visitors come
Photographer to visit for discussion in early Sept.
Comments/reactions on photos to be collected from the community
Piggery project details to be worked out
My objective, not theirs!
(what we have to give is often not what people think they need!)

For further discussion next time:
Could lead to a report on issues that’s useful for donor orgs (and potential donors)
Could help community think proactively about planning to go home
Would be good to have input on challenges from women and youth
Meanwhile... a major crisis at the dump
42 families lost their homes to flooding on 28-29 July
The Best Friend Library
flood relief effort (Mae Sot)
Step 1:
Step 2:
Headman 1
Headman 2
Conversations with displaced Burmese people living & working at the trash dump in Mae Sot, Thailand
Full transcript