Thailand: Chiang Rai 2008

The Ayui Foundation

The Ayui Foundation is a non-profit organization based in Chiang Rai. Its mission is to provide practical support, educational opportunities and a safe environment for Akha hill tribe young people, who are one of the most disadvantaged ethnic minority groups in Thailand.

The Foundation focuses on three areas of disadvantage among the Ahka: access to education, lack of citizenship and familial social problems. We provided one year of financial support and continues to provide technical support to improve the governance of the Foundation.

This support included a review of current governance arrangements and ongoing assistance to improve specific areas of operations including strategic planning, contingency and risk management procedures and operating budgets.

The Akha people are semi-nomadic South East Asian hill tribe people originiating from Mongolia up to 1500 years ago. Today, Akha people live mostly in China (Yunnan Province), Burma, Laos, and northern Thailand. Their overall population is around 450,000 with an estimated 60,000 living in Thailand. Many of the Akha people who live in Thailand have fled civil unrest and persecution in Burma only to find they are not welcome in Thailand.

Many Akha, even those born in Thailand, are denied citizenship rights, which precludes them from land ownership, access to legitimate work, and legal protection. Of all the hill tribes in northern Thailand, the Akha people are least educated and most at risk from the poverty cycle. According to a 1998 study, the literacy rate in their first language (Akha) is between 1 and 5 percent and between 1 and 50 percent in their second language (Thai).

Other long term social problems include a history of opium farming, which has brought with it a legacy of drug use and trafficking, HIV/AIDS, child prostitution, child trafficking and abuse. While many hill tribe people have moved into farming other crops, there is still a stigma attached to the Akha people.

We provided one year of core funding to The Ayui Foundation (TAF) enabling TAF to:

Funding: $AUD5000 for 2008 and ongoing technical support on governance

The Ayui Foundation manages a hostel called ‘Baan Ayui’ which supports up to fifteen young hilltribe children. In 2008 there were thirteen young people, both female and male, aged from 11-17 living in the hostel with the two house parents, Tip and Lek.

The hostel provided a loving, safe and long-term home environment and supports the emotional, physical and social development of young hilltribe people. The focus of the hostel is to provide the young people with a chance to complete their education while living in a supportive environment.

All the young people attend school and have their educational and living costs covered. Additionally they have access to tutoring, mentoring and support. Local teacher –parent meetings were held recently and these revealed how well the children were doing at school. The Ayui Foundation is supporting the House Mother to complete her schooling, providing an important role model for the children (and supports the Foundation’s core belief that education can break the cycle of poverty).

Each week Sumalee Milne hosts discussion groups with the children. The focus is on exploring issues around gender roles, decision making, bullying and other teenage concerns. Important topics are openly discussed with the older kids ensuring they are aware and educated about HIV/AIDS, the sex industry, and people and drug trafficking.

Additionally the Ayui Foundation seeks out opportunities to profile the challenges faced by the Akha people particularly around lack of citizenship. The young people at the hostel are supported to navigate the processes of gaining citizenship.

As the Foundation is in the third year of operations it was timely to review the organisation’s governance. The organisation in the first two years of operation focused on raising enough funds to ensure the hostel’s viability. Moving into the third year the Foundation has secured a number of ongoing supporters and while financial security is still a major issue for the Director and Board there is ‘space’ to begin to reflect on other elements of the organisation’s operations. Therefore, recently indigo foundation has funded a capacity building visit to support the governance and management of the organisation.

This support includes a review of current governance arrangements and ongoing assistance to improve specific areas of operations including strategic planning, contingency and risk management procedures and operating budgets.

Mary Mertin-Ryan, a member of the indigo foundation Management Committee at the time, provided a catalyst for a review and to take stock of the achievements.

Mary held discussions with the Board, Sumalee Milne, and the house parents as well as some of the young people in the hostel. She surveyed the stakeholders and is compiling a report for the Foundation. Mary provided ongoing support to implement the recommended changes. Mary noted:

“the very small Board, and until recently very limited staff capacity, has done an amazing job in providing a wonderful home and a future for the Akha young people. Running on a tight budget and with wonderful supervision and support from the house parents, this has changed the lives of these children and raises awareness of the challenges of the Akha hilltribe people at a broader level.”

For more information on this project, please contact