The Akha Heritage Foundation - www.akha.org
Akha Human Rights - Akha University
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About The Akha Heritage Foundation
Founded in 1991, the Akha Heritage Foundation is a not-for-profit, non-religiously or politically affiliated, grassroots organization working in northern Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and China. We are dedicated to working in partnership with the Akha to improve their lives.
The Akha Heritage Foundation seeks to defend the human rights and culture of the Akha people and promote self determination for the Akha while assisting with nutrition, medical and educational needs. We believe that the security and well-being of Akha communities must take priority over "development" by outside interests.
The Akha Heritage Foundation accomplishes its goals by:
- On-the-ground monitoring and photography of human rights situations
- Mobilizing support through North America and Europe using photography
- Supporting sustainible, economic opportunities for the Akha
- Direct response to Akha villages - results based activism
Here we discuss how this organization started, and on what ideals and hard work it has come to be be based upon today. This should also help you to understand how things are currently running, and why every little bit of aid is important to us.
In 1991 I located in the small northern Thai -Burmese border town of Maesai, Chiangrai to persue an export business selling glass beads and other interesting ware. But I rapidly came in contact with the Akha from Burma who suffered badly and needed first aid care. I began to learn the language and visited villages in both Burma and Thailand. The Ahka customs and language were pleasant to me and I was startled at the efforts of missionaries to villainize and destroy their culture. In 12 years I have seen the wealth of the missioaries who worked in these same regions increase to be worth millions of dollars (suppose to be helping the Akha, not themselves) while the conditions in the villages have not gotten so much better and in many cases have gotten far worse. Many Akha have died for the lack of human rights or care that these stolen funds would have paid for as the donors had hoped. Over the years I worked very hard to impress on the Akha the deceptions and coercion that the missionaries were using and that contrary to what they were being told, their culture was very valuable.
As my work increased the time I had to run a business decreased and I eventually had to make the choice between having an income or helping the Akha. I gave my business up. For many years I struggled to get to the villages, create Akha books and purchase first aid supplies. Many times I went without food or only ate once a day, walking 15 and 20 kilometers up a mountain, sometimes carrying a heavy computer. I saw Akha adults and children die from tragically lacking care at hospitals.
Many of my experiences I recorded in Maesai: Tales, Fables, Lies and Legends of the Golden Triangle.
Motorbikes got me around for many years until I was finally able to buy a truck. This radically changed my work, or allowed me to work more, not sure which, but in the end I wondered how I ever survived on the motorbike for so many years.
Now I might mention to my wife how not so far from where the road was here or there I had once gotten stuck and had to pay some Akha to help me drag the motorbike back up the mountain in the oppressive humidity, one time laying down in a creek with only my nose sticking out in order to cool off.
Learning the language was difficult. Language or no, I spent many a night scattered over Thailand and Burma in the cool shades of brown and the warmth of friendship in an Akha hut for the night, wrapped in fog, shrowded from time, memory, and place far up on the mountain. To understand the Akha a little bit is to have been to these places before the Thais came stomping up there with all their toys and laws.
The Akha then and now seldom ask anyone for anything but to be left alone to be who they are.
The years passed, I built wells, helped the Akha assemble books, bought thousands of dollars worth of first aid medicine, and increasingly discovered the causes of Akha grief. I continue to challenge those causes to this day and the people who conceal them with lies, deceptions and half truths. Videos, articles and international attention to the Akha plight have been achievements that continue to put pressure on those who would profit from taking away Akha land, lives, children and hope while living the good life.
About our location
We live and work in the majestic mountain range of the Chiangrai Hua Mae Kom region. Our road access maps are broken up into 15 districts totaling more than 300 villages which are located as far away as Chiangmai. Mountain roads are rough and time consuming. The region has long had a reputation of drug trafficking going back to the days of Air America, the CIA, KMT and shady missionaries making use of hill tribe networks. Opium was grown in this region till late, giving it the name "Golden Triangle". There are many areas of dense original jungle, and many areas of recovering jungle. In some cases there has been the planting of non native pine done by the well intentioned forestry department.
Villages can be found situated in low lying hills or steep and rugged mountain areas. Small creeks contain local fingerlings, crabs, frogs. Larger animals may be small barking deer or wild boars. July to September is the main rainy season that causes either mountain side rice or rice grown in lush terraces to flourish. 30 kilometers will take you to a town with a clinic, basic services and maybe even internet, much changed since 12 years ago. Local population can be hill tribe, Thai, Thai Yai (Shan) or Chinese Haw. Mountain tops are often covered in oaks and tall elephant grass and mountain sides in dense jungle of bamboo and many other species. Rains make treking humid, trails slippery and support lots of insects including mosquitos. However malaria is not common in Thailand. Rural roads take you by villages with thatch houses and peasant style living where as the main roads will take you to super highways, large cities and airports.
Copyright 1991 The Akha Heritage Foundation