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Akha Human Rights - Akha University
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Mirror Art Group
This is a LIMITED appraisal of this group.
The Mirror Art Group is located north of the Rimkok River in Chiangrai Province, Thailand.
It is located near to a number of Akha and other villages in a pocket area along the north side of the river and to the west of Chiangrai.
We have been asked for numerous reviews of this organization.
First we have to state that there generally are not many NON Religious NGO's working in the north. They are very limited. Especially when one takes into account that even some NGO's may state they are not religious but if you know the people and the funding orgs, they are in fact missions.
We wish this was not the case, because there is a great need for aid to the villagers and for greater mobilization for the hill tribe peoples.
Mirror Art Group has been in operation for a number of years.
Comments from volunteers were that the relationship between Mirror Art Group staff and the local Akha villagers was condescending. Articles in the press, noting comments from staff in the early years tended to illustrate this. Both Thai and western staff seemed to have the erroneous and depressing attitude that Akha culture was 1. Inferior to Thai culture. 2. That all Akha people were just dying to be Thai. 3. That the Akha are incompetent 4. What is "human rights"? In other words there is not much mention of the human rights situation that is creating extreme problems for the Akha in the area. Even the killings of Akha and other tribe people near to the Mirror Art Group are not protested by the Thais, and if so, certainly not sufficiently, which would give more an impression of patronizing relationship.
Mirror Art Group took on some useful projects, in their own right. One was a local TV station. quite expensive for the number of users, but certainly additional media in the area as well as a place for villagers to train and gain experience. However the Govt. had a big beef with this and shut it down, showing how stupid they are, as any such effort certainly took a lot of time and energy on the part of staff and villagers.
On the other hand a fabulously expensive web museum for virtual hill tribe seemed like a waste of money, in that the mobilization process for culture and human rights could not be seen. These are two areas of crisis for the Akha and other hilltribe. The result of such an expensive project should have been better self defense of culture, better mobilization of villagers on a large scale to document and report human rights abuses.
We do not have any recent data from volunteers as to what their experience has been in the last three months. Other than to say that there were significant disputes about control of data, money and direction of the projects at Mirror Art Group, and that villagers felt they didn't have sufficient say, and some of the villagers wanted some of the staff to leave do to conflicts with the villagers lives. In one case one staff member had a relationship with one of the wives of one of the villagers bringing a great conflict to that family.
We have heard it stated from others that NGO's always criticize others, certainly we have been criticized by Mirror Art Group. However this is not our same feeling. We are of the opinion that there need to be more involved ngo's who help train and mobilize the village people to protect themeselves, not to be dependent on the controls of the NGO. There is also the need for NGO's to network together much more than they do, and to promote good methods in their work with villagers.
There should be an effort at improved NGO function and accountability.
Villagers who gain from the experience will be the best witness.
If you have any additional comments you can send them to us. akhalife at gmail.com
Copyright 1991 The Akha Heritage Foundation