By Christine Mackay
Jabusii is a small Lahu village perched on top of a knoll in the jumbled mass of mountains which make up Northern Thailand. The Lahu is one of the many hill tribes spread across northern Thailand’s mountainous region — Crooked Trails got its start in these communities back in 1998.
I remember the first time I hiked up to Jabusii, I was relieved to see the small hamlet of bamboo homes come into view after two hours of sweaty uphill climbing. The small community was both shy and wonderful. Memories of waking up on the bamboo floor next to the family hearth are clear, even 20 years later. Seeing my host father make a fire and the rest of the family slowly wake and join him in silence as the flames glowed in their dark eyes is one of my fondest recollections of my time there. We began working with Natural Focus to run small community-focused travel pro0grams in the area for the next several years, but it had been awhile since I returned.
That changed last year when I lead a group of 13 students and 2 teachers to Thailand to study human trafficking and community-based tourism. Unfortunately, human trafficking is a major issue in the hill tribes, and many young girls and boys are forced into the sex industry. I remember listening to a few students ask about where one host mother’s daughter was. When the mother replied that her daughter was waiting tables in Bangkok, the students looked at each other with knowing glances.
While in the village in 2017, we inquired about the needs of the community, and it turned out that due to changes in the water table and climate, there was little to no water during the dry season. I promised to look into funding that project. The 2017 study abroad program was such a success that the school asked us to repeat the program and double the number of students.
Working with Natural Focus, Crooked Trails is returning to Jabusii with 32 students and 4 teachers in May 2018. This time, during the homestay, the students will be working on building a new pipeline for the villagers. Students will also be meeting with NGOs in Thailand which are working to combat human trafficking.
It’s a wonderful thing to be working in the same community for so long. 2018 is our 20th anniversary and it feels like a birthday present to go back to Jabusii and help in such a meaningful way.
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