The Warm Heart Way How do you enter a community to “do good”? How do you know what needs doing? How do you convince people who have been promised the world – and gotten nothing – to believe you? How do you convince them that you can help them – but only if they take responsibility for the opportunity being offered? Here in Phrao, one of the poorest districts in northern Thailand, these are not idle questions. A third of the population lives on less than 75 cents a day. Four dentists serve 54,000 residents. Many of the Hill Tribe villages see a doctor once a year and are cut off from medical care during the rainy season. During the dry season there are no jobs for thousands of agricultural workers. Kids see no opportunities at home and leave for the cities in their teens. But with just a sixth grade education, they do not have a chance. Still, the little they earn is a boon for the families they have left behind. Without them, Phrao stagnates; when they return, it is too often because they are unable to work any longer because of HIV/AIDS or occupational injury. It’s a vicious cycle – no hope for the future and no investment in the future create the self-fulfilling prophecy that Phrao offers no possibilities to those who want to get ahead. What would you do? Where would you start? Who would you talk to? Warm Heart exists to stop such vicious cycles. How? Warm Heart gives individuals and communities the tools to launch a productive, self-sustaining virtuous spiral that promotes individual development, community and cultural regeneration, and economic growth through entrepreneurship. Ask then Empower We started by asking questions and listening to the answers. We asked village heads and villagers, government officials, teachers, monks, the men who build the temples and the women who build the sewing circles. “What’s wrong?” we asked. “What’s needed?” We got the same three answers from everyone. They said, “Our culture is dying. We must save it. Our children are not educated. They must be. We are poor. We must learn how to start businesses.” When we asked them to elaborate, they told us about the vicious cycle they are trapped in and about the virtuous spiral they imagine. The vicious cycle “When a community dies, the heart goes first,” they told us. With no work and no future at home, the young people leave and there is no one to carry on the traditions. Identity is lost; individuals and families lose their sense of place. “Education in the villages is poor compared to the towns,” they told us, “our children cannot compete.” “Why stay in school?” the children ask. So the children leave for the cities where they take degrad- ing, unskilled jobs. “Because they leave,” they told us, “the farms and local businesses die. There is no one to work and no one to buy.” “People come home again,” they told us, “only when they are old and worthless.” The virtuous spiral “Do you want to do something?” they asked. “Revive our culture and languages. Make us proud again. If people know who they are, they will stay.” “Give our children a modern education,” they told us, “so that they can get good jobs.” “Teach us how to start our own businesses!” they said. “If people could make money here, if people had a good education and knew how to start their own businesses, they would not have to go to Chiang Mai. They could stay here. Our villages and our culture would live again.” “We cannot do those things alone,” we tell them, “but together we can do them all.” That’s the Warm Heart way. Warm Heart provides the needed spark – whether it is ideas or expertise or micro-credit – to empower people to help themselves. Warm Heart does not offer a panacea; Warm Heart works with the whole community through the entire life cycle of the community, just as our partners suggest we must. The Warm Heart way is not simply to break vicious cycles, but to ensure that new, self-sustaining, virtuous cycles are es- tablished that include everyone, the young, the old and the wayward, and that promote cultural, economic, per- sonal and social growth alike. Warm Heart Children’s Homes – Fulfilling Parents’ Hopes Children are every parent’s and every community’s hope for the future – and greatest source of an- guish. For the Hill Tribes of Phrao – Akha, Lisu, Lisau, Keren, Hmong – the dilemmas are acute. These communities, descendants of semi-nomadic peoples who only settled in place in the past fifty years ago or less, live in near isolation atop the mountains that ring Phrao. Still practicing a largely self-sufficient agricultural existence, they have been able to maintain at least the essentials of their languages, cultures and practices. But with the loss of mobility and the resulting problems of envi- ronmental decline, the Hill Tribes have come under more and more pressure from the lowlands. The cash economy has required people to leave the mountains for work; they have returned with drugs, alcohol and AIDS. Looking out at modern Thailand from their mountain tops, the Hill Tribe elders understand that there is no going back and that the only way forward is through education. But here is the rub: little if any education is available to Hill Tribe children in their own communities. Three months of the school year most of the villages are actually inaccessible because rains make the mountain roads impassible – and what teacher wants to teach in a mountain top one room school house with a dozen indigenous kids three hours from the nearest power pole? For children from the mountains, going to school means going down to the valley – alone. At age seven, children are sent off to board with strangers or in a “children’s home” run by for-profit operator. There is no supervision other than that of older siblings, no after school programming and no homework support. Not surprisingly, there is a tremendous, easily observed difference between the same children in their home village environment and in the “children’s homes” down below. At home, they are clean, dressed in clean clothing, well fed and actively parented by every adult in the village. Down below they are often unkempt, dressed in dirty clothing, unfed, completely neglected, and often in trouble with the locals who consider them a bad influence on their own kids. No one understands the dilemma better than their parents. They know what their children suffer down below. They know what conditions they live under. And they know that living down below under such conditions their children are growing away from their culture, as well as from them. But what is the alternative? Until now, there has been no alternative. Today Warm Heart is planning a completely new arrangement for the children of Khun Pang village in the mountains above Mae Pang where we are located. In time for the start of the Thai school year in May 2009, we will move every school age child in Khun Pang into the brand new Warm Heart Children’s Homes – 15 primary schoolers, 3 middle schoolers and 1 high schooler. Each Home, a boys home and a girls home, will be headed by a salaried House Mother who is from Khun Pang. And each House Mother will be assisted by two, salaried Big Brothers or Big Sisters also from Khun Pang. For children and parents, the Warm Heart Children’s Homes will offer the safest, most “home-like” living arrangement possible for the children. They will also provide salaries and social security for six villagers, itself nothing to sneeze at! Afternoons children from the Homes will participate in Warm Heart after school programs and will help with the organic gardens, orchards, fish ponds, piggery and biogas generator that are so important to feeding them. (These kids all live with pigs under their homes, so we expect them to teach us a thing or two.) Warm Heart Microenterprise Project Phrao is poor for all the reasons that desperately poor places are poor. A third of the people have no land at all; another third have too little to feed themselves. People lack jobs and the capacity to make jobs. They lack knowledge, skills, capital, credit, and, in many instances, citizenship. There’s nothing in Phrao to kick-start development. At least there wasn’t anything until Warm Heart. Phrao is not inherently poor. It has great potential resources and assets. The scenery is spectacular and the temperate climate delightful. The land is rich and produces a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, fish, meats and dairy products. Local artisans are skilled weavers, seamstresses, potters, embroiderers, bamboo workers and carvers. The operative word, however, is potential. No one in Phrao produces products that high value markets want, or ones that meet those market’s exacting demands, volume requirements, or delivery schedules. The Warm Heart Microenterprise Project is in the process of changing all of this. Already we have identified artisans producing items with potential in American stores – and have proved it to them by selling their products at huge profits! (For the Weavers of Wat Toongluang, for example, we have tripled their returns on their – and our – best selling product.) Now we are concentrating on three re- lated tasks essential to our real mission – using entrepreneurship to bootstrap grassroots development. First, we are developing our own products designed specifically for the American market that make use of local skills, but are not limited by traditional motifs. Second, we are reaching out to communities of the truly poor – the landless, the elderly, the HIV/AIDS infected, the Hill Tribe villagers – to help to start new microenterprises to make our products. Finally, we are aggressively expanding our marketing reach in the States with an online store and, we hope, a boutique near you! Of course between product development and final sale lies the problem of capital scarcity. The Warm Heart Microenterprise Project has its own difficulties raising the working capital to buy the inventory necessary to run a real business, but our partners have no capital at all! They do not even have bank accounts. Among the Warm Heart Microenterprise Project’s most important functions will be to teach our partners basic bookkeeping, establish accounts for them with us and extend credit through our own micro-finance facility linked to export business. Warm Heart Special Initiatives Hill Tribe Head Start The Hill Tribe children of Phrao spend their pre-school years living amidst extraordinary beauty and grinding poverty. Perched at the top of the mountains that ring the district, their villages are cooled by steady breezes scented with pine and tropical flowers. From their play, the children look out over a landscape of valley and range upon range of mountains. But their villages are also hours from the nearest town in good weather and are entirely inaccessible for months during the rainy season. These children live in virtual isolation. A nurse practitioner visits yearly. They have no regular contact with the outside world and live in a closed Hill Tribe community, speaking their own language and learning to become members of their own people. Illness and occasional hunger aside, it might seem like a romantic childhood well worth preserving. Village elders could not agree less. For the elders, there is no romance in poverty. As they see it, the village’s only hope is education. Their children must go down the mountain to acquire a modern education and then return to bring new knowledge and ideas to raise the quality of life of all. Warm Heart Children’s Home will make it possible for a growing number of these children to attend school in the valley while living in safe and supportive households. But even so, every Hill Tribe child who attends school struggles. Why? The problem is simple. The mountain children live in closed, homogeneous Hill Tribe communities without any contact with the Thai language or Thai culture. Then suddenly they are picked up and dropped into a Thai school. For the first years they struggle to learn Thai. For the entire time that they are at school they struggle with the Thai culture, society and history that shape every aspect of the curriculum and of their interactions with others, all of which are taken for granted by their Thai classmates and teachers, but which are foreign to them. Throughout they struggle simply because they started life in illiterate households and arrived in school an academic step behind their Thai classmates. Luckily, Warm Heart has a great solution to model. Decades ago, the United States faced the same problem and responded with one of the most success- ful, longest lived educational programs in our history – Head Start. We think that Phrao needs a Hill Tribe Head Start Program, and we have undertaken a pilot project in the Keren village of Khun Pang. Clinics in the Clouds Because their mountain top villages are completely cut off for the three months of the rainy season, village elders’ most pressing concern after education is emergency health care. Even in good weather it can be a teeth rattling two or three hour ride on the back of a motorbike to get to the nearest public health clinic – not a pleasant trip for an expecting mother with complications. Stories abound of straightforward emergencies – burns, broken bones and machete wounds – that ended tragically because it was impossible to get timely care. With the support of village elders, Warm Heart is exploring the feasibility of providing advanced paramedic training to Hill Tribe Head Start teachers and the cost of constructing simple one room “clinics in the clouds” for each of these isolated communities.