The Life Development Center (LDC) was established in March 1994 by Mr. Manop Yangja and Mr. James Fish in order to help vulnerable tribal laborers who were working in Chiang Mai city and the surrounding areas. During that time period, the Thai economy was booming along with the HIV/DIDS epidemic. Due to the strong economy, many hill tribe people, mostly young and with limited education, migrated to the city of Chiang Mai seeking better employment. Their lack of education imposed them to work in more dangerous work places such as bars, restaurants, gas stations, construction sites, massage parlors or the sex and drug trade. Inevitably, many of them contracted HIV virus and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

In order to combat these challenges, the LDC was established with the mission of helping this vulnerable population and preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs through education, training, and counseling. The LDC was registered with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security as a charity/non-profit organization and has been working as a humanitarian aid organization for over two decades. After the LDC had been working with tribal people in Chiang Mai for three years, many HIV/AIDS infected people occurred in different tribal communities. The occurrence of HIV among these populations is particularly problematic since they generally do not have an understanding the nature of HIV/AIDS or how to care for the victims. Due to this ignorance, HIV virus infected people are often being stigmatized and discriminated against. Seeing these needs, the LDC expanded its ministries to different tribal communities with different community problems such as illicit drugs, poverty, or gender equality related to contracting HIV/AIDS.

The LDC has mainly mobilized by partnering with different local and international development organizations and faith based organizations (FBOs.) In the past fifteen years, the LDC has reached more than 50 tribal communities with populations of more than 25,000 people in northern Thailand. In addition, the LDC also partially supports some relief projects in Myanmar. In our efforts to promote change we recognize the interdependence of our global society and believe that “involving people evolves behavior.”


LDC vision

Seeing vulnerable tribal people/underprivileged people having good living conditions, access to development opportunities, human rights, being spiritually saved and becoming economically self-sufficient in environmentally sustainable ways


LDC Mission

Developing vulnerable tribal people’s living conditions and environment conditions by enhancing villagers’ knowledge, competency, life skills, social accountability and providing/creating alternative sustainable development opportunities for the villagers



To help establish 2-3 community sustainable development project models and learning centers in tribal communities


LDC Objectives

* To promotes community sustainable development projects and human rights

* To provide technical and financial support to local communities.

* To provide and enable supportive communication for development and empowerment

* To help improve vulnerable tribal people’s living conditions


The LDC has been working on community development and empowerment, women and children’s development, poverty alleviation, and community health care and relief projects for over two decades. However, due to limited funding, we have minimized our projects, and we now focusing only on creating environmentally friendly incomes generating project models and learning centers in two areas are Pai district Meahongson province, Chiangdao district Chiangmai province. We also would like to maintain existing community groups and work through them. Many of them have been trained in different aspects of development and acquired support to implement the projects. Sustainability is a vital for all development organizations. Currently, the worldwide economic problems have halted the efforts of NGOs who rely on external funding while social and environmental problems continue to intensify. To maintain qualified staff and connections with local Christian churches over the long term, it is necessary that we create sustainable income generating projects in the communities. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to get support for sustainable income projects as most donors believe that donating directly to the hilltrbe communities need the support of outside organizations to implement the projects. The majority of tribal people do not have formal education, do not speak Thai, and some still do not have Thai citizenship or legal rights. Because of these, our organization is important for developing cooperation within communities and establishing the kinds of sustainable projects that will be most effective for each community.

According to the Thai government, Thailand is a wealthy country and an economic leader in South East Asian countries, while in fact Thailand is still an agricultural country. The majority of the population is made up of poor farmers with small and insecure incomes. The situation among vulnerable ethnic minorities in Thailand is worse that the majority of the Thai population, especially those minorities who live in remote areas where there in so social infrastructure, no regular transportation, and insufficient of land.

The founders of the LDC are tribal people and thus have a special connection to these minorities. But, we do not have sufficient support to survive as an organization. Without support we can no longer assist our people. The number of people in need is increasing, and we need additional funding to establish sustainable income projects and assist our people over the long term. With this in mind, our slogan is “we survive, they survive.” The LDC is working in three provinces in Northern Thailand along the Thai-Burma borders: Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Song, and Chiang Rai, helping hill tribes including the Lisu, Karen, and Lahu.


About hilltribes/ethnic minority groups in Thailand ( (

More than ten ethnic minority groups reside scattered throughout Thailand. Many groups are referred to as highland people or hill tribes because their villages are built on the mountains and hills. These ethnic minority groups include the Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Ahka, Mien and Lisu tribes. It is hard to gather official statistics about these tribal populations because the people are constantly migrating between villages and cities across the country, but  a close estimate of the tribal population is 1,000,000.
About 75% of the total ethnic minority population resides on the mountains and hills in Northern Thailand along the Thai-Burma border. These tribal people originally came from China through Burma, and then settled in Laos, Vietnam, and Burma. These tribal people are all unique; each group has their own traditions, culture and language. The majority of these tribes have historically earned their living by means of agriculture and livestock, but secondary sources of income can include household-based handicraft production and wage employment. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, these ethnic minority groups cultivated opium as a cash crop and grew rice, corn and beans for consumption. In the late 19th century, the United Nations required that Thailand and other Asian countries ban opium production. This forced the hill tribe people to find new sources of income.
The hill tribes are among the most disadvantaged groups in Thai society. Since most of them live in remote areas where there is no social infrastructure or regular transportation, they cannot access basic social services such as public health care, education, and employment opportunities.
Racism and discrimination are other problems facing hill tribe communities. The tribal people are often taken advantage of as a way for the government or other organizations to get more funding. The media often presents ethnic minority groups in a negative light in roles such as drug barons, communists, and forest destructors. This has constructed a very strong negative social view of these minorities and has led to racism and discrimination


The estimated of hill-tribes population in each provinces in the north of Thailand

Provinces Village Household Population
Chiangmai province 1,470 48,625 253,627
Chiangrai province 606 33,129 189,950
Maehongson province 648 21,770 115,018
Tak province 533 21,424 112,911
Nan province 301 18,736 100,494
Kanjanburi province 228 10,771 46,500
Lumphum province 68 5,616 25,970
Phistanulok province 54 4,768 23,899
Phetachboon province 79 3,069 21,927
Phayao province 55 2,856 17,565
Lumpang province 84 2,868 15,548
Phrae province 34 3,102 15,157
Rajburi province 61 2,838 13,316
Kamphangpet province 33 1,507 10,332
Phetburi province 32 1,838 8,530
Uthaithani province 37 1,451 6,623
Prajuapkirikan province 17 869 4,314
Sukhotahi province 17 782 4,108
Spanburi province 15 900 4,038
Supanburi province 2 237 1,293
Total 4.374 187,150 991,122


The estimated of each group population and education

Group Total Village Total Household Total Population % of education
Karen tribe 2,630-2,960 70,890-80,000 476,570-510,000 43-45%
Hmong tribe 260-290 15,700-15,810 126,300-128,100 24-26%
Mien tribe 195-240 9,540-11790 48,400-58,750 6-7%
AKha tribe 270-335 9,800-13,050 56,600-65,250 10-11%
Lahu tribe 446-531 15,400-21,200 85,845-127,200 11-12%
Lisu tribe 161-236 5,650-8260 35,600-42,000 5-6%
Total 3,962-4,592 126,980-150,110 829,315-931,300  

Source from Demographic and Social Survey of Tribal People, Center for the Coordination of Non-governmental Tribal Development Organization (CONTO) and World Concern Thailand 1999 page 11

Migrant workers (
It is estimated that there are around 2 million migrant workers living in Thailand, although only around 700,000 are registered with labor authorities. Many workers migrated from Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma). They form an important part of Thailand’s workforce, but the difficulties that they commonly face, such as language barriers and fear of arrest and deportation, can prevent them from accessing information about healthcare and other social services. For example, knowledge about HIV/AIDS among this group is extremely poor. Their migratory lifestyle can put them into contact with a higher number of sexual networks, increasing both the risk that they will become infected and that they will spread infection to other areas of the country.
At least 40% of tribal people don’t have Thai citizenship and are often victims of racism and discrimination. Because they are not citizens, most tribal populations do not have access to resources provided by the government, and they do not know how to access resources provided by other development organizations. The four main problems of the tribal population in Thailand are 1) poverty, 2) limitation of education and illiteracy, 3) legal rights or social status, and 4) restriction of cultivation.

1) Poverty problem  ( (

The majority of tribal people are poor. The average family’s annual income is around USD $600 – 1,200. This falls under the poverty line as defined by both the Thai government and the UN. Most families do not have the time or resources to support their children’s education, and many school children drop out and get involved in drug dealing and prostitution. A large number of youth from rural communities are lured to big cities to seek better employment and development opportunities. It is estimated that around 60,000 to 80,000 tribal people from Northern Thailand have gone to the cities to seek employment. Because of their minimal education and work experience, they can only get jobs that involve hard labor. The Japanese label jobs like this as “3K,” which is derived from hard, dirty, high risk and low paid work, or in English they label these jobs as the 3Ds—difficult, dirty, and dangerous work. This kind of work includes gas fillers, construction workers, massagers, dish cleaners, sex workers and waitresses/waiters.

Many young girls get involved in prostitution, either voluntarily or by being forced into it by human traffickers. Even worse, many of them are being sold and treated as animals. Thailand is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. Each year, 10,000 – 15,000 tribal women and children are sold into slavery in Thailand from neighborhood countries such as Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Republic of China, Russia, and Uzbekistan by human traffickers. Ethnic minorities such as hill tribe people are at high risk for trafficking internally and abroad.(Department of State Report Release 2000)

2) Limitation of education and illiteracy

About 70% of the total tribal population is illiterate. Only a portion of the younger generation has had access to formal education while the middle and older generations remain uneducated. Because they can’t speak Thai, the middle aged and elderly have had problems accessing social services. The Tribal Research Institute found that only 0.08% of all tribal students studied at the university level, 0.6% studied at the college level, 9.94% studied at a high school level, and 89.31% was only at kindergarten and primary school level. (Tribal Research Institute, The Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Tribal Student Education Report, 1995). Low education levels increase the likelihood of involvement in social problems such as drug addiction, drug dealing, youth gangs, sex trafficking, and diseases such as AIDS. According to the UNESCO global education ranking survey, Thailand ranked 60th in the world for percent of educated citizens. (UNESCO. The Leap To Equality Summary Report, 14 Nov. 2004 ADB also reported that school dropout rates in South East Asia are high; only 50% of enrolled students completed primary school within the prescribed time, and less than 50% completed secondary schooling. A large number of tribal students encounter various problems that cause them to drop out of school, including child abandonment, migration, lack of parents’ motivation, poverty, and parents’ separation. This information demonstrates that Thailand’s education standard and tribal education standards are lagging behind (ADB. Combating Primary School Dropout in South East Asia. Manila Philippines: 1998).

3) Legal rights or social status

The tribal population in Thailand is also facing problems with their legal rights and social status. It is estimated that 40% of the tribal population still do not have Thai citizenship, thus they have difficulty acquiring homes and land, receiving social services, and traveling or working around Thailand. Authorities often force villagers to leave their communities in the hills because the villagers lack citizenship and legal documentation. Without citizenship, tribal people are often discriminated against. University graduates cannot apply for a job without having citizenship. In many tribal communities, especially along the border, tribal people are being extorted by officials for Thai citizenship. Many tribal people who have applied for citizenship have been extorted by local authorities for 10 – 20 years.

4) Restriction of cultivation

Most tribal people earn their living from agriculture and livestock, yet less than 30% of the population has legal rights to their land. The forest conservation and national parks policies of the Thai government restrict land use in many areas occupied by hill tribes as villages or farmland. The villagers are forced to leave their own communities and farmland, or face being put in jail.

5) HIV/AIDS and other health problems among tribal people in Thailand

Tribal people in Thailand are exposed to many different diseases including HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. They also have health problems related to social situations such as illicit drug use, poor hygiene, poor water sanitation, malnutrition, and food poisoning.

5) Illicit drugs

The drug situation in Thailand is alarming, especially among the vulnerable ethnic minorities. Methamphetamines are widely spreading addictive drugs which are imported from Burma by the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The impact of these Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS) has reached critical proportions. ATS (known locally as YaBa, or mad pill) has infiltrated homes, schools, government offices, and factories throughout the country, leaving in its wake a mess of organized crime, lawbreakers, and broken families.
Most tribal people who get involved with drug dealing are arrested by the police or killed by drug barons, leaving their children and spouses behind.
Insurgents from ethnic minority groups in Burma are involved in drug production and trafficking. It is believed that all of the amphetamines smuggled into Thailand were produced in the areas controlled by the UWSA and RTA. Some sources state that up to one billion tablets were smuggled into Thailand in the past several years. The Thai government estimated that more than 3,000,000 Thais or approximately 5% of the total Thai population are involved in drug dealing. These ethnic monority groups are also encountering many other health problems such as HIV/AIDS, TB malnutrition etc.

There are a number of problems associated with assisting hill tribe communities: geographical isolation, land settlement or restriction of farming areas, migration, communication barriers, legal status/citizenship, poverty, limitation of education, etc. We at the LDC are from the Lisu tribe, we have a better understanding of how to work with hill tribes while maintaining their heritage, language, and cultures. We have found many worthwhile projects for several villages that will improve their quality of life, and we use the LDC as a gateway to implement those projects.



Agriculture and Agrochemicals (

Once opium was banned, the Thai government introduced a variety of substitute cash crops into the agricultural community. These crops depended on agrochemical products such as insecticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Agrochemicals brought new problems to Thailand. The environment suffered from the volume of chemicals poured into it each year. Farmers and villagers suffered from health problems brought on by exposure to poisonous chemicals in the air and water. Plants and wild animals faced extinction because they could not endure the prolonged exposure to these chemicals. According to the Food and Drug Association (FDA) and the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand, the number of illnesses caused by consuming agro chemically contaminated foods is increasing dramatically in Thailand. It is estimated that more than 100,000 reported illnesses are caused by agrochemicals each year.
Deforestation is also a problem brought on by the use of agrochemicals. The total cereal production in Thailand increased twice between 1961 and 2005, and the total land used for cereal production almost doubled in the same period; from 6,500 to 11,500 thousand hectares (FAOSTATS 2007). Using agrochemicals reduces the productivity of land, so to even slightly increase production, more land and more chemicals must be used. Each year, farmers must clear more land to maintain product yields from the previous year.