Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Clinton Global Initiative U features The Thailand Project

Perri, Quinnell, & President Bill Clinton
The Clinton Global Initiative has posted a new feature on The Thailand Project.

Click the link to check it out! http://www.cgiu.org/commitments/featured_commitments/thailand_project.asp

(Thank you, CGI U!)

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Next Chapter for The Thailand Project... (May 2011 Newsletter)

Dear Thailand Project Supporters,

Over the past six years, you have helped form a non-profit that works tirelessly to protect stateless children, youth, and young adults who are at the highest risk of human trafficking and modern slavery. The children that you have met, living among the mountains of the northern border of Thailand and Burma, are bright spotlights of a better future, but pawns in a game rigged with prejudice and bureaucracy. Having no citizenship from any country (stateless), they have little to no rights and are at great risk of exploitation. They are barred from Thai government-sponsored schools and universities, health care, travel, and in the future, a career without soul-sucking strings attached. The stateless population in Thailand is estimated to be 2 to 3.5 million (most likely, the largest in the world) and there is a general cloud of hopelessness among them. Too many generations have passed without change and too many promises of new policy have been broken.

The Thailand Project set out to alter this by sparking unprecedented access to higher education. First, we successfully petitioned the Thai Government & U.S. Consulate to allow two stateless young women to study abroad in the U.S. Through our scholarship initiative: "Higher Education as Humanitarian Aid", we were able to create a grain of hope among the stateless population; an example of new possibilities. But this was only the first step in a very long and arduous road. Our vision was to someday use the momentum gained from Higher Education as Humanitarian Aid to leverage a request for equal access to education for all within Thailand.

This past year has been one to step back and take a deep breath. We traveled from Mae Sai to Chiang Mai to Bangkok to New York City and then to Washington D.C., networking with Governmental Organizations (GOs), Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and experts in the field on statelessness and human rights. In these meetings we listened, brainstormed, and discussed the greatest needs of the situation at hand in order to create the most effective future strategies.

From these meetings, two glaring issues emerged along with two potential solutions to match:

CHALLENGE #1: Thai laws recently passed that declare all children, youth, and young adults have equal access to schools and universities. This is great progress, but these new laws immediately stumble due to the overwhelming lack of implementation. Stateless parents and children are unaware of these changes, red-tape and prejudice continue to prevent entrance, school uniforms and books are beyond what parents can afford, and military/police checkpoints continue to block freedom of movement.

There are also very practical "bricks & mortar" barriers. For example, Thai schools were built to accommodate Thai children. Many of these schools are at maximum capacity. The population of stateless children and youth had never been figured into the equation.

OUR SOLUTION: Using the momentum gained from the permissions granted through the "Higher Education as Humanitarian Aid" study abroad initiative, it is now time to push for access to education within Thailand itself.

From a United Nations (U.N.) meeting in Bangkok last August, an exciting new work partnership has emerged. The Thailand Project has joined forces with the Thai Committee for Refugees (TCR) to enact a strategic and sustainable solution. This project began after TCR engaged in discussions with administrators at the top level of the Royal Thai Govt. The Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Education, provincial and district authorities, along with Thai community leaders, came together in support.

Ban Rom Klao 4 School, located in the district of Phob Phra, will serve as the pilot location, accepting stateless and refugee children on an annual, desegregated, basis until the ratio of Thai and "non-Thai" students are equal (50:50). The success of this strategic pilot program will pave a path towards replication and expansion for other Thai schools in the border regions where access to education for stateless children and youth is most limited.

To preview the rough draft of this initiative, please click
HERE. The projected budget of this groundbreaking 3-year pilot is: $359,520.

CHALLENGE #2: Thai citizenship has historically been granted to stateless individuals on a case-by-case basis. This appeal process for basic human rights is full of catch-22s (How do you prove your birth if never issued a birth certificate?). Appeals can take as long as 15 years, and even then, there is a good chance that Thai citizenship will be denied. Representatives of the U.N. see the solution in wide-spread policy change, but statelessness remains a mostly unknown, under-the-radar, issue. Political support must be accompanied with public support if wide-spread policy change is ever to occur and public support cannot occur without public awareness.

It is estimated that there are over 15 million stateless people worldwide. According to an expert on the issue of statelessness within the UNHCR, there are roughly 20 humanitarian workers worldwide who focus solely on the issue of statelessness. This is a feeble ratio that does not produce confidence for any big changes in the near future. A problem cannot be solved if the world is unaware that it even exists.

OUR SOLUTION: Tuesday, May 23rd, 2011 will mark the first of a 100-day long documentary film production on statelessness in Thailand. We will continue to follow Aor's story as she works to complete her appeal for Thai citizenship and document our new partnership with TCR as we visit Ban Rom Klao 4 School and meet with the stateless children who will be the first to attend. Most importantly, we will respectfully document the voices and lives of stateless individuals who, until now, have never had the opportunity to have their stories be heard.

We will enter post-production in September with a completion deadline of May 2012. Our goals will be to make this documentary widely available for free on YouTube, enter it into festivals, and share copies with GOs, NGOs, international news/media, and institutions of higher education.

Statelessness is a solvable problem that demands urgent attention. Our hope is that this documentary serves as an important first step towards universal public awareness. (Projected budget: $9,580.)

Next month, we'll be updating you with links to our new website (!), non-profit YouTube page, summer 2011 blog, and our new non-profit Facebook page.

We'll be blogging and uploading videos all summer, so please, feel free to follow along...

Thank you for your continued support!


Joseph Quinnell & Susan Perri
Founders and Directors of The Thailand Project

Contact: info@thethailandproject.org