Photograph of green hilly landscape in Chiang Rai province, ThailandView from the Hmong village of Ban Thung Na Noi, near Chiang Khong, Thailand

All eyes on Thailand

Two scholars reflect on an important summer in Chiang Rai

Over the summer, Crystal Lee and Lisa Thao spent eight weeks in Thailand as Mary T. Scholars from CEHD. In Chiang Rai province, they partnered with a local nonprofit on issues of early marriage, teen pregnancy, and human trafficking. They wrote grant proposals, led focus groups, and organized anti-trafficking campaigns at the Center for Girls in Chiang Khong near the Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar borders.

Thao, ’18, just completed her dual master’s degree in social work and public policy. Lee is a doctoral student in the higher education program in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Both are Hmong, and they worked in several predominantly Hmong villages whose residents are still considered an ethnic minority in Thailand.

Crystal Lee and Lisa Thao

“It was truly community development,” says Lee. “Lisa and I had to be the mediators and really educate the Center for Girls on Hmong culture.”

In late June, a cave near Chiang Rai became the scene of worldwide attention when a boys’ soccer team was lost and a search and rescue team deployed. Lee and Thao watched as the country was swept up in the news coverage.

For Thao, watching people react to the news affirmed what she already knew about the community’s close-knit bonds and positive attitudes.

“The country itself is very optimistic,” says Thao. “Keeping that sense was really helpful.”

Lee notes that the team’s coach and some of the boys were also ethnic minorities, a detail that sparked discussion in their local communities but the media didn’t emphasize. The team’s eventual rescue was a moment of relief and celebration all over the country, including their partner villages, says Lee.

“I could see that they’re so proud to be Thai.”

The Mary T. Scholars program has funded 20 professional internships all over the world since its founding in 2014. Named for local humanitarian and alumna Mary Tjosvold, ’64, ’75, the program engages graduate students in international community-based work.

Learn more about the Mary Tjosvold Fellowship in Community Development.

Story by Ellen Fee | Photos courtesy of Crystal Lee | Winter 2019