It started with a single seed planted between our partners in Thailand, Integrated Tribal Development Program and Starbucks Coffee (Thailand) as a shared vision for educating hill tribe farmers on best practices of farming. Practices to preserve the soil, the environment, and create economic sustainability for these farmers.  

 Barren corn farmed land in villages of Kong Kai and Mae Khee Muk Noi.

How Things Began:

In the predominantly Lu Wah hill tribe village of Mae Khee Muk Noi, the farmers had bought into the idea given by local food Distributors to stop planting rice, cut down all trees, burn their fields, and plant corn instead. These Distributors made promises that they did not fulfill  in regards to buying back the crops. Farmers’ destroyed the nutrients and vegetation of their farms leaving them without rice (not only to sell but consume and be fed.).  I.T.D.F. and Starbuck shared a common vision for empowering communities within this hill tribe, as well as, educating all farmers in situations like these on best practices of farming their land to preserve the soil and their land.  This was the start of a beautiful partnership of opportunities for growth, development in the journey of sustainable farming in the village of Khee Muk Noi and surrounding villages.  

Through this partnership with I.T.D.F., hill tribe farmers are being educated on best practices of farming, able to obtain micro-loans to start new sustainable crops such as coffee, bamboo, and bananas, as well as, replacing the nutrients of their soil and preservation of the land. These new practices provided renewed hope, a promising sustainable economic future and also preserve the environment. Currently, one farmer has 25,000 coffee plants on his farm providing complete economic sustainability for his family.  The partnership and vision have not stopped there as I.T.D.F. and Starbucks continue to listen to the voice of the villagers. In 2009, Starbucks funded a much-needed medical clinic and also a new preschool both of which were built by I.T.D.F and requested by the villagers. 

Old School to New School:

The current school the villagers were using was built in 1959 and truly only ever had up to 17 students. Over the years it struggled with regular and increased attendance as it was so far from other villages and too far for the students to travel to go to school.  In 2009, I.T.D.F., Starbucks, and the Ministry of Education entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to address the needs and requests of these farming families. Through this agreement, Starbucks funded the first pre-school high on a mountaintop above the old school giving easier access to more students of the surrounding villages.  I.T.D.F. would survey 5 provinces and 50 villages to determine the best possible location for the Education Center and then build it. The Ministry of Education would run the Education Center and provide the curriculum, uniforms, textbooks and teacher’s salaries.  Starbucks would also provide salaries for 2 of the 13 teachers 

The following year, in 2010, I.T.D.F. Water Project staff completed a water project for the school, followed by the Mae Khee Muk Noi and Kong Kai Education Center itself. In 2011 the school began its journey of teaching and providing much needed education for the children of these two villages.   It wasn’t long after, the villagers requested a school for K-6 grade.  Starbucks and I.T.D.F. once again, listened and executed, a shared vision of a new building for the K-6 grade. 

 Former school down in Kong Kai.

The Future is Now:

Since it’s conception in 2011, The Mae Khee Muk Noi and Kong Kai Education Center has shown growth of an average of 10 students per year providing more opportunities for success, not only for the students, but the communities at large. Currently, the students come from two surrounding villages of 75 families, enrolling 126 children.  Preschool has 20 students and K-6 has enrollment of 106. There is a maximum of 25 students for kindergarten, requiring more space. Starbuck’s and I.T.D.F. are in the process of building a new pre-school nearby to provide the existing pre-school building as space for the kindergartners and more space to grow in the upper grades within the other existing building.  

Starbuck’s and I.T.D.F. have a common shared commitment to sustainable projects and continue to do all that they can to ensure the sustainability of this school and their students.  Every year, Starbucks faithfully sends a hand-picked team of 15-20 people to work alongside I.T.D.F. staff to maintain the school buildings, grounds, and complete any other project needs at the school. This team has to pass an exam and go through an interview process to be selected to participate in this volunteer work.

Recently, they sent the school rechargeable battery packs to be utilized for computers during times of power outages which happen often as it gets very windy on that mountain top. ( See featured photo at top)

These children have a better future because organizations and businesses chose to listen intently to the needs of a forgotten hill tribe and then plant the seeds and do the work to make that happen together.

A word from the students:

Lanna Foundation’s Field Work Partner, Debbie Tingley, recently visited the school and was so impressed by the dedication of the teachers and the students.  She interviewed two female students, graduating from 6th grade this March.  After their short interview, Debbie fsaw how clearly the school had been successful to meet a need with these Hill Tribes Students.  She noted that both had very different journeys but the same vision of learning, dreams and goals, and giving back to their community in the future.  

Below are snippets of the interview with the students, San Lan Pat and Jan Porn:

(Translated by Debbie Tingley)

6th grade graduating students, San Lan Pat (left), Debbie (middle) Jan Porn (right)

My name is Jan Porn

I was born in Mae Sa Rieng 

I am 14 years old

I am in 6th grade

My parents passed away when I was young and I moved to Kong Kai to live with my aunt. Before this school, I had no opportunity for education. I love to learn. Math is my favorite subject. My favorite part of school is my school teacher who teaches me much knowledge and cares for me. I would like to become a nurse so that I may help people in my village who are sick.  My hobbies are cleaning and washing. 

My name is San Lan Pat

I was born in Mae Khee Muk Noi

I am 12 years old.

I am in 6th grade.

My favorite subject is English. I would like to be an English teacher to be able to teach in my village to help other children. My favorite part about school is making new friends to play and study with here. In my village, I sometimes felt very alone and didn’t have many friends. Now I have many!  My favorite thing to do when not studying is play marbles (Pei tong) I love to beat the boys! Ha ha! 

These girls are one example of the resolution and vision between a partnership and the fulfillment of that dream for a brighter future through education and sustainability. 

Help us continue the work of I.T.D.F. and donate today.