Childhood friends uplifting women affected by conflict in southern ThailandMar 3, 2016
PATTANI PROVINCE - Childhood friends Duangsuda Srangamphai and Chehyoy Dama, originally from Thienya village, Pattani province in southern Thailand, recently established a community enterprise called Thienya Roasted Coconut to uplift the spirits of women from their village who have been affected by conflict. With a small grant from UNDP’s Southern Thailand Empowerment and Participation (STEP) Project, they were able to establish the Tea-Yae-La-Ya Women’s Group with eight other female members from their village. Together they created Thienya Roasted Coconut – a community enterprise which produces and sells shredded roasted coconut which is used in traditional dishes made in southern Thailand.
Conflict affected communities
The small grants awarded by the STEP II Project to twelve community enterprise projects in targeted provinces in southern Thailand, are generously financed by the Japan-UNDP Partnership Fund. The small grants aim to assist local communities to become more resilient amid the ongoing violent conflict in southern Thailand, through the improvement of their livelihoods. The provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and four districts within Songkhla province (Chana, Thepha, Na Thawi, and Saba Yoi) are located in southern Thailand, where on a regular basis, violent incidents take place resulting in numerous civilian casualties. The on-going violent conflicts in the three provinces have significantly hindered human development. According to UNDP’s Human Achievement Index 2014, the province of Pattani is ranked 76th on the employment index out of the 76* provinces in Thailand, where the majority of residents are Malay-Muslim, and make up about 88 per cent of the population.
The STEP II Project seeks to broadened participation in the “peace processes” through the strengthened capacity of local peace networks with better access to information; increased access to justice for vulnerable groups; and aiding greater social cohesion and resilience of local communities through the improvement of livelihoods.
Thienya village, once a harmonious and diverse community where villagers traditionally earned a living from growing rice, palm and coconut trees, in recent years has been marred by conflict and brutal violence for various and complex reasons. As a result, many young people have left the village to flee the conflict and obtain more stable incomes in Muang Pattani district. One such young person who was driven out of the Thienya village due to the increasingly hostile environment was 35-year-old, mother of one, Duangsuda Srangamphai.
For five years, Duangsuda lived in Narathiwat province with her husband and son. However in 2004, Duangsuda’s life was turned upside down when her father was shot dead in Ku Mang village in Pattani province whilst riding his motorcycle home.
“I was in complete shock when I heard my father had been murdered. Even now I can’t understand why he was killed and for what reason,” said Duangsuda sadly. “I heard the news about my father when I was living in Narathiwat province. My father was the main breadwinner in the family and I decided to move back to Pattani province to support my family,” she added. “Even though I would return to my home in Narathiwat every few months to see my husband, it was very hard for him because he felt neglected. I was left feeling torn between supporting my family and being in Narathiwat for my husband,” explained Duangsuda.
After a year of living apart, and unable to sustain the relationship, Duangsuda and her husband divorced. When Duangsuda returned to Thienya village, she drove a truck transporting vegetables to the market everyday with her grandmother. In addition, Duangsuda worked as a volunteer at the Women’s Civic Network for Peace in the Southern Border Provinces where she worked on peace-building activities with women who had been affected by conflict.
“Although I only received a small stipend and not a full salary, I thoroughly enjoyed working at the Network because I could relate to the women’s issues and I was able to use my own experience effectively,” said Duangsuda. During this time, Duangsuda financially supported her mother, two sisters (who were both studying) and her son as they tried to rebuild their lives.
In 2007, Duangsuda and her family encountered even more tragedy in their lives when both of her grandfathers were brutally murdered and their houses burnt down on the same night. Police investigations led to six teenagers being charged and sentenced for the heinous crimes committed against Duangsuda’s grandfathers. Following the deaths, the military constructed a checkpoint on the main road to Thienya village which is now considered one of the most dangerous areas in Pattani province. However, brutal violence in the village, which consisted of daily shootings, continued and began to take its toll on Duangsuda and her family. Later that year, Duangsuda and her grandmother left Thienya village and moved to Muang Pattani district.
In 2015, knowing Duangsuda’s passion for helping others, her childhood friend, Chehyoy Dama, informed her about the STEP II Project’s small grant programme and encouraged her to establish a women’s group.
“I contacted staff at the STEP II Project about the small grants programme and they provided me with information that really inspired and motivated me to do something for my village,” recalled Duangsuda. “I decided to set up a women’s group because women play a key role in every household and in every village. I knew I wanted to contribute to making a difference in the lives of the people in my village, who like me, had experienced tragedy through the conflict, and the small grants programme has given me that opportunity,” she added.
After obtaining information from the STEP II Project, Duangsuda returned to her village to discuss her idea of setting up a women’s group with other villagers. Women in the village with various predicaments: unemployed, widowers, and those affected by conflict, welcomed the idea and agreed to become members. Subsequently, the Tea-Yae-La-Ya Women’s Group was formed. The members also agreed that the village would greatly benefit from a community enterprise project to firstly, increase the livelihoods of villagers, and secondly to solve the issue of people being forced to leave the village due to the lack of jobs.
Training and development
Once the group had confirmed their community enterprise idea, Duangsuda and Chehyoy were invited by the STEP II Project team to attend a small grants trainings on drafting proposals and product development.
“I had never experienced writing proposals before and the training provided by the STEP II Project was very useful,” said Chehyoy who owns a café in Thienya village and volunteers at the local government office.
Recognising the copious amount of coconuts available in Yaring district, and the relatively cheap price in purchasing them, the members decided to make and sell hot-pressed coconut oil. Duangsuda shared the idea with STEP II Project staff who organised a specific training workshop on hot-pressed coconut oil for the members, which was facilitated by staff from Prince Songkhla University. After the workshop, the group members collectively decided against producing the hot-pressed oil due to a number of factors and instead agreed to produce roasted coconut to compliment southern Thailand dishes.
“We were so happy when our proposal was successful and even more excited when we received the THB 140,000 (US$ 3,927) to set up the community enterprise,” said Chehyoy enthusiastically. “With the small grant, we secured accommodation and equipment to process the roasted coconut. And to have a high quality product, we needed a well equipped kitchen,” said Duangsuda. “I have big plans for this community enterprise, but most importantly I hope it will help to rebuild the trust and restore the harmony that used to exist in my beloved village,” Duangsuda added.
Motivated to reach out to as many women affected by conflict as possible in southern Thailand, Duangsuda and Chehyoy have set about inviting women from neighbouring villages to join the women’s group. Additionally, using her professional skills, Duangsuda provides counselling to some of the group members, and shares her own life experiences through public platforms.
*There were 76 provinces in Thailand when the UNDP Thailand Human Development Index report was published.
Ms. Angelique Reid, Communication and Partnership Officer
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