Mak Yoh is a small, elderly woman with the dark sun-exposed skin of a seaside villager. At the age of 67, this active lady had the look of perseverance in her eyes. When I first met her during the project activity a few months ago, she held her young granddaughter in one arm and supported her little grandson in the other.

After talking to Mak Yoh and those close to her, I learned that she lived under the same roof as her many children and grandchildren. One of her 12 children had passed away and her husband left this world a long time ago. Her family struggled financially and most of her children were daily workers. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some worked as restaurant employees in Malaysia. However, when the crisis struck, they had no choice but to return home, just like many of their peers along the southern border. Unfortunately, after returning, most became unemployed. They had only a few options for earning a living, such as becoming daily workers in the city, selling food or snacks in front of the house and artisanal fishery.

Ban Pa Re Community, Moo 1, Tambon Bara Hom, Amphoe Mueang, Pattani Province[i], consists of 146 households and 867 villagers. Most of them have worked in local fisheries and as daily workers or sellers for the past 15 to 20 years, while a few are government officials. Due to the current decrease in marine resources, the catch has dropped significantly, putting artisanal fisheries on the verge of extinction. Since daily workers earn only 200–300 baht a day, returning to work in Malaysia seemed a better option for earning sufficient income to support the family.

While men are struggling with their work, women also face different obstacles in life. Single Muslim women as heads of households are going against traditionally inherited gender norms. Muslim women are expected to be obedient daughters, dutiful wives and good mothers, serving as role models for their children (Vilasinee, 2014 [ii]). These norms and traditions exclude women from decision-making and some are hindered from participating in social activities which may lead to work opportunities. With such limitations, the sudden change in the role of Muslim women during the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their way of life, and like Mak Yoh, many are concerned about their children and grandchildren.

Speaking with Mak Yoh, I could sense the concern in her voice: “I am an old lady. So, there is nothing I need. I'm just worried about my widowed daughter and two grandchildren. After I'm gone, how can they survive or make a living?” With deep concern in her eyes, she told me about her 22-year-old daughter who lost her husband through drowning last year, leaving two young children without a father.

I asked Mak Yoh about her expectations and what she would like to do when joining the Preservation of Local Food in the “Southern Border Local Cuisines: Local Wisdom and Beliefs, Women’s Role in Inheriting of Cultural Heritage” project organized by NM Neo-Mind and the Panare Artisanal Fisheries Association under the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Thailand and the Japanese Government. Moh You said that she felt happy joining the project since it would give her the opportunity to participate in activities with the Three Queens Housewife Group, of which she is a member. She felt valued as a woman and was an expert on local food, transferring her local wisdom to the younger generation. She could demonstrate the cooking skills passed down from her ancestors. Besides sharing knowledge and cooking tips, she made friends with different community networks and would like to develop these to add value to the recipes.

In the past, people got together to make rice puffs. The Three Queens Housewife Group further developed the formula with a food science professor from the Faculty of Science, Prince of Songkhla University, Pattani Campus. The professor’s advice on recipes brought a unique flavour to the group. Local ingredients were mainly used to maintain the quality of rice puffs and ensure longer storage. The group also focused on designing the packaging and marketing the products to generate income for group members.

Mak Yoh said through participating in the project she had discovered that her cooking skills could lead to the further improvement of local recipes and the creation of new ones to add value and generate a monthly income of 1,500–3,000 baht for her family. She could also transfer the knowledge and skills to her daughter, who is a single mother. Her daughter could then cook with the Three Queen Housewife Group and start her own business while still being able to take care of her children at home. Even though the project had now finished, hope remained. She felt at ease watching her daughter plan her life as a mother while preserving the local cooking skills she had passed on.

Story in Thai version read here


Written by Rahanee DAOH, NM Neo-Mind


[i] Pattani was one of the first regions in southeast Asia to adopt Islam, and later became a center for Islamic scholarship as well as worship. The population consists mainly of Malay-Muslims, Thai-Buddhists, and Chinese. Since 2007 the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat in Southern Thailand are commonly known as the “Red Zone” – an area which has been significantly affected by armed violence. People are scared to talk to anyone outside their own village.  (Source: Life in the 'Red Zone' of South Thailand. Peace Insight. 2009.

[ii] Vilasinee Sukka. Gender, Women’s Livelihood in Conflict Area: A Case Study of Pattani Province, Deep South of Thailand. 2014.


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