After running our workshop in Chiang Mai, we decided to discover the countryside and headed North to the Chiang Rai district. A number of different hill-tribes originally from Burma, Laos or China have settled in this border region in the last two centuries, enriching it culturally with their own traditions and languages.
Feeling interested, we wanted to learn more about them and how they live nowadays. We met Tom almost by chance, a great man who belongs to the Karen tribe and who, after living in different parts of Thailand and abroad, decided to come back to his village and do something relevant for his people.
His project is called the Tom Karen’s Center. Offering free education for the children of Ban Huisak and neighboring villages, it receives volunteers which contribute to the community teaching English while sharing time, passions and knowledge with the kids.
We had the opportunity to spend some days with Tom and his wonderful family, which warmly welcomed us in their beautiful house surrounded by mountains and rice fields. During our stay, we took part in the local community’s activities and showed the kids how they can create their own blog, work with photos and slide presentations on their computers. It was fun!
Since two years, Tom is working really hard to build his after-school center. It has already a classroom, toilets and lots of space for the children to learn and play. But many things are still in the works; a library, a second classroom are planned and thanks to donations the available equipment (computers, books, learning material) is getting better.
We fully respect and support Tom’s initiative and would like to recommend everyone to learn more about his project, volunteer at his center if you happen to spend some time in North Thailand and support him by making a donation: learning and construction materials besides financial support will help Tom providing better education to children in rural areas.
Our first workshop in Asia took place in the modern and creative city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. We were welcomed by the Opendream team in their wonderful office where the young developers are busy implementing technological solutions mainly for social enterprises. Although this company was founded only 5 years ago, it counts already with an interesting portfolio of social oriented projects like an educational mobile game which informs about how to react in case of floods, a data-collection portal used by village citizens after the floods of 2011 or the Digital Library Network of Thailand, an online knowledge search tool. We could experience that Opendream collaborates with like-minded organisations such as ChangeFusion in Thailand, OpenDevelopmentCambodia which we will meet next month in Phnom Penh, and the fellows from TacticalTech we already visited in Bangalore. This fact proves that Open Cultures activists are connected even across borders and that makes us happy every time we experience about it! Opendream is certainly one of the most active organisations in Thailand regarding Open Data and Open Source. In 2011, they organised an Open Data Hackathon in Bangkok where programmers experimented scraping and cleaning data from governmental websites. The team participated in another hackathon hosted in Cambodia and its present in several events across the globe as the latest DDD conference in San Francisco.
After running our workshop in front a small group, mostly composed by the Opendream staff, we had a very enriching discussion around the status and controversial history of Open Data in Thailand. Why the national Open Data platform created in 2009 was closed some months later and is still inactive nowadays? One of the participants, the info-activist Arthit Suriyawongkul, could answer this question. Arthit belongs to the team which adapted the creative commons generic license to the Thai jurisdiction and initiated the Thai Netizen Network, a small group of individuals working with advocates defending the citizens’ rights for privacy and freedom of expression on the net, providing expertise and trainings in these topics.
Apparently, the first platform, developed by Opendream, was created out of the personal initiative of the former primer minister and disappeared from the internet once the political power changed hands later on. It hosted around 1000 datasets mostly on agriculture, transport and health and was conceived as a prototype which remained almost unknown for the civil society. So, technical know-how is already available, but as we experienced from the audience, what is missing is the legislative stability to guarantee the existence of such a platform. However, two new websites, data.go.th and apps.go.th, have been recently announced by the actual ICT minister for 2014. Also, the limited awareness of the thai society regarding the potential of Open Data and Open Government seems to slow down the development of these areas. While browsing the web, we could only find a few active references of community engagement apart from an old and outdated google group. We hope, the new initiatives from the government mentioned above boost the interest of developers and users.