Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
During the fall of my senior year, I participated in the Thailand off-campus study program. I received a travel enrichment grant to research the impact of microcredit/microfinance from the perspective of those running the institutions as a poverty reduction strategy in Thailand. I proposed doing my research in Chiang Mai, where the program is located as well as Bangkok, the capital and Chang Rai. Although I had anticipated that the language barrier would be an obstacle, I was lucky enough to integrate some of my research with field excursions we took as a program thus making it easier to implement my proposal.
I arrived in Chiang Mai in mid-August and was immediately able to begin work on my research. On my field excursion to Mae Cheam village in Chiang Mai, I stayed with a host family and another member of my program. My host father was a rice farmer and my mother a weaver. In Northern Thailand, there are only two major cities, Chiang Mai and Bangkok and the majority of the population still lives in rural villages and towns. Thus most cultural practices and traditions are still alive. One particular tradition is that most women weave their own wraps also known as pasins by utilizing homemade weavers. Each pasin has a unique pattern at the hem indicating which village or region it was weaved in. The women of Mae Cheam village had created microfinance cooperative where they utilized income made from rice farming to purchase materials needed for pasins which they would then sell. Although they were not receiving loans from an external source or an actual microfinance institution, the women extended loans to one another and still used the five-women lending group model to ensure accountability. I had not anticipated that in my first week in Thailand. I would have had the opportunity to visit and see a non-traditional microfinance institution. I was also able to take lessons on weaving as well as learn from my host mother the particulars of the organization and their goals in the community.
In addition to Mae Cheam, and Chiang Mai, I visited Chang Rai as well as Bangkok. My time in Bangkok was not as productive as my time in Chiang Mai. Bangkok is a very busy, very large thriving western city putting it at odds with the rest of the country. Most of the people who live and work in Bangkok are more westernized thus language barriers are not as significant there. Learning about how microfinance operates in Bangkok, in comparison, was logistically difficult and frustrating. Although there were institutions willing to speak with me, I felt like the community amongst the women in Mae Cheam made microfinance in Bangkok seem like a profit seeking venture. The offices were very busy and it felt that the institution spent more time worrying about collecting payments rather than promoting a well-rounded, community oriented organization that sought to support its clients both financially but socially as well. Chiang Rai, much like Mae Cheam was centered on community initiatives. One of the major differences between Mae Cheam and Chiang Rai was that in Chiang Rai, the clients were mostly ethnic minorities that were marginalized members of mainstream Thai society.
Undertaking this research while in Thailand was a dream come true for me. I am very grateful to the donors that made this enrichment possible for me. Not only did I learn more about Thailand and its people but I also put myself in different situations which allowed me to grow. I will not forget the experience, the people or the strength of the women I met and their commitment to being self-sufficient, independent and strong. I dedicate this web page to them and all the good work that they are doing.