Yang's Experience at Wat Tham Krabok
In the last decade, KaYing has intensified her work around ending gender-based violence and creating gender equity through movement building among the Southeast Asian refugee and immigrant diaspora. Related to this work, in 2008 she founded the first Hmong women’s organization in Laos which helps women and girls to access educational and economic opportunities. In 2013, she became the co-founder and President of RedGreen Rivers, a social enterprise working with women and girls in the Mekong Region to build sustainable communities. Today she is the Director of Programs for the Coalition of Asian American Leaders. She is also a recipient of a 2019 Bush Fellowship from the Bush Foundation.
After the refugee camps closed, many Hmong refugees stayed behind in Thailand instead of relocating to a different country including those who went to live at Wat Tham Krabok. Wat Tham Krabok is a Buddhist temple compound that housed displaced Hmong who did not want to relocate to a third country.
“Wat” is Thai for temple and Tham Krabok is a cave (also known as WTK). The Hmong who went to WTK said they went there to participate in the well-known heroin and opium drug detoxification program. Because the location was not an official refugee camp it did not have the support and resources historically provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which supported all the refugee camps that began closing between 1991-1993. Since WTK is not a refugee camp, Hmong people no longer received basic necessities assistance, such as food, medical care, shelter, and water normally provided by the international community. During the early 1990s, there was an estimated 30,000 Hmong living there. By 2003, 15,000 were left, the majority of whom were women and children.
One of the basic needs of the WTK community was access to water. Hmong residents acquired water from water towers and wells built with the help of the monks who also lived in the monastery there. Collecting water tended to be the job of women and children, mostly young girls who were 8 to 10 years old. They pushed wagons to the water tower and loaded containers. These were extremely heavy to push back home and this kind of task combined with malnutrition stunted many young women and girls’ growth. Sanitation was also an issue because these containers were previously used to store fuel. Their health was impacted by many things, especially simple things such as people not having proper soap to bathe or detergent to wash dishes and children often didn’t wash their hands well.
Many Hmong people at WTK were permitted to work as laborers to support themselves. Groups of young people waited in a field to be picked up to work as day laborers at different locations in nearby towns. Men and women will go in different trucks. They carried their own small stools to sit on in the back of trucks and were taken to farm for others, then returned to WTK in the late afternoon. They described it as hard and exhausting work. A day’s work would provide food for that day. For supplementary income, almost everyone at WTK made story cloths that they sent to the US to sell. The Hmong diaspora is an economic engine for communities globally and Hmong refugees were critical contributors.
Learn more about Wat Tham Krabok:
- We Are Water: May Yer Thao’s Experience at Wat Tham Krabok
- HmongStudies.org PDF: A Photo Essay of the Hmong Experience at Wat Tham Krabok in Thailand (By Pao Lor)
- HmongStudies.org PDF: Coming Home? The Integration of Hmong Refugees from Wat Tham Krabok, Thailand, into American Society (By Grit Grigoleit, M.A)