Student Portrait

I come from a Phutai ethnic village in Kalasin Province, Northeast of Thailand. It is a small community with peaceful and beautiful nature. In the past, the community’s main livelihood was very much based on subsistence agriculture, mainly rice growing and seasonal food. But during my grandmother’s generation, a large area of rice fields in our village, including my family’s, was expropriated by the government in order to make way for Lam Pao dam which was completed in 1968. The reason for expropriating the land was because our family’s rice fields were demarcated in a flood-risk zone of the dam. Ever since, the land has belonged to the government. We then have been renting the same land from the government to continue planting seasonal rice. However, overflow water from the dam in the rainy season can occur, which affects the quality and quantity of the rice production that our family can make; nowadays drought is another serious environmental issue we face too.

I am very much grateful and appreciate that the livelihoods in the rural community where I grew up were agricultural-based and dependent on natural resources for subsistence living. At the same time, I also observed and questioned the large disparities between rural villages and urban areas. In the village, the quality of primary and secondary public education is less competitive than in the cities. Other things such as access to social welfare, public services, and economic and job opportunities are not equally provided and distributed. Many people like myself, therefore, go to the cities where we can pursue higher education and find more job opportunities in order to increase our living standard.

During secondary school, a few years after Thailand was struggling to recover from the Asian Economic Crisis in 1997, I received partial funding to join a one-year-long student exchange program in the Czech Republic. It was a difficult time as the Thai baht was weak, but my parents took a loan from a bank so that I could join the program. After I came back, I passed the national entrance exams for universities and was admitted to study a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication at Chiang Mai University.

 About Saiaew

  • Age: 40
  • Ethnicity: Phutai
  • Country: Thailand

 School & Program

  • Chulalongkorn University
  • Master’s, International Development Studies
  • Graduated

Goals & Dreams

  • Protect the environment
  • Set up a community library

 Loan Details

  • Loan Amount: $4,225
  • Amount Left To Fund: $0
  • Contract Duration: 12 years
  • Status: Repaid in Full


What Others Are Saying About Saiaew

At the university, I was introduced to subjects that encouraged me to query and analyze society and rural development. During the time I studied at the university, I returned to my village to collect data on rural livelihoods and learned about development and changes affecting rural areas. I analyzed the relationship between causes and problems of development in rural areas. By combining studies with research throughout the time I studied my bachelor’s degree, I accumulated more interest that inspired me to work in the field of social justice through the environment, human rights, sustainable development, and natural resources management issues.

For three years after I graduated in 2006, I worked as a journalist on social and environmental justice issues with grassroots alternative media organizations. Over the past 10 years, I have applied those journalism skills to support the work of grassroots and civil society organizations, and academic institutions in my country. I also use journalism at the Mekong and Southeast Asia regional and international levels to address problems and recommend pragmatic solutions on cross-border environmental, human rights, and development issues.

Currently, I am pursuing a Master’s degree in International Development Studies (MAIDS) at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. In the long term, I aim to apply what I have learned from the master’s degree into practical solutions for social and environmental justice as well as advocate for sustainable development. I also believe that quality of education is an important foundation for everyone and must be accessible to all. I wish to set up a community library platform or project to help increase public access to knowledge and information. This way people can learn and inform themselves what is useful to further their potential as active citizens, and to engage in harnessing well-being for societal development and human rights.

Written by Saiaew with editing assistance from Zomia’s volunteer editors.



“I wish to set up a community library in some form so people can come read books, enjoy a co-working space, access self-taught or learning, and exchange ideas and information with the community.”



“Sometimes life can face setbacks, but that should not stop anyone from making changes. I believe that challenging the challenges will find solutions.”

Q&A With Saiaew

Survey Fun

What is your favorite memory?
I learned how to swim when I was seven years old after several near-death experiences from drowning. It felt like I was a real fish.
How would your friends describe you?
What is the one thing that isn’t taught in school but should be?
Everything is possible
If you could do anything you wanted now, what would it be?
Lie down on a spanning green field and gaze up at the sky
Where would you most like to travel?
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
My grandma’s crab and chili paste recipe, eaten with sticky rice
What’s your dream job?
Scientist, pilot or an astronaut
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
I’ll have a zero­-waste restaurant and set up some type of community library

She's an Environmental Activist

And Zomia's first student from Thailand!