There are more than 350 ethnic minorities in the countries of Southeast Asia.
Their rich and colorful traditions of cuisine, dances, and clothing vary across regions, which are of great pride to many.
But for historical reasons, or in the light of political, cultural, or linguistic differences, they are often unrecognised by the dominant ethnic group, and prone to discrimination; families from ethnic minority groups are sometimes not even allowed to own land in their own homelands.
Ethnic minorities often live in remote mountainous areas which lack essential infrastructure. The children speak their own ethnic dialects and find it difficult to master the official language used at school. Some groups have been subjected to campaigns of internal displacement and forced assimilation.
Children of the Mekong’s response
Children of the Mekong have been working alongside ethnic minorities since 1958, finding local ways in which to improve the standard of living and to allow motivated children to obtain access to education and thus break the cycle of poverty.
Our child sponsorship programme is doing just that, offering the opportunity to sponsor a child from an ethnic minority, and giving them the chance to get an education.
The ethnic minority population of Thailand numbers more than 600,000 (Karen, Lahu, Moken…) – of whom 30% still do not have Thai nationality.
In Vietnam, 54 ethnic groups are officially recognised, comprising 14% of the population (Hmong, Jarai…).
In Myanmar, there are 148 ethnic minorities, of which only 135 are officially recognised. There is currently armed conflict between the Myanmar Army and several of these groups (Kachin, Shan, Rohingya, Karen…).
In Laos, only 49 of the 240 ethnic groups which exist are recognised by the government.
In the Philippines, legislation has been passed to protect the ethnic minority population of 12 million (Aeta, Ifugao, Higaonon) but discrimination is still rife.