Service-minded merchant turns President of older people’s association[dt_quote type=”pullquote” font_size=”big” background=”plain” animation=”right”]
Working for older people, we earn Merit as profit, which gives us happiness in return. It’s important that we must not take advantage of them. We are the giver. We don’t ask anything back ”
A key person in the operation of the older people’s group (OPG) in Ban Nam Rin village in Samoeng District of Chiangmai Province is Mrs. Sommhai Lordkhem, known locally Mae Mhai. She is 61 years old, a 9th grade graduate and now owns a grocery store in Ban Nam Rin. She has two sons, aged 37 and 34. Mae Mhai was born in this village and her parents also lived here for ages. She used to have a small restaurant and then worked as a chef at a nearby resort in Samoeng for several years before she set up her own grocery store. Now as a merchant, she interacts with people from different walks of life and is well known among people in the Samoeng area. With a heartfelt, service-minded, and selfless personality and being financially independent from her business, she became a leader of seniors in the community.
In 2009, Mae Mhai was voted President of the OPG in Samoeng Tai Sub-District. It is a custom of OPG presidents to cooperate with municipal and other government officers in the sub-district, and she soon became the coordinator of seniors at the District level too.
Mae Mhai began to work on older people’s welfare issues with the Samoeng Tai Municipal Office regularly. She spoke out about the problems and concerns of older people at sub-district committee meetings with village residents and government officers, and gradually more community leaders joined the meetings. As a leader, Mae Mhai launched campaigns for the rights and dignity of seniors. She highlights the experience and importance of older people, the value of being respectful and dutiful towards them, and the importance of implementing Thailand’s Older Persons Act which is promoted by the wider network of older people’s groups. She also invites leaders from various villages to join their network, and the cooperation among older people has become strong and confident when meeting municipal officers.
In the past, her work path was not smooth and easy. She was criticized and blamed by some village residents and government officers because, with her strong personality, she spoke in a straightforward way at meetings. She confesses that she sometimes failed and wanted to give up, but she still continued her work. She always sticks with her aims, which motivates her to keep working.
The year 2010 marked the beginning of an important change in Ban Nam Rin OPG, when Mae Mhai first met the Foundation for Older Persons’ Development (FOPDEV), a non-governmental organization which works with seniors in Northern Thailand. Older people in Ban Nam Rin worked with FOPDEV on building the community’s ability to care for older people through the “Support a Grandparent Project”. The purpose was to strengthen older people’s groups, look after disadvantaged people, and create a learning and funding center to expand skills to earn extra income, improve living conditions, and organize a local welfare fund.
Career support activities emerged after brainstorming among leaders, older people, and private businesses. For example, a cattle farming group offered cows to older people to feed. When the cows delivered calves, they were sold and the income divided between the cattle farm business and the older people’s families. After that, older people with local traditional knowledge of weaving formed a local textile weaving group. Then there was chicken feeding to produce eggs. The eggs were sold and the income returned to the group’s welfare fund, and eggs were also distributed for older people to eat. Since 2008, the activities have expanded to raising fish, frogs, and pigs; making herbal products; and producing clay flowers.
Now the Ban Nam Rin OPG continues to run a range of activities to benefit seniors in the community. They also invite seniors from other nearby villages to join their projects. The network has expanded from village to sub-district and district levels and now includes more than 10 OPGs in Samoeng Nua and Samoeng Tai Sub-districts.