When I first came up with the idea for the Guardian Issue, I envisaged a slew of articles about those who safeguard those who are vulnerable in our society. I imagined features on a strong caring police force (well, I tried to defy all preconceptions and imagine it that way anyway) who risk life and limb to protect and serve; I visualised stories about compassionate laws upheld by honourable men and women who look out for the interests of those who are unable, perhaps, to mind their own; and I planned to showcase just a few of the great causes and worthy achievements out there. It was supposed to be an uplifting edition of our magazine, about hope, about care and about those who alleviate suffering.
And to an extent it is, because there are indeed great people here in Chiang Mai doing incredibly good things, and in every negative story, there is always hope, even if it is in the cynical hope that readers will take something from the story to effect change. But the more we talked about stories to feature, the more we realised that there is another whole side to the coin which must be addressed, perhaps more urgently. What happens when those who are supposed to guard us, not only fail to do so, but abuse their positions: when guards are corrupt, incompetent, apathetic or plain old bad – when guardians harm?
So, featured this month is a heartbreaking story by Phil Madsen about the millions of Burmese refugees who are treated as less than human not only by their own government, which fails them in every sense, but by the governments of Thailand, Malaysia and even Indonesia, whose laws are not defined enough to offer help or solutions, and whose officials and citizens often treat them like commodities to be used and sold. We also have a brief interview with a wildlife conservationist who tells us about the decimation of wildlife for illegal international trade, one of the largest illegal markets in the world. Again, the spotlight, while shining on Thailand, is focused on our neighbour, Burma.
‘Ice’, crystal methamphetamine, is apparently the latest drug fad to hit Thailand, and experts are concerned that its aggressive rise in popularity is imminent. However, while this is definitely not a good thing, there are signs that Thailand is becoming more progressive in its policies towards drugs. While the majority of the population still adulates the war on drugs (revealing a disturbing lack of compassion and understanding of basic human rights), there are signs that addicts are being viewed more as patients who need help and support than criminals who require punishment. Astonishingly lenient laws have also been implemented to allow for personal use of drugs without users being locked away in jail for life. I also spend some time with Pam Brown, resident DEA agent in charge of Chiang Mai, who has spent the past four years working with her Thai counterparts to, if not halt, then at least stem the free-flow of drugs in and out of Thailand.
While it is most disheartening reading about the scale of such problems, as ever, it is always uplifting to know that there are people who really believe that they can make a difference.
Talk about making a difference, this month President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, along with 3,000 volunteers from all over the world will come to Chiang Mai to build 82 houses for the poor, the number, auspiciously chosen to commemorate His Majesty the King’s upcoming 82nd birthday.