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Snapshots of reflection and change in Chiang Rai

A day after arriving at Doi Tung in Chiang Rai, IU delegation members more fully immersed themselves in the dramatic, four-decades-long transformation in public health and well-being that has taken place here in the forest hills of Thailand.

On Sunday, fresh off an inspiring and energizing trip to the Doi Tung Development Project, they traveled to several more of the initiatives and flagship programs of the not-for-profit Mae Fah Luang Foundation, which, since its founding in 1972, has overseen the remarkable improvement of the economic and social life of rural villagers in Thailand’s northernmost province. During that same time, the MFLF, which is led by IU alumnus Disnadda Diskul, has revived the environment through a massive reforestation effort and worked tirelessly to conserve the local arts and traditions of the diverse ethnic populations living in this remote region of Thailand.

A day-long tour of the Hall of Inspiration, the Doi Tung Royal Villa, the Hall of Opium and the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park offered multiple opportunities to reflect on just how transformative the work being done here in the once notorious “Golden Triangle” — work that lifted people out of a vicious cycle of poverty and sickness through tremendous health, education and sustainability efforts.

Here are just few snapshots of a memorable day of reflection and understanding, which began in the hills of Doi Tung, continued along the banks of the Mekong River and concluded in Chiang Rai city, the original headquarters of the MFLF.

The "Hall of Inspiration" tells the story of the royal Mahidol family, including Princess Srinagarindra, the inspiration behind the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. Her emphasis was on "helping people to help themselves" and delivering new opportunities to the villagers in Thailand's northernmost regions.

The “Hall of Inspiration” tells the story of the royal Mahidol family, including Princess Srinagarindra, the inspiration behind the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. Her emphasis was on “helping people to help themselves” and delivering new opportunities to the villagers in Thailand’s northernmost regions.

Shortly upon first visiting the impoverished residents of a region ravaged by opium cultivation, Princess Srinagarinda declared it her mission to "reforest Doi Tung."

Shortly upon first visiting the impoverished residents of a region ravaged by opium cultivation, Princess Srinagarinda declared it her mission to “reforest Doi Tung.”

A look down at the forests of Doi Tung. By 1987, because of opium cultivation, less than 30 percent of the natural forest in Doi Tung remained. Today, forest coverage has risen to 90 percent of the total project area, and opium is no longer grown.

A look down at the forests of Doi Tung. By 1987, because of opium cultivation, less than 30 percent of the natural forest in Doi Tung remained. Today, forest coverage has risen to 90 percent of the total project area, and opium is no longer grown.

Princess Srinagarindra considered this villa in Doi Tung her first real home in Thailand. It is decorated with wood slabs cut from discarded teak trees.

Princess Srinagarindra considered this villa in Doi Tung her first real home in Thailand. It is decorated with wood slabs cut from discarded teak trees.

Located near the Mekong River, in Chiang Rai, the Hall of Opium houses a 5,600-sq.-meter permanent exhibition on the history of opium and other narcotic drugs. It was designed to help reduce the demand for drugs through education about a region of the world infamous for its poppy fields, drug smugglers and opium warlords.

Located near the Mekong River, in Chiang Rai, the Hall of Opium houses a 5,600-sq.-meter permanent exhibition on the history of opium and other narcotic drugs. It was designed to help reduce the demand for drugs through education about a region of the world infamous for its poppy fields, drug smugglers and opium warlords.

Images of tortured souls line the walls inside the Hall of Opium's dark entrance tunnel.

Images of tortured souls line the walls inside the Hall of Opium’s dark entrance tunnel.

Replica opium flowers inside the Hall of Opium.

Replica opium flowers inside the Hall of Opium.

A look out at the "Golden Triangle," where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos converge.

A look out at the “Golden Triangle,” where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos converge.

The Golden Pavilion at the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park in Chiang Rai city. The park originally supported the education of Thai youths from remote areas and who have limited access to schooling. Today, it is a center for arts and culture of northern Thailand and surrounding areas. The park houses the stunning Golden Pavilion, the largest collection of teakwood artifacts in the region and a botanical collection.

The Golden Pavilion at the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park in Chiang Rai city. The park originally supported the education of Thai youths from remote areas and who have limited access to schooling. Today, it is a center for arts and culture of northern Thailand and surrounding areas. The park houses the stunning Golden Pavilion, constructed out of 32 wooden houses given by various people in Chiang Rai to express their admiration for Princess Srinagarindra. It also includes the largest collection of teakwood artifacts in the region and a botanical collection.

The stunning botanical grounds of the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park.

The stunning botanical grounds of the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park.

A park museum housing teakwood artifacts from the region. As late as the 1980s, many of these artifacts from the later Lanna period (18th century through early 20th century) were sold into the antique trade and moved out of northern Thailand. By showcasing these pieces, the Mae Fah Luang Foundation seeks to allow the people of northern Thailand to continue a relationship with their cultural heritage.

A park museum housing teakwood artifacts from the region. As late as the 1980s, many of these artifacts from the later Lanna period (18th century through early 20th century) were sold into the antique trade and moved out of northern Thailand. By showcasing these pieces, the Mae Fah Luang Foundation seeks to allow the people of northern Thailand to continue a relationship with their cultural heritage.

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