Hope for the hill tribes: Stateline resident readies for third mission to Thailand
Special to the Tribune
ABOUT THE KAREN PEOPLE
“Karen” (“Kayin” in Burmese) is an umbrella term given to the heterogeneous tribal people of the Burma-Thailand border regions. In modern times, and after the conversion to Christianity of the majority of the Karen peoples by missionaries from the West, “Karen” designates an ethno-cultural-lingual identity. Due to a nearly century long civil war with the Burmese government, many Karen have escaped on foot to northern Thailand. There are currently thousands of Karen people who have settled within the hills of northern Thailand in small villages cut off from modern Thai society.
After sustaining several sports injuries as a student at Whittell High School and San Diego Christian College, Stateline resident Jordan Morgan had little hope of continuing down an athletic path.
“I had broken my back as a freshman in college and again as a sophomore. … I already had torn my ACL several times before college. And, finally, I wrecked my shoulder in my junior year of college, ruining my pitching career for good,” Morgan said.
Then three weeks before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, a job that was lined up for Morgan fell through. That left him feeling even more discouraged.
A few weeks before graduation, however, Morgan found himself at a college gathering that would forever change his life. Several “Go Teams” were gearing up to serve on missions in third-world countries. Two weeks later, Morgan secured a spot on the Thailand team and found himself traveling 8,000 miles across the ocean.
Now, two years later, Morgan, 24, will be traveling to Thailand for the third time on May 11, this time for a year. His purpose is to once again help the displaced Burmese Karen (pronounced “Kah-ren”) people living in northern Thailand. With the support of the Chiang Mai-based Non-Governmental Organization’s Integrated Tribal Development Program, Morgan will further his projects within several Karen villages perched high in the hills of remote Thailand jungles. Amongst his numerous self-appointed responsibilities, Morgan will continue his main undertaking started a few years ago — maintaining a rabbit habitat where the animals are used for meat and fur.
“The rabbitry experiment was successful, and now I want to expand it to other villages,” Morgan said. “It’s a bit like a micro-loan; I will give villages nearby three female rabbits and one male. Then the village will give back four rabbits from the offspring, which will go to another village.”
People participating in the project will eat the rabbit meat, make and sell fur pelts and sell rabbits, creating a self-sustainable enterprise. Morgan also has plans to create a solar-powered aquaponics food-growing system comprised of several grow towers. These programs will allow the Karen people to produce their own food and have an enterprise with which to generate income. Eventually Morgan, with the help from the mission’s parent organization, Integrated Tribal Development Program, endeavors for the hill tribes to be completely self-sustainable.
Work within the hill tribes has melded well with Morgan’s experience in hunting and backcountry survival. Steve Jenkins, a Go Team leader on the first trip to Thailand and head of student spiritual life at San Diego Christian College, said Morgan’s “… background and passion for the outdoors really allowed him to fit in with the projects (with) the hill tribes. Somehow, he was able to get a drone for taking videos and a bow past airport security — and he put them into great use in the village. That, combined with his degree in biological sciences, has really enabled him fit right into the community.”
Bryan Feil, CEO of Lanna Coffee Co., in Fresno, California, whose programs help fund Integrated Tribal Development Program’s projects, has faith in Morgan’s progress as well.
“He’s got some really great entrepreneurial ideas. He does so much with his amazing outdoor and sustainability mindset,” Feil said. “And he has the passion to get his hands dirty and make positive change happen.”
Although fulfilling, Morgan explained that projects with the Karen were some of the most arduous and tiresome he’s ever encountered.
“The work is hard,” he noted. “I woke up at 4:30 a.m. every morning and we worked all day. But leaving the Karen at the end of the six months was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I can’t wait to get back there.”
With the help of local churches and the wider Tahoe community, Morgan is getting closer to reaching his financial goal of $19,000 to enable him to live and work amongst the Karen people for one year.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Morgan still needs financial help to fund projects with the Karen. Monetary donations can be given at http://www.youcaring.com/jordanmorganmissions.
For information about the Karen people and many projects managed by Integrated Tribal Development Program, visit http://www.itdpinternational.org.
To view Jordan’s video of his six months amongst the Karen, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b9i8_mavQU.