People’s Empowerment Foundation (PEF) was established in 2006 to address the needs of grassroots civil society networks in Thailand. PEF acts as the secretariat for a coalition of community-based organisations (CBOs) and maintains close working relationships with other partner organisations and networks within the country and throughout South East Asia.
PEF’s mission is to create sustainable mechanisms for individuals, community organisations, grassroots coalitions and popular movements to work together to achieve social change.
PEF’s objectives are:
- To increase the organisational capacity of civil society networks and CBOs in Thailand;
- To facilitate direct engagement between various community networks and organisations for the purpose of cultivating a unified civil society movement promoting human rights, human security, peace and democracy in Thailand.
Immediately after the establishment of PEF, the organisation began conducting community visits and fact-finding campaigns in the three border provinces of Southern Thailand, and building trust with grassroots partners that PEF continues to work with today. Informed by continuous analysis with groups in South Thailand, PEF priorities have been set on improving economic security of families affected by conflict and on facilitating knowledge exchanges for community-based peace initiatives.
PEF participates in and contributes to a number of consultation meetings with government agencies, NGOs, and community leaders from southern Thailand, to map their activities and share ideas and perspectives for understanding and remedying the deep‐rooted violence across that region. These meetings are an opportunity for PEF to share its priorities in southern Thailand. Meetings with government agencies are also an opportunity to challenge the government to re-evaluate its thinking on southern Thailand.
Activities facilitating knowledge-exchange for community-based peace initiatives have included the “Inter‐religion Peace Building for Long‐term Development,” which PEF co‐organised with the Sewalanka Foundation. The event brought together religious leaders, academics and other members of civil society from southern Thailand, Burma, Aceh and Sri Lanka to share experiences of managing conflict in thei rregions, with an emphasis on religious practice and peacebuilding. The panels covered such topics as the role of civil society in peacebuilding, comparisons between conflicts in southern Thailand and Aceh, experiences of conflict in the Shan ethnic state of Burma, Sri Lankan experiences in conflict management and peacebuilding, and the concept of Dawa Talip as applied in southern Thailand.
Other recent activities include organising the first Thai-Buddhist, Melayu and Chinese Inter-Faith Forum in Yala in March 2012, which brought together all affected communities to discuss the problems and solutions to the ongoing conflict in the southern border region.
In 2011 and early 2012, PEF organised 70 forums, totaling 863 participants, to seek the views of communities from the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and parts of Songkhla as to how to deal with the conflict there. Melayu community forums were also held in the Malaysian states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur. The objective of these talks was to: learn about the problems of each group; improve relations between groups by increasing mutual understanding; and propose local solutions to the conflict.
In 2009 and 2010, PEF organised a trip to the Khaokho Talaypu Natural Farm, where women and youth from southern Thailand learned methods to use local resources to make products to sell in their communities. The project was aimed at increasing economic and employment opportunities in south Thailand.
Unemployment and poverty are seen as two of the myriad drivers of the violent insurgency in the region. Women and youth participants also visited communities in Thailand’s north, where people have had success in generating income by selling crafts made from local resources. Following the trips, women and youth developed their income generation proposals and start-up funds were provided for all group projects.
Future activities planned include the establishment of regular interfaith community forums, the creation of a women’s conflict mediation team as well as an exchange programme for local peacebuilders and authorities to learn from their counterparts in Aceh and Mindanao.
PEF works to promote a wide range of human rights and human security issues throughout Thailand and Southeast Asia by serving as a civil society network through which community-based partner organisations share knowledge, strategies, and resources to work together for positive social change.
PEF works to strengthen the organisational capacity of network partners by providing them with information, skills and knowledge training, capacity building tools, logistical coordination, and other assistance adapted to each group’s particular needs. To best provide such services, the organisation carries out field visits to partner communities on a regular basis, studying conditions on the ground and learning about peoples’ most pressing needs. Every project is developed out of these needs and through close collaboration with local communities.
In addition, PEF facilitates direct engagement between various community networks and organisations by applying its People-to-People (P2P) action approach, in which grassroots partners share knowledge, develop common agendas, and plan social action. Examples include community learning exchange programs, solidarity workshops, cross-border civil society exchanges, and people’s monitoring of ASEAN developments.
In addition to providing horizontal links between grassroots partners throughout Thailand, PEF maintains working relationships with regional and international organisations and provides vertical channels for Thai civil society to engage with public officials at the national, regional, and international levels.