A former Compassion child’s heart broke every time he heard or saw his tribal people suffering from poverty. They had high debt from taking out loans. They worked hard but received low wages. They did not have knowledge to improve their lives.
Yamsuk could not sit still, do nothing and watch his people suffer. He had a strong desire to bring knowledge to help those poor, uneducated villagers.
Yamsuk was born into a hill tribe family on a high remote mountain in the north of Thailand. His relatives were illiterate poor farmers who did not have their own farmland. His father wanted to see his son gain an education.
Yamsuk’s father hoped that his son would one day have a stable job and receive good pay rather than work as a farmer like him, unable to make ends meet. But there was no school in Laoop village where they lived.
In 1964 Yamsuk’s father sent his son to register at Lamp Child Development Center in Mae Sa Riang town. The center opened for children who lived in rural areas where there were no local schools.
The development center allowed the children to stay in their facilities while studying at the school nearby. It provided Yamsuk with meals, spiritual activities, agricultural activities and a place to sleep.
Yamsuk’s father walked from his hometown for two days to bring 10 bags of rice, 2 kilos of chili, 5 liters of salt and 3 cents to pay for his son’s yearly school fee.
Yamsuk’s family was Christian but it was at the center where he was introduced to having a personal relationship with God and where he was baptized. The center supported him in several youth camps and helped him to walk and grow in the way of Jesus.
After Yamsuk graduated from the center and high school, he received a scholarship from the government to study agriculture and social development at the university. He had a burden to help poor villagers in remote areas.
Yamsuk decided to work with an non-governmental organization (NGO) on agriculture development. He taught the villagers to stop growing opium and provided them with knowledge on how to grow other crops. The organization gave funds to support the villagers to do agriculture.
But deep in his heart, Yamsuk knew just giving the villagers money was not a sustainable process to help them develop in the long term.
“I worked for many years but the money we provided for them was gone. I felt my work was worthless. The villagers spent the budget they received unprofitably because they did not have an ownership.”
Yamsuk resigned from the NGO after working for 10 years. He had a passion and dream for his hill tribe people to have something that belonged to them; something they could have ownership in, and something that could help them escape from poverty.
He also wanted to create a solution for the villagers’ high debt that was incurred when they borrowed money.
All too often, the villagers had been taken advantage of because they did not have knowledge. Some could not even take out loans from the bank since they did not have Thai citizenship.
In 1994, Yamsuk and his friends established a savings group organization called Micro Economic Development Foundation.
“I don’t have grants for the villagers but God gives me wisdom to help them. The most valuable thing for me is not money but the knowledge.”
Yamsuk traveled to the remote areas in northern Thailand to teach and encourage villagers about savings. It took him six months to establish the first members group.
The purpose of the savings group is to gather villagers who live in the same village to save money monthly. Money in the group is the villagers’ savings and they can borrow that money for paying school fees, investments in their farms, livestock, or to open a store.
The savings group interest rate is lower than the bank or other financial resources. Having the savings group, which is run by the villagers, gives them a sense of ownership and has helped improve their lives.
One savings group started with 74 members and 4,700 baht (around $155). The group grows constantly; after operating for 13 years, there are now more than 540 members with more than $180,000.
Piengput was a poor villager who, from a young age, had a dream to have her own shop. She nearly gave up pursuing her dream because she did not have a budget.
After Yamsuk came to the village to share the benefits of the savings group, Piengput did not hesitate to join.
Piengput deposited her savings each month to the savings group account and she borrowed money many times to invest in her little shop. Starting out with a small store 3-by-3 meters in size, she now owns the biggest store in the village.
Piengput has been saving her money with the group from the beginning and now she has more than $6,450 in the savings group account. She even brought more than 20 people from her family, friends and relatives to join the savings group.
The savings group helped her become free from debt and support her two children to study in schools in the city. It also helped her start her own business, which is the main source of income for the family.
The savings groups that Yamsuk has established are growing. There are 65 savings groups located in the remote areas working for the hill tribe people. Their total savings is more than $2.3 million.
“I don’t think to make anyone [the members of savings group] rich. If they are rich, they are rich of joy and happiness.
“I am very proud to work alongside the villagers. I sacrifice myself, my knowledge and my time into the savings groups. All my work wasn’t wasted. But it is growing and it can help poor villagers.
“I would like to pass my appreciation to my sponsor who gave me a chance to study. I promised myself that I would bring knowledge to help others. This is what God’s planned for me.”