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Thai Students Compete to Revitalize the Burma Border

And the winner is… Green Day!  Not to be confused with the popular U.S. music group, Green Day is a team of Thai university students who won a recent business plan competition hosted by the Thailand office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).  The idea behind the contest was for both graduate and undergraduate students in Thailand to come up with a creative business strategy to help jump-start economic growth in the poverty-stricken Thai communities along the Burmese border.

The impoverished border area is host to some 140,000 refugees, most of whom have fled on-going violence and human rights abuses in Burma.  Many of these refugees have languished in refugee camps along Thailand’s border with Burma for over two decades.  They are not allowed to leave the camps, seek employment, or otherwise pursue a normal life.

“Warehousing refugees wastes human resources and can have an impact on security,” said Veerawit Tianchainan, director of USCRI’s Thailand field office.  USCRI is at a forefront of a movement to transition from aid to development in Thailand’s refugee camps by integrating services provided to people in the camps with those available to local Thai communities.

“The business plan competition unlocks the potential of Thailand’s pool of bright, eager, well-educated university students,” said Adam Zerbinopoulos of the Foreign Service Office of the U.S. Department of State, commending the USCRI-led contest. “It then takes the ideas they produce to unlock the potential in Burmese refugees by offering them opportunities to be productive and self-sufficient.”

One of the criteria of the student competition was that the product ideas had to adhere to local traditions and utilize readily available natural resources.  Beating out 28 other teams, each made up of 3-5 students, the first-prize winners from Sakon Nakhon Rajabhat University took home $1,500 (50,000 THB).  The business concept that won the judges over, healthy on-the-go seafood snacks, presents a unique twist on Thailand’s popular fish dishes. Ramkhamhaeng University team’s organic fragrance-infused textiles idea earned second place while Mae Jo University students’ healthy black-sesame snack concept came in third.

The Inspector General of the Ministry of Labor of Thailand, Pairat Lumyong, honored the winners with an opening statement at the awards ceremony on Mar. 29, 2010.  He applauded this joint effort by USCRI, the Business University Forum of Thailand, and Central Pattana company to revitalize the border community: “Hopefully, the business plans from this competition can be adjusted and implemented in the real world later.”

Photos from top to bottom: Veerawit Tianchainan, director of USCRI's Thailand field office, takes the stage with the winners of the Business Plan Competition.  The first-prize winners from Sakon Nakhon Rajabhat University demonstrate their product idea:  healthy on-the-go seafood snacks.

Read about the plight of refugees living in camps along the Thai-Burmese border >>

Find out what USCRI is doing to help end refugee warehousing around the world >>

Click here for the latest USCRI Thailand update >>

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