Ministry Context

Isaan is the Northeast of Thailand, with more then 21 million people. The every day language for most people is Isaan, closely related to Lao. The Isaan dialect differs from region to region, with the biggest
difference in Khorat province. Besides the Isaan dialect there are some smaller ethnic groups that use their own languages. The biggest among those groups are the Khmer, with more then 1 million Khmer
speakers. The Isaan have a strong regional identity within Thailand, that they hold on to even after moving to other parts of the country. The eductional, official, and media language is Thai, and most
people are fluent in Thai.

Isaan is poorer than Central Thailand, because it consists of a plateau that holds less water than
the fertile plains of Central Thailand, and because it used to have limited connections to the rest of
the world. In the last decade Isaan experienced significant economic development. Many of the
Isaan are migrant workers. Some are seasonal workers and come back for planting and harvesting
the rice. Others are permanent migrants working in Bangkok and other industrial areas. Many
Isaan work for sCnts as laborers overseas in e.g. Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea. Tens of
thousands of Isaan women have married foreigners and are living abroad.

Within Thailand, the Isaan are noted for eating everything. Herbs and leaves from around the
house provide the needed vegetables, and e.g. beetles, lizards, and red ant’s eggs are common
parts of Isaan dishes. About 90% of all people in Isaan are living in villages. Around each village
paddy fields can be found. Planting rice is an important part of Isaan culture, and it is a matter of
pride for the Isaan to eat rice from their own land. Other important cash crops are cassava, sugar
cane, and eucalyptus trees.

There are four cities with over 100,000 people in Isaan: Nakhon Ratchasima, the largest city and
closest to Bangkok; Khon Kaen, most central and having the most educational opportunities in
Isaan; Udon Thani in the North and Ubon Ratchathani in the southeast of Isaan.

The Isaan are staunchly Buddhist. Life in the village centers around the Buddhist temple. Many
women wait in front of their house every morning to offer food to the monks. Village festivals
always take place in the temple grounds. Any ceremony is incomplete without the presence of
some monks. At the same time, animist practices are widespread and are not seen as conflicting
with the Buddhist religion.