Utis Buddhasud Somjai
Fellow Since 1992
Foundation for Rural Child Development
This profile was prepared when Utis Buddhasud Somjai was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
The New Idea
Utis Buddhasud is working to develop programs to halt the negative effects of migration by attending to its effect on children and young people. By organizing a child care development center and a lapidary training project, she is helping families join together to help themselves.She began the project in her own village. Utilizing a small government grant Utis expanded a child care facility into a full-fledged Rural Development Center that employs two teachers, maintains a communal garden, and offers a nutritious lunch program. Mothers of the children in the Center are asked to participate one day a month by cooking lunch. Besides cooking, the mothers are strengthening their ties to other families in the community. Families pay a low daily fee only on those days they leave their children at the Center, more affordable than the month's tuition in advance demanded by normal day-cares. The Center's lunch program is widely recognized in the area and has expanded to serve 265 children between the ages of two and six in three villages. Not only does the program offer children a nutritious lunch, but the trained teachers instruct both the children and mothers about nutrition. Utis's Rural Development Center serves as a model to more than 15 villages in the Northeast. Throughout the year, village leaders, government officials and university students visit the center to learn its strategy and philosophy. Young people from poor farming communities have few career options to keep them in their villages. Utis knew there needed to be something to keep the community's young from fleeing: they needed a trade that could provide a future. She began a gemstone-cutting training program for youth. Utis chose lapidary because it is a skill that people can perform at home and with tools that are easily available. The lapidary program consists of studying for two months at the Northeast Industrial Center and training with professionals for three months. Learning a skilled trade, earning money to help their families, and providing financial support for the community center are some of the positive effects of the program, which was initiated in 1990.Starting with the Center in her home village, she has expanded these activities to two other villages. At present, 15 other villages in the Northeast are planning to establish a Rural Development Center using Utis's Center as a model.