By THE NATION
Ichitan Group recently brought smiles to young faces with the opening of the newly built Ichitan Charity Eco Board Library high in the hills of Chiang Rai.
The library is equipped with high-speed internet so that the youngsters, all Akha hilltribe children, can enjoy equal educational opportunities to their lowland peers.
Taking recycling to a new level, Ichitan Charity’s Eco Board Library is constructed from Ichitan’s UHT cartons, which are made of six layers of paper, plastic and aluminium foil. While the UHT carton contains the beverage, the materials in each layer help preserve nutrients last for one year without the addition of preservatives. Instead of being thrown away, the used cartons undergo a recycling process to separate the materials and form them into a new material. Eco Board is strong compared to wood, but formaldehyde-free, moisture and termite resistant and can last up to 20 years.
“Each year, Thai people consume more than 80,000 tons of UHT cartons but only 7.5 per cent of them are recycled. Ichitan has the used product cartons sorted and separated by material before transforming this into a quality surface material. The construction of the library has created a strong connection between Ichitan and the hilltribe villagers who cultivate the tea for our product. The leaves are handpicked by the villages, then transported to Ichitan’s factory as a main ingredient in Ichitan drinks and finally distributed nationwide to Thai consumers. We pick up the cartons, have them recycled and bring them back in a way that helps our hilltribe community”, explains Tan Passakornnatee, chairman and chief executive of Ichitan Group.
The close connection with the Akha is further underlined by involving them in every process of the Eco board library from the design and construction of the space, to sourcing books and setting up the internet system. Indeed, Ichitan considers the hilltribe community as part of its family and is determined to enhance their living standards, especially in terms of education for the Akha children attending Phayapraitrimit School in Mae Fah Luang district, which is home to the largest area of tea plantations in Thailand. Last year, Ichitan adopted a satellite system in order to source ground water for the villagers’ consumption. The water is extracted from rock layers up to 80 metres in depth and supplies not just the students but also more than 400 households in the area.
“We used to assess the water supply situation day by day. If it was too arid, the school closed. As education professionals, we felt sorry that we were unable to solve drought issues. Fortunately, Ichitan gave us light on our darkest days. Also, this year Ichitan come back with the library and high-speed Internet that allows more equal education opportunities for our students and villagers who can gain more knowledge through this new resource to improve their life and career,” says Dr Saisaward Wichai, director of Chiang Rai Regional Education Area, district 3.
“The Ichitan Charity Ecoboard Library is probably the most beautiful library in our district. It is our pride. Hopefully, it can attract more children to read books. All the help and support we received from Ichitan is invaluable.”
Akha tea farmer Menoo Lachegu remembers the days when opium poppy not tea was the barter medium for rice.
“We were also addicted, which made us unhealthy. We needed to burn the fields to renew the surface at the end of each rotation season and this damaged the soil, forcing us to always be on the move. The villagers’ life has improved since they began planting tea trees. Living conditions are much better: We no longer need to move and our health has improved. This is truly sustainable as the tea plantation is permanent, Today, after three years of planting tea, we can harvest the shoots every 15 days. We no longer need to worry about selling the leaves as Ichitan is our buyer. Villagers now have a stable career and we can all stay together, there’s no need to work far away for money anymore. We are truly happy.”