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Phantip Buttad, a Thai woman with only four years of formal education, has influenced Thailand's legislators to provide a long-term solution to Bangkok's displaced slum-dwellers and is organizing those who have suffered eviction to realize the dream of home ownership.

This profile below was prepared when Phanthip Buttad was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1993.

คุณพันทิพย์ เป็นผู้หญิงที่มีความรู้เพียงแค่ชั้นประถม 4 แต่เป็นผู้มีส่วนร่วมในการผลักดันให้สภานิติบัญญัติของไทยจัดการแก้ไขปัญหาเรื่องชุมชนแออัด การไล่ที่ และการสนับสนุนคนจนในเมืองให้มีที่อยู่อาศัยเป็นของตัวเอง คุณพันธ์ทิพย์ยังเขียนหนังสือเรื่องการระดมทุน เป็นตัวแทนและเป็นกระบอกเสียงให้แก่คนจนในกรุงเทพฯ คุณพันธทิพย์ยังสนับสนุนให้ชาวชุมชนแออัด มีส่วนร่วมในการแก้ไขปัญหา หรือเข้าร่วมการเจรจาเพื่อหาหนทางแก้ไขปัญหา ให้สอดคล้องกับชีวิตและความเป็นอยู่ของพวกเขา รวมทั้งผลักดันให้มีการออกกฎหมายเพื่อปกป้องสิทธิคนยากจนในชุมชนแออัดอีกด้วย


Phantip Buttad, a Thai woman with only four years of formal education, has influenced Thailand's legislators to provide a long-term solution to Bangkok's displaced slum-dwellers and is organizing those who have suffered eviction to realize the dream of home ownership.


Phantip Buttad has become a leading advocate for Thailand's urban and rural poor by using community groups, the media and legislative measures to help solve housing problems with lasting solutions. She has also become an effective writer, fundraiser, lobbyist and public speaker on behalf of Bangkok's urban poor, advocating that slum dwellers be allowed to take part in problem-solving negotiations so that proposed solutions will be appropriate to their particular life styles and needs. Phantip believes their involvement can also prevent the occurrence of some future problems such as relocation of communities to areas that are remote from employment opportunities.

Despite her lack of traditional schooling, Phantip has developed and skillfully applied the organizational and negotiating skills that enable her community organization to gain the support of many influential people who have helped spread information about the plight of slum dwellers through rock concerts and other methods. When the plight of the slum dwellers finally attracted the attention of legislators, Phantip was instrumental in persuading politicians to draft a law requiring that part of the price paid for land on which poor communities dwell will be set aside to purchase a piece of land for those who are evicted. This piece of legislature, which is now out of committee and expected to become law, evolved from the premise that slum dwellers who have land rights will be more likely to develop their communities.


Bangkok experienced a rapid growth of urbanization from 1.36 million people in 1950 to 7.16 million in 1990. The surge in population over those 40 years changed not only where the Thai people lived but also how they lived. There are 981 recognized slums in Bangkok, more than ten times greater than the number of slums in 1940. These slums are congested and unorganized communities strewn with dilapidated houses, where people live in crowded, unhealthy and unsafe conditions.

Most slum residents are working people with family and community ties; the majority of them are trying to extricate themselves from their poverty and improve their educational and economic prospects. However, slums engender social problems such as drug addiction, prostitution and crimes that often work against the residents' best intentions and efforts.

Thailand's recent economic boom and subsequent surge of property development has resulted in the serving of eviction notices over the past few years to 451 slum communities. This practice has displaced thousands of people and has vastly increased the suffering and hopelessness of Bangkok's urban poor. The communities of people most vulnerable to eviction are those renting from private owners and those who encroach on public land areas, such as along railroad lines and the canal. The eviction process lasts from one to two weeks, during which time the slum residents may be arrested and have their homes burned. In cases where the land is rented, some additional time may be available for negotiations with the landowner or for court proceedings. The poverty-driven migration to Bangkok of Thailand's rural population and the negative effects on the family and community are well-documented. While Thailand's economic growth forges ahead, the urban and rural underclasses remain unable to reap the benefits of this growth. Phantip's own family's eviction notice was served just after school had started and substantial family resources had gone toward purchasing books and uniforms. Consequently, in addition to uprooting families, the timing of the eviction notices often means that a number of children may have to give up their formal education and go to work to help resolve the family's intensified financial problems.


Through a variety of means, Phantip has worked to achieve her goal of enabling the urban poor to own their own homes. Working at the grassroots level, she organizes slum dwellers to become a self-reliant and motivated force. Phantip is president of the Bangkok-Thornburi Housing Community Cooperative Limited and of the Sapnukal Patthana Community. In addition, she is a coordinator of the Association of Urban Housing Community Cooperative and serves on the Coordination Committee for the Slums in Four Regions, a committee of the Urban Environment Project, "LIFE." Phantip has also helped gain national and international attention for the problems they face, spurring community leaders, pop stars and politicians to act on behalf of the slum dwellers. In addition, Phantip and her organization have become familiar with the legislative process and have met with lawyers and local political representatives who in turn have delivered their message to the highest authorities in the country. Twenty-seven association cooperative groups met with the Director of the Revenue Department (four representatives were from Phantip's group) to request a nonprofit status for the cooperatives that will exempt them from paying taxes. To help facilitate the new status, the association will also change its name to "The Cooperative Club for Housing in Urban Communities."

The association also met with the Government Housing Bank to request that any communication of the problems of slum dwellers be expressed in a positive way that inspires empathy and to ensure that slum dwellers have the opportunity to choose lower-priced housing designs.

The creation of legislation to help resettle slum residents permanently on their own land is a major achievement that can become a powerful tool in breaking the cycle of urban poverty. Phantip is also working to create a watchdog network of slum-dweller associations that will help ensure that the law will be enforced. In addition, she is working to influence legislation to make government schools more accessible to poor children who have no permanent address, and she has brought the special problems of slum dwellers to the attention of the Ministry of Education.

Pahntip also tries to tackle the social problems within the slums. With regard to drug addiction, Phantip urges parents to seek professional help for their children and creates opportunities for young drug addicts to participate in sports activities. She also helps slum-dwellers to manage their personal savings through a credit union. Once land is obtained, the community needs to develop the financial means to set up revolving loan funds for building homes. Phantip has helped establish 120 of these funds in Bangkok and twenty in the surrounding rural areas.

Phantip would also like to build solidarity by combining the efforts of Thailand's urban and rural poor in overcoming poverty. To help accomplish this, she plans to establish a food cooperative with rural communities, eliminating the middleman. Her group is already buying rice directly from farmers. By creating a model in the Bangkok-Thonburi Housing Community Cooperative, Phantip has been able to help other slum communities organize along similar lines.


Phantip was born in 1954. After receiving only four years of formal education, she began working at the age of thirteen in a printing shop. Phantip is married and has four children, one of whom is adopted. After the birth of her second child, she stopped work and began to get involved in community activities. Gradually, Phantip overcame a sense of low self-esteem and, with the support of her friends and family, developed into a community leader.

When her own family and 84 other families were evicted from her slum dwelling for the second time with only one month's notice, Phantip decided to take action.

Although she and her family had a small piece of land on which they could re-locate, she could not bear to watch the 30-year-old community, to which she had been so connected, disperse with no hope of permanent relocation. Phantip knew from experience that even if her neighbors could find homes in new slums, they would have no security and, at any time, they could be forced to move again.

Phantip talked to all her neighbors, convincing them that they must act as a group to overcome each individual's sense of powerlessness. She led the formation of an organization to represent her community to the new owner of the land. Although she believed that the landlord couldn't empathize with the problems of slum dwellers, she decided to approach him in a nonconfrontational way. Her plan was to engage him in a dialogue so that he might choose to become part of a solution. Three years later, after many court orders, the new landowner offered relocation payments to the displaced families. By then, the community was well organized. Led by Phantip, it asked instead for the individual settlement money to be pooled so the community could buy land on which the families could build their own modest homes. With this accomplished, Phantip helped the families to secure small loans that they combined to create a revolving fund for building loans. Her soft-spoken and nonconfrontational communication style, excellent grasp of given situations and strong writing skills combine to make Phantip a very effective leader. Remembering that she once suffered from low self-esteem, she is proud of the fact that one legislator assumed she had a university-level education. Through her work, Phantip has identified and nurtured many potential leaders among slum dwellers. For a recent National Social Development Plan seminar in Bangkok, her proposal read: "...I ask for those who are responsible for each project (to) do their works earnestly, for the plan will be successful._"