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Tribal friendships extend beyond borders

News story

For the past seven years, Dr Lorel Mayberry, School of Public Health, has packed her bags for the long journey from Perth to the remote border regions of northern Thailand to work with local hill tribe children and tribe leaders, and run sexuality education workshops.

Dr Mayberry was recently presented with an internationally recognised Rotary Foundation award – The Paul Harris Fellow – for her humanitarian work with the hill tribe people.

Dr Mayberry is the inaugural president of not-for-profit organisation, Borderless Friendship WA (BFWA), which provides sexuality education workshops, secondary and tertiary education scholarships, and sponsorship for more than 300 ‘at risk’ hill tribe children.

The hill tribe people are poor and live in remote, border locations. They have little, or no, access to education, which makes them vulnerable targets for trafficking into Thailand’s sex industry and drugs trades. In addition, their ‘stateless’ status – many hill tribe people do not hold Thai citizenship – make them ineligible for health and other services.


Dr Lorel Mayberry with some of the hill tribe children.

The hill tribe children who can access education are in a much better position to care for themselves, their families and the broader community. The BFWA scholarships help the children to stay at school, or to continue their studies at technical school or university. BFWA offers geographically isolated children hostel accommodation during semesters, so they can attend school daily. It also assists the hill tribe children with gaining citizenship so they can access basic services, provides clothing and food, and supports the development of accommodation and sustainable food production.

BFWA also offers a separate scholarship fund, the Paola Ferroni Education Scholarship, for the education of girls and women. This fund was established by Dr Rosemary Coates AO, retired Curtin professor and Patron of BFWA, in honour of her partner, Professor Paola Ferroni, who was the Director of Curtin’s Centre for International Health.

Dr Ferroni was an epidemiologist who dedicated her life to promoting health and preventing disease and disability through research and education. She emphasised the need for educating girls and women as a means to ameliorating poverty and achieving gender equity. Based on the UN statistic that 70 per cent of the world’s poverty is borne by women, and that one in three women has been subjected to some form of sexual aggression, Dr Ferroni provided both material and emotional support for many women from diverse countries and cultures.

In November 2014, while cycling to her fitness centre, Dr Ferroni was hit by a car and killed. The Paola Ferroni Education Scholarship was established to honour Dr Ferroni’s work and her philosophy. The scholarship is to support the education of hill tribe girls and women in order to provide them with the capacity to make independent decisions, find safe and meaningful employment and become educators to their family and beyond.

In July 2016, ten young hill tribe women received the prestigious Paola Ferroni Education Scholarship at an award ceremony in Chiang Mai.


Chutima receiving the Paola Ferroni Education Scholarship.


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