The roots of KHT can be traced back all the way to the 1980s.

In 1986 a very young Salahae (our current Karen Manager) met British born Jim Soutar when he was teaching in Mae Phon school, near Chiang Mai. Together they started working on projects to address the lack of clean water in Karen villages. With little support from the government, villages were forced to rely on contaminated river water for drinking, cooking and washing.

To tackle this challenge, they combined their knowledge to design the very first clean water system in the village of Mae Phon where the life changing benefits quickly became clear. With so much more need in the region, the idea was born to form an organisation which would work with Karen communities to help build a better future for themselves. In 1989 this was made a reality with the registering of the Mae Phon Karen Hilltribes Trust. 

Searching for a clean water source

A Volunteer Journey

From the early days, the organisation welcomed groups of British volunteers to be involved in an array of projects, travelling to Thailand from schools and universities in the UK and other countries.

One of these young volunteers was Richard Worsley who in 1990 spent six months with the Karen, living in the forest, while helping to build clean water systems and teaching English to Karen children. The memory of the Karen stayed with Richard who brought many stories home to his family.

Life was sadly short for Richard. In 1996, at the age of just 24, he was killed in a car accident.

A young Salahae and Richard

Remembering Richard

In memory of Richard, the Karen people dedicated a water system in the village of Huay Kong Po but his death was to leave a far greater legacy.

Richard’s mother, Penelope, touched by the stories Richard shared visited Huay Kong Po in 1999 and discovered the warmth and gratitude of the Karen people.

It was from here that a link with North Yorkshire was made. In 1999 Penelope established KHT as an international organisation by opening a fundraising office in York and officially reregistering the charity in 2002 as the Karen Hilltribes Trust, in memory of Richard. 

KHT Today

Since its humble beginnings KHT has seen over 500 volunteers follow in the footsteps of Richard, and volunteering is now central to the organisation’s ethos. Many remain involved as donors, trustees and staff members.

After 30 years, Salahae continues to lead the work in Thailand and has formed a Karen team of six to help deliver projects across the region. In the UK, after over 17 years dedicated to the charity raising life-changing funds, Penelope has retired and KHT is now headed up by former volunteer, William Harnden for whom the memory of volunteering in the village of Mae Tho Tai stays vivid. William works closely with Salahae, and has seen the charity continue to grow, delivering projects to increasingly isolated communities.

Clean water has now been delivered to more than 60,000 people, and further projects have been developed by the Karen staff and community in the areas of agriculture and education. The long-term aim is to enable the Karen to live in a sustainable way in Thailand, in harmony with the environment. To learn more about what we are doing today, please visit our project pages.

William and our Karen staff