The spring semester of my junior year, 2011, I lived and worked in Thailand, followed by backpacking in Vietnam and Malaysia. My program was called CIEE: Globalization and Development and I worked on various environmental and social issues with Thai villagers, Non-Governmental Organizations and Thai government officials.
Below are my blog posts while I was in Thailand.
FEBRUARY 14. 2011
So here it is. I have been living in Khon Kaen city for the past 2 weeks. I can speak a little Thai. Communicating and living with people who you can barely communicate is quit surreal.
I had a homestay last week with a family that did not speak a word of English. We formed a bond that is indescribable.
The city I am living in is not quite what one would imagine Thailand looking like. The homestays in the villages are though. They resemble the beautiful landscapes you see in the movies! Lush green fields, wild cows, and breathtaking temples. The city is dirty for the most part and everyone drives a motorcycle!
Nic Dunlop, a UK photo journalist, worked with my group yesterday. We learned new ways of how to journal our adventure. Apparently Thais have no problem having their pictures taken of or us getting directly in their face with a lens.
FEBRURARY 15. 2011
Today we had an exchange with members from TNP+. The Thai Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS has made significant strides in dissolving the stigma of living with HIV/AIDS. This group also does a lot in human rights work. For example, when patients with the virus go to the dentist here, they are put at the end of the appointment line even if they are on time for an earlier appointment. The doctors do not want their tools to infect other patients. Due to lack of training and knowledge concerning HIV/AIDS, doctors violate the rights of these patients. Training doctors to understand the implications and sanitary practices in dealing with the virus is not mandatory here. TNP+ is working to make it mandatory.
Keem, an known activist in the TNP+ group, is changing the ways in which many people regard HIV/AIDS; I am one of them.
FEBURARY 16. 2011
Our task is not to seek for love,
But merely to seek and find
All the barriers within ourselves
That we have built against it. -poem by Rumi
FEBURARY 17. 2011
A small dark skinned man arrived by taxi. The seven hour trip from Bangkok was quite risky. After the taxi left the gates to the CIEE grounds were shut. He is member of the Red Shirt political group and is under investigation for a crime he says he did not commit. Today, he was our speaker.
He, who remains anonymous, immediately charmed us with his small vocabulary of English words. Ajaan Dave was our translator. Just as we began the discussion he received a call from his lawyer. The lawyer said that his case was going to court. He is currently on the run due to charges against him for owning explosives. He is being charged based on the word of a officer with no substantial evidence. He laughs as he explains the situation.
One of his questions: “Are they going to love democracy or love the nation?” In Thailand, the Yellow Shirts, are supported by the royal family. The Yellow Shirts want a non-corrupt government but also want to maintain the political structure. Can that work? In his words, ” No.” In Thailand there is a law that no one is allowed to talk negatively about the royal family. My Thai friend made sure we did not go deeper than the surface when I explained my afternoon.
Holistic Democracy: He believes the government should benefit the people and not the other way around. He reminded us to look at Marie Antoinette or Louis 16. “High institutions will deteriorate themselves.”
His humor, knowledge and wise words inspired my group. He gave us tips on how to love our neighbors. “Love shall have no meaning if you have no understanding. So please, go understand, and happiness will always be by your side.”
A protest is being held in Bangkok this weekend. Updates to follow.
A Yellow Shirt representative spoke before the Red Shirt speaker. The Yellow Shirt did not have much to offer our group considering our focus is in democracy, human rights and social development in Thailand. I wish he had offered more insight so I could formulate a more concrete picture of the current political situation.
March 2. 2011
Unit 1: Agriculture
The subject of our first unit was sustainable agriculture. We spent our first homestay in Ban Dong Dip village with a group of sugarcane farmers. Their livelihood is dependent upon sugarcane. Consumer purchasing power in the U.S. flows back to directly affect their income, farm and traditional village life.
My Paw, homestay father, took a piece of freshly cut sugarcane from his farm and peeled the outer rind off with what looked like a machete. Like everything else straight from the fields, delicious!
I stayed in their home for one night. They live in a two room house, without furniture. The house offers some protection from the elements and temperature, but not much protection is truly needed. As Spartan as their lifestyle is they did have a television, Blu-ray DVD player, and broadband, which I understand are standard items in local homes. This farmer was relatively successful; his family also had an indoor western style toilet and washer/dryer. They even herd their cows on their motorcycle.
My second homestay was in Yasothon Province. A recent trend in Issan (Northern Thailand) villages is that is the elderly are left to raise young children because the young adults are attending college and the parents are working in the city to earn more money than they would farming.
Rural farm life is no longer easy, simple or appealing due to the increasing control and regulations of large agricultural businesses. Social security is the foundation on which the village community life relies for its survival. Social security is met by preservation of traditional village life. The more members there are to preserve community, the more secure they are as a whole. The security of income, health and traditional farming have diminished specifically during this generation of people. The fear among all of the communities we have visited is that they will be the last generation of farmers. I was fortunate enough to live with a family consisting of the great-grandparents, parents, children and a newborn baby. My family is a true role model for their village in numerous ways.
The future of sustainable agriculture in their village is heavily promoted by my host family. 10 years ago they switched to organic fertilizer, which they cultivate themselves. They have a vast amount of land on which they produce high yielding rice and vegetables. They promote their farm in the community as an example of successful yields, soil preservation, and healthy chemical free produce. My host family is a member of AAN, Alternative Agriculture Network in the Issan region. This network brings together other villages to strengthen and preserve healthy farm life. My Paw is the head researcher for the village on sustainable agriculture. My Daw, Grandfather, is the village doctor and uses herbal medicines cultivated in his backyard. My Mai, Mother, sells her rice seeds to other villages to encourage sustainable practices. She also sells her produce at the Green Market. On market days, she gets picked up at 2AM by a truck full of other farmers who sell at this market. Though their market is small, in comparison to the larger chemically treated produce market one block away, they have been extremely successful.
I learned a great deal from my host family. They reminded me of the value of community and that we can be happy living a simple life. They live to eat and teach. My hope for the future is that we revitalize our understanding of the need for community.
MARCH 7. 2011
Forest Slam Poetry -Lindsay, Jamie, Jo, & Julia
This is a government persuasion
Resisting forest invasion
This is our world to sustain
Whose ability is it to maintain?
The winds have changed, but who’s the blame?
Governments, forests, tourist- its all the same-same.
Ownership, property, wiping out monopoly
We don’t want your crop-opoly.
No more highways, no more tolls
We don’t want no electric poles.
We need to consume points of view instead of CO2.
Preserve human race in this time and place.
How about another rural migration without harsh exploitation?
Drip drip drop, power trickle from the top
We need to work as one
To chill the heat from the sun.
MARCH 10. 2011
Unit 2: Land Right (Nong Wang Community)
For the past two days I stayed in the Nong Wang community, which is only 10 minutes away from my dorm. It is known as a slum community because its residents are illegally living on land owned by the SRT. The SRT is the State Railway of Thailand. My family was the first to move onto this land in 1986. The first 20 meters from the tracks are owned by the SRT. Currently 140 families are residing in these 20 meters.
After the many readings we were assigned, I went into this homestay with some idea of what to expect. I was blown away by how different my expectations were from reality. I did not feel that I was in a slum. It seemed like a rural community that struggles a little more than other communities.
What makes a slum different from a community?
In the next couple hours I will be leaving for another homestay in a forest community.
MARCH 24. 2011
Collaborative Community Report: Seed Bank Project
For our third unit we divided into smaller groups to work on various projects. My group consisting of 7 girls returned to Baw Kaew protest forest community. Not only is this community trying to reestablish rights to their land, they are developing a seed bank.
Our goal: Exchange information with NGOs, villagers and a student organization. Develop a plan of how we can work together to make this project a reality.
Today we are creating a Collabrative Community Consultation Report based on our research. We are writing profiles on NGOs and villagers, background information on Baw Kaew, the current situation, where they fit into the international context, next steps and possible project ideas.
This seed bank will be the first in the Issan region. It will provide the government with evidence that villagers are making good use of the land with an environmental eye. By developing the community, credibility will be established. This will help in their fight for the land with the Land Reform Network, and preserve indigenous seeds.
Our hope is to provide the villagers with more information (legal,seed bank management system) , aid in the construction of the seed bank and further their goals of self-sustainability.
MARCH 29. 2011
Unit 4: Dams and Irrigation
We are now embarking on the forth unit, water. I am facilitating this unit with three other CIEE group members. As a unit facilitator I will have to create a reading discussion activity to better understand the 300 plus pages we have read over the past two days. My group then plans a briefing and creates group goals. This entails planning for how we introduce the unit to the rest of our group and how we can create a productive planning session of each exchange. We have 6 exchanges and some are with NGOs, the Royal Irrigation Department, and villagers. In the large group we actually plan every minute of the exchange down to how we sit. Seems exhausting, which is it, but incredibly necessary. As a unit facilitator, we facilitate all exchanges. One person is head facilitating the group, another is co-facilitating, one is keeping time and track of our raising hand system and one is taking notes. We rotate positions each exchange. Being hyper-aware of the group is crucial in creating a successful exchange. We plan a mid unit check in to better understand how we are all working as a group. At the end of our unit we create questions for group members to reflect upon in small groups or alone. We evaluate each group member and they evaluate my facilitator group as a whole. We then create a pass-on of tips and information to the next unit facilitators.
This process is long, but I am excited. I am excited to practice being patient, understanding group and community building. Being a leader/facilitator and getting our group from point A to point B will be satisfying.
APRIL 17. 2011
Songkran Festival: Chiang Mai
Soaked- my spring break consisted of a 4 day water celebration in Chiang Mai. Songkran, the festival, celebrates the Thai new year. The water part originates from Thais splashing a few drops of water on another’s head wishing good luck for the new year. The new year has turned into a crazy water festival. Starting at 10 am everyday, trucks with 10 people in the back of them drive around the mote and splash people with water or shoot water guns. Foreigners and locals walk around and dump buckets of ice cold water on unsuspecting victims. Vendors are selling buckets and water guns. The streets turn into the largest water fight in the world.
Songkran was amazing. After coming out of my unit on water, it is incredible to really understand the meaning of water to different cultures. Like in India, Indians drink from the Ganges as one of their customs. In Thailand, though it is dealing with lots of water issues, celebrates water to the max.
One of my days was spent at the Elephant Nature Park in the mountains. Originally my friends and I wanted to ride the elephants through the jungle, but as we did more research we found the elephant riding companies to be cruel to their elephants. The ENP is an elephant sanctuary. They rescue elephants, such as ones used in shows, the ones that walk the streets with their owners, and ones that are used for treking. We learned about the elephants, fed them and bathed them in the river! We were able to walk freely on the campgrounds with any elephant.
APRIL 24. 2011
Unit 5: Mountain Top Removal
Sadly we just finished the last unit of the program. We studied mining. We visited two communities that differ in their organizing skills. The first community, Huay Muang, is situated next to the largest copper mountain in the world. If it is mined it will be the first copper mine in Thailand. The amazing part about this community is that they have organized themselves to fight the mine before it has been constructed. All of the other communities we have visited in the past have organized after the problem. Comparing the group process that my group is going through to theirs showed many similarities. First we both work on the individual level, then come together as a group and learn to work together, then research, form committees, and meet with other groups to create solidarity.
The mountains that an Australian mine company wants to “develop” is precious to this community. The mountain is a symbol for their home, nature, and religion.
In this photo we are inside the mountain temple.
The second group we met with organized after the gold mine was developed. They organized after people started to get sick from lead, cadium and gold in their blood. During an exchange with them we were able to question their organization skills. P’Goet, our friend and NGO to some of these communities, gave us advice on questions to pose. He wants that group to understand better ways of organizing. Instead of him telling them what is best, we asked some of his questions as well as explained our group process. After our exchange, the group leaders talked to P’Goet. They were inspired. It was the best exchange I have experienced. My group functioned really well together, right on point, and we were able to create reciprocity.
Though we are done with the units, we are now going into project time. We choose a community and work with them for a month. I have not made a decision yet. I’m excited for project time!
MAY 1. 2011
Final Project: Proposal for Seed Bank for Baw Kaew Village
Today we begin project time. My small group of 5 will work with two communities. I and two others will mostly be working on the development of a seed bank in the Baw Kaew protest village. Two of the other members in my group will be creating a relationship between CIEE and a new community, Gao Baat. Our group as a whole is working on land issue and rights.
We are off to an exchange with P’Pramote, NGO from the Land Reform Network of Thailand. We are excited to get new information from him about the community as well as his help in the development of this seed bank.