22 October 2008

What is Development? How Can we Regain our Hope?

"Where do we go from here?" - Photo by Emma Htun
Going into the land unit, I guess you could say the expectations of the group were mixed. We’d been through two units before, and were beginning to feel more and more confident with the structure of the week, which eased our minds a little. As far as the issues go, our initial impression was that the main issue we would see villagers affected by was the potash mine, although we soon found out that this unit’s issues would not be so easily confined. Amongst other things we learned of the struggles against electricity grids and dredging, but beyond that, we began to make connections to the past units and realize how interconnected the plights of Isaan villagers are.

As we push ourselves to see things from a “big picture” perspective rather than polarize issues we study, the group seems to be stuck in a pattern of trying to distinguish between black and white, afraid to forge new territory that may not currently exist. In my opinion, to settle for simply black or white is to perpetuate problems that we already see in the world, absolving ourselves of the realization that we have a position of power as a group of well-intentioned students. But reflecting on our group’s perceptions, it is very evident that collectively, we are hitting some sort of emotional wall. Re-addressing issues in light of a bigger picture can easily become a task that is depressing, overwhelming, and discouraging. Our awareness is raised, but our struggle is to utilize the information and experiences here; to be challenged rather than discouraged.

During our last exchange of the week, this very struggle was well articulated and addressed. We each wrote a letter to a person of our choice, explaining our perceptions of issues we’ve studied and how we’ve internally processed our thoughts in response. My letter is as follows:

To Whom It May Concern,

As I learn more about issues of development across Thailand and how they relate to the rights of villagers, my thoughts are pulled in many different directions. I am confused because it almost seems that there is no good answer, or a clear way to solve most of the issues at hand. But I am still hopeful that if more people become aware of these issues, we will value humans more and change can be made. I think it is important to know that most people struggle with rights issues, and we have to find a way to understand each other and work together so that we will all benefit.

While I can’t say that my perspective is entirely indicative of the groups current status, much of what was said by my peers drew parallels to my own insights. Some feel empowered but unsure of where to start; others feel that the burden of villagers and people we’ve encountered is too much to carry; and many people are stuck wondering how and to what extent we should determine right from wrong. With so many elements entangled into the seemingly simple idea of development, it is hard to analyze what we have grown up with. For most of us, we’ve never been forced to address the immediate effects that come with development, because for our generation most of the “kinks” have already been worked out, or at least brought to a point where we accept the changes rather than fight them.

My most difficult questions are these: How can we move past feeling helpless and regain our initial hope and belief that positive change can be made through us? And how can we challenge the information we receive in a positive way that initiates action instead of suppressing hope?

Caitlin Ryan - Northeastern University


Lyndia said...

We are coming up upon an exciting transition here in Thailand. We are approaching the end of our fourth and final unit, the Urban Unit, and we will be working on our Human Rights Reports and our Final Projects. In the spirit of transition, I see the rest of the semester as a unique opportunity to “initiate action,” as Caitlin so passionately put it.
While it can be overwhelming to find our place within these issues, I see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to do what we can on behalf of the people we’ve been living with. By doing these Human Rights Reports, I hope to expose the problems associated with large-scale development projects, and show how Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are often violated in the interest of large development schemes.
During Final Project time, we will have the opportunity creatively synthesize or specialize in food, land, water and urban issues. This is a challenge I believe our group is ready for.

Christi said...

What Caitlin says, "the burden of villagers and people we’ve encountered is too much to carry" is something I have had a hard time dealing with as well. I think we all struggle with this idea of the weight of the issues, and the gravity of the situations being too much for us. But before I got too hopeless I remember the words at our exchange with P'Suvit. He said that although people many not win the battles in the long run, and that although our natural resources are dying before out eyes, there is always hope in the prospect of change. I think it's important to realize that although some things we've done to the world are irreversible, and that many people will not change, we can still make life better for the people we encounter everyday. This kind empowerment seeks not to heal the wounds of the environment, so much as does to empower the people. I think empowerment is exactly what the world is lacking. People in bad situations are lost, and have no means of brining themselves up, and that’s what it should be about, helping people to help themselves. Although I still struggle with the idea that we are hopelessly exploiting our resources to an end that’s too grim to bear, I find light in the hope that maybe our actions will help others in a way that no one else can. And although I live by the words of P’Suvit that “you must work at it, until it becomes your life”, I understand the futility in putting your life into a failing project like the environment, but there is always a sunny side. So as they say, “keep on the sunny side”.

Sue said...

As Lyndia stated, we are approaching a transition in Thailand where we can finally put all the issues into perspective in our Human Rights reports and/or our final project. However, I would go further to say that throughout our lifetime we will encounter many transition stages such as these, though it doesn't necessarily require us to travel a thousand miles or more to encounter them each time. The transition stage requires us to think back into our past and reflect on how we lived and how we acted as human beings in certain situations. We begin to realize that we may not have lived in the best way possible, or more easily put, "We lived quite selfishly." Whereas before we thought our eyes were open to the issues of the world and we thought our worldviews were supported by our complete awareness of the world's issues, we understand now that we knew nothing; moreover, we have experience nothing as moving as the first hand experiences we are encountering here in Thailand. But the most important thing for us to do is to continue to keep learning and keep our eyes open instead of being overwhelmed by the state of the world. The fact is, these problems have always existed, and we are fortunate enough to encounter them so early in our lifetime. Our job is not to change the world miraculously with a magic wand, but more realistically, we can spread awareness, attempt to open the eyes of other people and create exactly what we have seen here in Thailand, a worldwide people’s movement. Basically instead of looking at the problems and issues of the world as one big overpowering bubble you can’t possibly make a difference in, attempt to make small changes that in your life to spread awareness of what you learned here in Thailand.