29 March 2009

Taeparock 1

Staying in Taeparock 1, a slum community living along the SRT’s railroad, illustrated to me how powerful a unified community can be. Taeparock 1 faces the constant threat of eviction because they have built their lives along unused state land. There is not enough affordable housing in Khon Kaen leaving community members with no other option. Taeparock 1 began in the 1960s when people from the rural areas came to the city to work for the blossoming bus station. The population grew dramatically in the 1970s. By 1987 needs for access to education, water, and electricity were undeniable. The community organized into a group and went to the municipality for recognition. Hence Taeparock 1 was established. With this recognition came temporary housing registration which allowed students to attend the local public schools and allowed families to buy water and electricity from the state.

Currently there are 100 households registered, some even fall within the forbidden 20 meters around the railroad track. The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) heard of the municipality’s recognition, so came in to survey the neighborhood. The SRT set a limitation that only 70 households are allowed to receive water and electricity from the state, so the rest are now reliant on neighbors electricity that is sold at a higher price. Today Taeparock 1 stands as a tight nit community dedicated to support one another. What stands out about this community is their willingness to stand by one another even though half of them, the ones who live more than forty meters from the train tracks, have been granted the right to lease the land. They refuse to sign this agreement because it means the houses that are located within 20 meters of the tracks would have to be relocated to a new place and/ or run the risk of being evicted. The community wants to stay whole. The State has offered no satisfactory plans for relocating the community.

The UN defines a slum as a community that lacks access to one of the following, access to improved water, access to improved sanitation, security of tenure, durability of housing, or sufficient living area. Examining the Thai slum Taeparock 1 it is evident that they lack sufficient living area, security of tenure and not all house have access to improved sanitation. Often they lack access to water and electricity and have to get it from neighbors for an outrageous price. During a village exchange they enlightened CIEE students to the fact they do not want to be labeled as a slum because it carries negative connotation. Rather, they prefer the Thai work “Chom Chow a at” literally meaning densely packed community. This community re-definition itself is a powerful move. It takes away the negative perceptions that often that can be unwilling applied to a neighborhood. Also while in the exchange a question was raised about how the outside Khon Kaen community perceives them. They declared that they have a good reputation. With pride in his voice the community leader listed several of the awards that they have won; ranging from cleanest community to best som tam. Clearly this is a community that is not, nor should it be, ashamed of its legal status.

Pai wan, a strong woman in the community, stated “unification is wall that protects the community.” Pai wan explanation clarifies why this community has stayed strong through the threat of eviction. So The question remains: Why would the state want to destroy such a strong and upstanding community for the sake of an extra 20 meters of land?

-Shannon Hurley, Occidental College


Kelsey said...

Hey Shannon. Thank you for sharing! I really enjoyed reading your post. I also stayed at Theparak 1. At the Amnesty International meeting we had right after this homestay, one of the men said that Amnesty’s current campaign called “Demand Dignity” isn’t about giving slum people dignity, because they already have dignity. And its not about getting rid of all slums because they are inherently bad places – its about changing peoples’ perceptions of slums so that the human rights of slum people are protected. I think the part in your blog about the different awards Theparak 1 has won, like Best Isaan Dance, Best Som Tam and Cleanest Community, illustrated how Theparak 1 viewed the awards as opportunities to change peoples’ perceptions of slum communities. And when the community insisted the word ‘chum chon eh at’ was used instead of slum, they were taking agency over people’s labeling of them. In doing so, the residents were demanding dignity.

Melissa said...

I remember when we first arrived in Theparak 1 and I found out our mae did not have a job. My perception of a chumchoam a-at community did not even take into account the connotation of a word like "slum." I had envisioned that the villagers were migrants from the rural areas, homesick for their fields. Instead I discovered that many had never known another home. That they had developed their own strong community along the railroad tracks.

Living in Theparak 1 opened my eyes to all the contradictions I do not recognize on a daily basis. While we were on the song-tao with our mae and pi-sow to Ferry Plaza, I looked at out pi-sow and realized if I had been on the song tao any other day that I had entered downtown Khon Kaen I might have looked at her and assumed she was a KKU student. I never would have thought that her home was within 20 meters of the railroad tracks, or that she worked in Ferry Plaza to support her entire family.

When we exchanged with the 4 slums region network I remember how disappointed I was to hear that the network did not work with Theparak 1. And even worse, the contempt they had for the community. But you explained just how strong and unified Theparak 1 really is. Thank you!

Mikaela said...

I also stayed in Theparak 1 with Shannon and Kelsey!

I had been expecting dilapidated homes packed with hungry families, too busy struggling for their survival to enjoy life. I had been under the impression that urban poverty was more extreme than rural poverty, which we had just experienced in our previous unit.

When I arrived to Theparak 1, I was shocked. Aesthetically, it was the most charming community we had visited. The houses lined a narrow winding street, wide enough for motorci’s to drive but not for cars. The result was a very quaint and intimate scene, with families eating and laughing together as children chased each other up and down the street.

My host mom sold food to the locals out of her cart. When she was not selling food, her family was eating around the table attached to the cart, as friends and family stopped to chat and share a good laugh. I yearned for the sense of community that they had.

Before I stayed in Theparak 1, I did not understand why a government-compensated -move was such a threat to their lives and livelihood. But as I soaked up my surroundings, I had an intense understanding that these people’s lives and their sense of community was irreplaceable.