29 April 2009

Learning the Word Enough

“You can’t call it development, it’s damage!” an Iron Lady passionately voiced. Her words of honesty linger through my mind, leaving me with one question. What is development?
This unit we have been studying various development schemes, such as potash mining in Udon Thani in the North East of Thailand. Meh Boon, my mom during our home-stay, is an Iron Lady. The Iron Ladies is a group that united in protest to the potential development of a potash mine under their villages. This mine would be the first potash mine in Thailand, as well as the third largest potash mine in the world.
Potash is a mineral widely used to make chemical fertilizer. As of right now, Thailand imports all of their potash to supply farmers with this destructive and expensive chemical fertilizer.
“For people who join our group, we do organic farming and support people to stop using chemical fertilizers and return to organic fertilizer” an Iron lady explained one of their methods of protesting the potash mine. Self-sufficiency is crucial in fighting the government and large companies.
However, this potash mine, according to the Thai-Italian company is considered to be, “risky, but a better life for all.” The Thai-Italian company is a lucrative company that supports large development schemes in Thailand. Thai-Italian has never built potash mines before, but ensured CIEE students in their extensive presentation, that they have created a well thought out design for the mine.
Would it really be a better life for all? These villagers have been asked to sacrifice their quality of life to support the quality of life of the wealthy. This mine would only benefit the investors who are directly developing the mine. It would also increase the dependency of local farmer’s use of chemical fertilizer, as one of the main ingredients would now not need to be imported.
The increased use of chemical fertilizers would be disastrous. The chemical affects on the remaining fertile land would potentially destroy the eco-system.
“This issue may not seem big for people who are looking down at the issue, but for people who live off of nature, it’s a huge issue.” P-aew.
Throughout this semester, I have been exposed to the affects of big development schemes that support my life back in America. Up to this day, the way I have lived my life has been unconsciously supporting destruction, rather than development.
At first, with this newfound awareness, I questioned myself among others, how we could stop this kind of development, but I soon realized that the real problem was over-development. So how can we slow it down?
Suvit Gulapwong, an NGO who works closely with the Iron ladies, among many other activists enlightened me from a Buddhist perspective, “The word enough”. In a culture that values more as better, I easily forget to practice such a simple concept. Every individual’s “enough” will be different, so it has to be determined by the individual practicing this way of life. It can’t be pre-determined or written as a set prescription. It needs to have honesty and commitment.
To me, development should be looked at as development of people, not development for people. I think education should encourage personal growth by providing students the tools needed for growth. It should support the process of becoming self-aware so humans can eventually become socially conscious. Ultimately, if we can rely on ourselves, we can reduce the needs of technology and infrastructure.
Sometimes, we have to step outside of our environment to actually see ourselves. Learning about development in Thailand has been a lens to see the way I live my life and my role in development.

--Piper Harrington, Lesley College '11, Holistic Psychology


Anonymous said...


I agree with much of what you said in your post, but I was particularly interested to see that you brought in the idea of education at the end. I've been thinking alot about education recently, and weirdly enough the SRM final really got me thinking about the differences in learning about issues via textbook and experiencing them through the people who live them. I realize that I came into this program knowing really nothing about many of these issues, and had I simply taken a class on Thai politics, I think I would probably still be in that position. But coming here to Thailand and living with the people who experience the effects of the potash mine, or the damming of their local river, has really helped me connect to the issues in a way I never could have from a classroom. I liked what you said about changing education to allow people to become more socially conscious, because I think observation and experience is really the only way to gain that type of social consciousness, and I think this may be a core flaw of traditional education. Seeing the people, the pain they experience, and their lives that will no longer exist if these development projects continue puts a human face on the issue, makes it closer to home and closer to the heart. I realize now that this is essential to understanding the issue to the core, and I wish that I could bring this knowledge to the US and incorporate it into our education system. Thanks for your interesting perspective, I would love to talk more about education especially since I'll be thinking more about alternative education this summer when teaching science to children through experiential learning methods...education can always be improved!

-Melissa M

Elizabeth said...

I myself have been struggling throughout these past units on my role within the larger picture of development. In Thailand it is easy to say that these mines are wrong and illustrate over development. One can say the potash mine is a waste because chemical farming is wrong, but is that possible. Is the mine really that unnecessary for the rest of Thailand who depend on chemical farming to feed their families? If I say yes I am a hypocrite because I consume more resources at home than that of 50 children combined in developing countries. My over consumption at home contributes to the over development and production in Thailand. In fact it is from this contradictory note that Suvit Gulapwong statement of “what is enough” hit me so hard. Yes I am one person who does not have to contribute to the over-development through saying enough. By me not getting a bag at 7-11 or even shopping there I have reduced some consumption for that and stopped somewhere the growth of development. It is through this idea of a enough that I am able to rationalize going home to the states.

Tyler said...

Yo Pipes… I also wanted to comment on your view of the education system. The way I see it, there are countless human rights abuses in the United States that the millions of “well-educated” people don’t know about.

I used to attribute the ignorance in the US to the general stigma that, as a developed nation it is better not to talk about our problems. Because after all, a developed country such as the US doesn’t have any problems… right?

I expected Thailand to be different. I assumed that because it was already seen by the world as a nation in the throws of development, that the citizens would be aware of the issues at hand. But such was not the case. The students I have talked to in Khon Kaen are just as oblivious as Students in the US.

For some reason, therefore, it seems that getting an academic education separates people from recognizing the issues that face their own country. As a system that revolves around the pursuit of profit, the traditional education system has a way of marginalizing knowledge that has a low profit making potential. This ends in the majority of educated people knowing next to nothing about the negative impacts of development and other ground level social issues.

-- Tyler

Alex said...

In response both to your post, and Tyler's response I have to say that both of you have made me really think about my education and how it has shaped my perspective on development. Having grown up in an intensely competitive, traditional academic environment I feel like the majority of my academic career has been grounded in text books and distant research on the internet. It was until I came to this program, to experience an "alternative" method of education that I realized how severely my education was lacking. Learning about these human rights violations in Thailand has made me realize how incredibly ignorant I am about the violations going on in my own country and communities. There have been many moments throughout this semester when I think to myself "Whoa, I am one of the most uneducated, well-educated people I know". How can someone say they are getting a comprehensive education if they are never challenged to question their own lives, the choices they make and how they play a role in social justice?

Tyler, your comment "As a system that revolves around the pursuit of profit, the traditional education system has a way of marginalizing knowledge that has a low profit making potential" is particularly resonating with me. The more I remove myself from that system, the more I realize how valid that statement actually is. Because we live in a world that is so driven by profit, the concept of grounding education in social justice framework has been forced to be labeled as “alternative”. Trying to fulfill a socially responsible role in a system like the one in which we live is one of the most challenging tasks I have ever faced, but as I see it, building a social consciousness is the first step to living sustainably.

Evie said...

I remember we had a discussion one day on what we meant by “development” and I was really struck by how different peoples’ definitions were. It was probably you that brought up the subject of “overdevelopment,” like you did here in your blog, and I think it’s important for us to remember that aspect. For me, I see people who think that we should go back to the “way things used to be,” and go back to living in the woods or something as unpractical and naïve. I don’t think we should try and “go back,” but rather that we need to make conscious, informed, balanced decisions going forward about what we want to gain from development.

In the future, I hope for myself that I can find the meaning and balance of “enough” in my life. It’s so easy here to be idealistic about what life will be like when we all go back home, seeing as we are surrounded by such and incredible group of people who will probably go and change the world one day. I hope I won’t get cynical about what I can actually change around me. I hope I’ll remember that changing the world around me is far less important than changing myself.