28 November 2009


As my semester abroad in Thailand winds down into its final month, I find myself pondering many things that I have observed and experienced throughout my stay in the country. Studying here has been pretty exciting, and I’ve found myself in many situations that I had never been in before.

We’ve had four Units, all of which we lived with families in rural communities. Unit One was based around farming and agriculture in Yasothon province. We learned about the dangers of chemical use in agriculture, and we observed how industrial mono-croppers, mostly from other countries, have made it a struggle for local Thai farmers, even though they have the highest quality product. Unit Two was the Slums and Landfill Unit, in which we visited one of each right here in Khon Kaen. The slum situation followed closely behind the farming unit, because most slum residents living in fear of Government eviction, and lack of water and/or electricity, migrated to the city from rural areas like Yasothorn. The landfill community faced problems with the Government as well, having that they have one of the hardest, yet most important jobs around, yet the Government doesn’t take charge to make sure that their lives aren’t at stake. The lack of sanitation, fresh water, and work equipment puts them as well as their children at great danger. Unit three was based around water, but more specifically, dams. The way of life in rural communities like Rasi Salai and Pak Mun have been destroyed due to Government-built damns. Constructed to create electricity and irrigation, the dams have created the flooding of these peoples’ homeland instead, making it near impossible for them to farm for their own consumption. Also, some of these dams didn’t even end up creating the power that they were planned to. Unit four took the theme of Mining. We traveled to the village of Na Nong Bong, a beautiful community which was intruded upon my a gold-mining company blasting their mountains away, to make an unfair profit. Not only are they destroying the natural beauty within the village, but the [alleged ed.] chemicals from the mining process such as cyanide, have been absorbed into the village’s water and air, causing illness, and contaminating the water. They can’t even drink it, and they fear everyday routines such as showering.

It seems that the common theme within all of these communities is that they are all being screwed over in some way by a higher power. Whether it be the Government (which it almost always is), industrial development, or The Man in general, the villagers have little to no power in fighting these developments put through by these “professionals.” They have lived the same way for multiple generations, following their parents’ wisdoms, living self-sustaining lives, and bothering nobody. It seems that there is no appreciation whatsoever for these villagers, their way of life, or the things that they have accomplished; they are being forced to join the rest of us in what we call society. To migrate to the city slums and live in the only way that their money can buy; fearful, oppressed, unsafe conditions.

The way I see it, they are having their knowledge, skills, and culture taken away from them, simply because they aren’t educated in the same way as popular modern society. Schooling is what is important, not expertise in the way of survival. Degrees and certificates are proof of one’s knowledge, not wisdom or acquired expertise. The amount of one’s income shows their real success, not the fact that they’ve managed to provide for their family and live happily without needing a cent. These traditional locals, these true natives, are being torn apart the exact same way that Native Americans were. I hope that the value of their education doesn’t completely dissolve just because it is different from the majority.

Morgan Miller
Arizona State University, Tempe

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