17 April 2010

Bigger Pictures


In a little more than a month our group will be done with the program and we will all disperse across the world. Some of us are heading to different countries, some staying in Thailand, and some heading back to America. All of us are frantically looking back at what we have done and where connections lie between all of the communities. What is the bigger picture? In reality, there are so many different connections and bigger pictures that at times it is hard not to get frustrated with where help can be provided. On a small scale we are simply students staying with amazing families who have all fought the bigger picture in different ways. When we are on home stays we are drowned in hospitality as we eat to the point it hurts. During these short whirlwind days we are learning from a family while simultaneously having exchanges about how globalization and development has directly affected families. When we come back from each home stay we all spend time trying to process and link together individual experiences.

One thing I particularly have a hard time with is focusing on community strength rather than hardship. I have been learning so much about destruction and lack of power that I become blind sighted to the many stories we hear of triumph and community bondage. Recently I have been trying to process the information I have been obtaining by focusing on the connection between how communities form groups to combat the issues that are affecting them. The last village we visited, Rasi Sali, was severely affected by the construction of a dam. Usually when I hear of these hardships I focus on the destroyed livelihood and lack of government help. Instead of being bogged down by negative affects I am directing my energy towards the positive small fight that the communities have overcome. For example, these dams are used to produce hydroelectric power yet they cost millions of dollars and prevent fish from flowing through the dams and displace millions of people. I stayed with a leader of my community who organized a 189-day protest against the government last year. As a result of this protest the village I stayed at received compensation for their land. This would not have happened if not for community organization, group work, and strength. With my alternative perspective of development and globalization I have been able to focus on a new lens. A lens that focuses on the odds those communities have overcome.

Every unit we have been on our group has encountered people who are still living, playing, and fighting amidst problems that work against the backbone of most villages. However, with this lens I start to look at how community organization starts only after communities are affected by destruction. What are ways in which communities could react before something happens?

This past unit our group visited Tamui Village on the Mekong River. This village is aware of the dam but has yet to do anything in protest. I can not help but thinking “Do something!, Do something!”. I am aware that these thoughts are unwarranted and that I do not know the whole scope of why the families are not doing something. I keep questioning why organization usually happens so late in the game. It is very hard to focus on community, culture, and strength when destruction looks inevitable. Why is it so hard to focus on the positive? Where are the positives of globalization and development? Could communities come together without negative affects to combat?

Barrie Schwartz
University of Michigan

1 comment:

CIEE Thailand said...

I think you bring up a very interesting point, Barrie. I believe that most people do not know how to truly appreciate things until they have lost them. I am not saying that the villagers in Rasi Salai did not appreciate the biodiversity in the wetlands, but they probably did not reflect on how their culture and way of life was dependent on the wetlands until the dam was constructed and their resources were gone. I think this is a disappointing aspect of human nature, but I believe it’s the truth. Thus, I think the reason people do not organize before something disastrous happens is because in some ways there does not seem to be a prevalent reason to organize. Is the only point of organizing a community to build something strong in order to fight back? What is the point of an organized community? Is it just purely power? I think it is important to understand what an organized community means and the reason for having one.

-Charlotte