07 March 2011

My Ideal World

P’Ubon, an NGI located in Yasothon, posed the question, “What does your ideal world look like?”. I replied, “A world with neighbors. Neighbors that form an interdependent community and promote sustainability.”

The focus of our first unit was sustainable agriculture. We visited two villages in the Northeast of Thailand. This part of Thailand is known for its environmental and human rights issues and its activists. We were able to live with two families, one in each village, that gave insight on the issues directly affecting them. The first village grows sugarcane, and the other village practices and promotes sustainable methods of farming. Through my experiences with the my two homestay families, I was able to understand the necessity of community living.

Community living creates a type of social security. Their food, income, health and survival are dependent on the connections between villagers. The farmers depend on food to feed themselves and the village and for income. The food brings their community together and promotes a sustainable lifestyle. A shared goal, such as producing healthy food and protecting the environment, reminds the community that they do not have to fight over resources. This also aids in preserving their traditional village lifestyle.

A community is rare to find in the United States. We live in communities and neighborhoods, but we do not live as a community with our neighbors. The rise of industrialization has lessened our need to rely on others. Maybe it’s the education system that pushes us to be the best at something that has little to do with real survival. Most villagers barely finished high school, but have more knowledge on how to live than we achieve from our expensive universities. Our detachment stems from the urban push for competition rather than for all to mutually benefit. There once was a time where the local store was named after the owner, the front porch was an invitation to socialize and you could actually ask your neighbor for a cup of sugar. We have removed the need for a community thus hurting our livelihood.

P’Ubon said, “We must start with ourselves in order to make the change we want in the world.” We must bring back the community lifestyle if we want to protect our planet and promote sustainability. This would include supporting local or family business, communicating and relying on neighbors. My homestay family provided me with a clear understanding of how food and community help them live sustainable and enjoyable lives.

The community the first village has created is through their struggle to produce organic sugarcane. They want to produce healthy food, but a large sugarcane factory has created difficulties for these families. Though they struggle, they depend on each other for survival. Village life is preserved because they need one another to increase their livelihood.

In the second village, most of the families my group stayed with are part of AAN, the Alternative Agriculture Network. This network brings farmers from other villages together in the quest for sustainable methods of farming and safe food. My homestay father is the head of agricultural research in the village. Though this is an unpaid position, he believes that his role is necessary in maintaining the social security of the village. When everyone depends on each other, jobs like this become a way of life. Working is seen as enjoyable because it increases the quality of life for your family and neighbors. If that was why we worked in the United States, our happiness, security, and health would drastically improve.

Lindsay Friedman
University of Colorado at Boulder

1 comment:

Lila said...

Dear Lindsay,
Your post made me consider the intricacies of communities here in the Dominican Republic. I feel that, as has already been stated in other blog posts by my classmates here in Santiago, there is a big difference between community life in the city and community life in the country. In the neighborhood of my host stay home here in Santiago, for example, no one knows one another. Neighbors live in houses with bars on the windows and three locks on each door. Everyone is afraid to go out in the street. This is not without reason; as an upper-class neighborhood, the area immediately becomes a target for thieves from the poorer "barrios".
In the country, however, everyone knows each other. I went to visit the town of the maid who works in in my host-family's house, and I was impressed by the sheer amount of people I met over the course of four, short hours. The people where proud of their land and their community. One man told me, "if someone gave me a house in Santiago, I would sell it to buy more land in the countryside."
Yet many people move the city because of jobs and the promise of money. In order to "progress" (and by this I mean climb the social ladder), they must willing to give up their sense of community in order to live more like the isolated families of the upper class. This leaves me worried; as long as success is tied to isolation, our sense of community will continue to dwindle.