12 June 2011

Spreading Knowledge

A professor once said, "Knowledge is meaningless if you don't affect multiple levels." What I've learned during these intense last three months is that the scope of knowledge itself is relevant. An organic farmer will value how to make her/his own compost fertilizer over knowing how the chemical components in fertilizer help break down the soil; on the other hand, an NGO covets the skill to conduct research so that they can provide as much information to a community as possible. What is important to know shifts relative to where a person is and what that person is doing. Most importantly, knowledge, as a general rule, should not only serve the area where it was gained, but must transcend to higher and deeper levels to be more effectively sustained.

Like "knowledge," the words "development" and "globalization" also have very different meanings depending on a person's perspective and location. For a company like the Puthep Mining Company, development plays into globalization when erecting a copper mine in order to give Thailand more clout as a global player in the international market. To a community of fishermen working to preserve their wetlands after being flooded by a dam, development and globalization might look like increasing members in their movement by extending to other communities in the world dealing with the same issue.

If knowledge is dependent on where you are, and knowledge is meaningless unless shared, then different places' knowledge-base must be shared with other people in other places. To some, this sharing of knowledge is one method of development. To others, this is also globalization at work: It is spreading skills and resources to increase knowledge in other plans. But the paradox comes when the resources being shared are destroying the integrity of a place, then the resource is irrelevant to have. As soon as infrastructure as development impedes on intellect as development, then something's gotta give.

Just as knowledge must be shared and interpreted through different lenses in order to practically implement it, there needs to be interaction between multiple players on the global scale when discussing ideas of development. Large-scale development schemes that have the potential of impacting hoards of people need to first reach an understanding with the people it would be affecting to weigh the pros and cons of erecting the project. Ideally, this is what an EIA is meant to fulfill (whether or not this process is righteously carried out or not is another story).

The daunting "project time" has begun. Our DG group is splitting up to spread our collective knowledge on globalization, development, and human rights out among the Isaan region. Despite our separate focuses and goals with each project, each of us are playing the role of educator in one form or another. We are all acting in part as researchers, compiling information to enhance the fight of the effected community with which each of us will be working, based on the need of each community. Our development is our globalization: we are taking the knowledge that we gained while studying here and our previous knowledge from before we studied abroad, and spreading it throughout multiple communities so that they may develop their organizations to become more efficient and more powerful.

Jamie Martina
University of Pittsburgh

What does it take?

Excitement is illuminating rainy mid afternoons, late nights finishing assignments and time intensive work with small groups as we move into the last phase of our program. It is a high siphoned from our new found understandings about the world and the places we want to fill within it and the realization that we will go home empowered to take action in our communities because of what we have seen and discussed here.

After every unit, we make ‘next steps’, a brainstorm of the things we as individuals can do, or do differently, to remediate the serious injustices we just studied. This easily escalates into a very frustrating experience: what can we actually do about dams in Thailand, or more importantly, the globalized capitalism informing anyone who initiates these large scale development projects in the first place?

My question tonight is why it has taken a trip around the world, afternoons navigating rice fields, eucalyptus forests, tropical wetlands and mountains rich in copper ore, for us to begin analyzing our world?

The need for 20 students with a new found consciousness, willing to take the time to engage in the actions we dream of taking, is immeasurable within the country we will be returning home to. But, this is exactly the point. Our own communities are victim to many of the same injustices we have mourned here.

The unresolved affects of the BP oil spill, two public wars as well as many private interventions such as plan Colombia, a torture center in a country whose existence we ignore, growing wealth disparities, immigration, gay marriage, segregated and unequal opportunities in our public schools, a democracy that seems to be representing the interests of major corporations rather than it’s citizens…
Moreover, while in Thailand, the articles which struck me most were written by people like Michael Pollan and John Steinbeck, or published in the New Yorker and Orion Magazine. These articles not only focused on problems at home but the sources in which they were published came from the states as well.

Not only do we have the problems, but the resources to discover the information of these atrocities are almost too accessible. Every student here has a laptop as well as a university library overflowing with details, informed professors, public commentators that can share their differing opinions unabashedly…
Why were we so unaware; what was getting in our way?!

I think it’s a fa├žade that Thailand gave us a perspective far enough removed in order to see problems at home for what they are. I think that we exist is spaces too comfortable to force us to look outside ourselves and not only question the bigger picture but empathize with those in our own community suffering from less opportunities than we have had the privilege to enjoy.

In the end, why it took Thailand may not matter, because we have pushed the boundaries that were limiting us. We have begun questioning ourselves and our world. Our experiences together are impossible to account completely, and what we have learned, for now, feels like something that will extend into the parts of our lives that last beyond this semester, but, it is just something I have been considering.

Cassie Peabody
University of Michigan

Buddha on a Mountain

Huay Muang is a community in Thailand fighting against a copper mine being built on a mountain which many villager’s livelihoods depend on. It is also an important cultural component of their village. This mine would potentially contaminate their drinking water, destroy the environment and wildlife that is engrained in their culture, and ruin the farms of hundreds of villagers. I was able to visit this community and tour its beautiful landscape, help my host mom on her farm, as well as eat and talk with the villagers.

One of my most memorable moments there was one easy going night after dinner. My host mom told me and a fellow student to get on the back of her and my little sisters motorcyes. We went off-roading past banana trees and then through her rubber tree farm. We then got to a dirt path which led to her farm next to a small mountain. We picked herbs while the sun was setting and then headed back home. Driving through the beautiful green mountains at dusk with nothing but nature surrounding me was surreal. The nature entranced me and I felt so connected to this place I had only been in for two days. I cannot imagine the connection the villagers have with this land which they have working on their whole lives.

During my time there I was also able to learn about this community’s strong connection to their religion, Buddhism. I helped build a Buddha statue on the mountain that the proposed mine would be built on. The statue was not built for the purpose of stopping the copper mine but rather it was a serendipitous event. A monk living in a different province said he was contacted by a spirit, to build a Buddha statue on the mountain next to Huay Muang. So the monk traveled to this community in order to build this statue. The motivation and dedication of the villagers and monks, working morning to night to build this statue was inspiring. The entire community coming together to make something that would benefit everyone was a beautiful things.

The energy and attitudes of these people were contagious and overwhelming. It was amazing to see this statue built from the ground up with people who believed in the purpose and were strongly connected to this statue. This statue was so much more than rocks and concrete, it was a symbol that represented their culture and solidarity of the community and nature together. It was made for the love of Buddhism, love for the mountain, and love for the community.

The villagers told me this statue could act as a protest. So if the mining company came to destroy this mountain with the Buddha statue, they would be destroying Buddhism. Even though I only spent a few days in this community, I was already connected and it would break my heart to see a copper mine put in. How could anyone who has spent more than a day in this community contribute to building a copper mine which could ruin the environment and destroy the way of life these villagers have had for so many years? I thought about this more and came to the conclusion that this mine will not be built by people who have lived with these villagers, participated in their cultural ceremonies, and hear their stories. To the people deciding to build the copper mine or not it is nearly a dot on a map with potential to make large profits. And the share holders probably have no idea what their money is going towards, but just want their dividends every month. What does it mean that the main investors and people in charge have the power to make such large impacts on places they have never been to and people they have never met?

Anna Craver
Northeastern University