06 November 2012

Our Baby Steps for Rasi Salai

The Rasi Salai Dam was completed in 1993. It divides the Mun River in Srisaket Province, located in the southern region of Isaan. The dam was originally proposed as a weir, small enough that neither an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) nor a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) was required. Of course, the project was larger than planned. An SIA should have been done, but it was not until 2010, 17 years later, that the SIA was finally completed. But by then the damage had already been done – flooding, a loss of biodiversity, depletion of soil fertility.

CIEE has been working with the Rasi Salai community for years, and a group of us returned to complete a Collaborative Community Consolation (CCC) report. A CCC is meant to be an up to date reference point on a given community. Shorter than our usual home stays, this trip was meant to scope out the feasibility of a possible project for the end of the semester. Because CIEE has been working with Rasi Salai community for so long we were able to see the result of past CIEE projects. In 2010 CIEE students helped the community with establishing a learning center. The semester before us was working to help start a green market.

But we won’t be continuing the green market project. Apparently it’s a cold issue. Instead, the villagers are focusing on becoming economically self-sufficient. We met with P’Banya, our NGO contact for the community, and a few villagers. They explained to us, briefly, about their finances, how they have a welfare fund and are expecting a large sum of money for restoration plans. But they aren’t sure about the best means to manage their finances. There are two methods they are considering, a co-op system or a community enterprise system. The latter involves government management, something the Rasi Salai community is understandably hesitant about. However they aren’t clear about details for either system, which is where CIEE could help.

P’Banya told our group that the Rasi Salai community would like more information about possible financial systems. We spent time learning a brief summary of what the community wants, their finances, and as well as a few other possible smaller projects. Once we returned to Khon Kaen and had been working on our CCC, believing we had a good possible project, we were given new information: Rasi Salai isn’t ready for this project. We were told that before a financial system could be suggested a financial needs assessment would have to be done. The assessment would be a project for this semester. Somehow it just didn’t hold the same weight.

I heard some discontent at the smallness of the possible projects when we were back in the large group. How much help would a pamphlet be? Is a human rights survey even worth anything? Why can’t an NGO find out financial information for the community himself? And I had to agree, just a little. Doing research seems a small step to aid communities facing such huge problems we’ve learned about. But it was explained to me that researching is something we do well as students. American students are, truly, good at it. While some of the projects might seem small it’s what the communities want. CIEE only does projects the villagers suggest; everything is about collaboration. These projects carry on from semester to semester, so our total impact is greater than this single semester. A future semester won’t be able to present the Rasi Salai villagers financial information unless the financial needs assessment is done. Nothing in unrelated, our small part can help.

Anne Sledd
Carleton College


Alex M said...

I think you make an important point that the whole point of our efforts is collaboration. I think it is really easy for us to get caught up on our end of things and we forget to realize that we’re dealing with real people with real lives. It is so easy to look at the schedule and agenda for the things we have to do and just look at it all as a course or a part of the experience. It makes a huge difference when we are able to connect with the communities on a personal level and get a clear sense of their voices and their specific expectations of us in a given situation. A lot of time our actions seem small in the grand scheme of these big issues. But I guess as long as we’re linked with the villagers and play a role in the greater scheme of what they want to accomplish, we can rest assured that our actions aren’t going unnoticed.

Anya Chang-DePuy said...

I really appreciate the points you make. It's a small example of a much larger theme in our world. Many people believe that doing the small things in order to create greater change is usually ineffective and useless. I know many people that feel that when they change their lifestyle to live more sustainably or for whatever greater cause, that it's actually not doing a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. I can directly relate this to the feelings people were having when we found out that all we could really do for the village was do some research and maybe make a few brochures. I felt similar feelings as others, how could this really help the much bigger issue they are facing? We were excited and enthusiastic about the prospect of having a bid project before we heard what the village wanted, but we failed to keep in mind why we are here, and what the final project is for. Rasi Salai is a pretty well organized community. They have a good idea of what they want and all they need from us is to hear what they have to say and decide if it is feasible for us. Not if it will be fun and exciting the whole time, but if we can do the project and if the villagers really believe it will help. We should trust their judgement on whether this project would be beneficial for them as they are the ones that will be left with the results.

Mekala Pavlin said...

I think you made some really good points Anne. I initially felt that making brochures wouldn't really be helpfully when there are bigger issues at hand. Our job as CIEE students is to collaborate with the villages and help give them what they want and what they believe they need for the future. If Rasi Salai wants brochures, then it is our job to give them what they want. Being in Thailand has made me realize how much I take for granted small, daily activities I do at home. For example, the ability to type a question into Google. Many villagers don’t have the access to Internet. They don’t have the ability to get some of there even most simple question answered and have no ability to do basic research. Being able to do some research and compile it into a brochure which might answer some question e might actually be very beneficial to the community in many ways.

Marissa Strong said...

As students, I think that there are many of us that don’t believe something as small as a brochure can help. I know that I also was skeptical. A brochure is so simple, it’s seems like we should be doing something larger. But after thinking about my situation and the villager’s situation, I realize that we are living in two completely different worlds and a brochure for me might seem silly to me, but the villagers are so thirsty for knowledge that a brochure would actually help them so much. I think that as students we take advantage of the access we have to information and facts and don’t realize how lucky we are. Just like Mekala said, most of the villagers don’t have access to internet, and we use the internet almost every day. We, as students, are the villagers connection to information and the internet. We can easily provide the villagers with a brochure of information, something that might take them months to create if they were doing the research on their own.