So many villages, so little space to write about them… so I’ll keep up with the highlights principle. The highlight of the Land unit was definitely Baw Kaew community. It is a protest village where the people were kicked off of their land, and two years ago they returned and have built a community. There were people from all different villages, and through the shared struggle and passion, they have created something unbelievable. The grandmothers share their stories of being kicked off their land with the children, who will continue to fight based on the devotion. This unit showed me that an outside force or a powerful figure is not needed for a successful grassroots movement. Anyone and everyone has agency, and it just takes motivation and passion to create change. It was a really moving exchange and experience.
My Paw from this unit, other than the two one-nighters, was incredibly educated. I was sitting watching Meh cook one night when Paw came into the cooking area. He sat down next to me, pen in hand, and started to lecture. All in Thai, of course, but the essence of the conversation was, “Julie, do you see this papaya—we grow them in Thailand. You don’t grow them in America, yet you are able to eat them in America. That is just one reason why globalization is so amazing.” The lectures continued and got more and more complex over the course of the three days. There was a lot of guessing based on what was said or drawn (one day he got out his grandson’s coloring book and drew for us—an upgrade to the hand), but it was all an amazing lesson on both communication and globalization.
After the unit ended, there was an optional trip to the landfill near our campus. Just 17km away, 200 tons of trash is brought in each day. There is a community of 60 families that live there, started by just one man who went to make a living off of the trash. Not only does it bring to light the realization of scavengers (those who work 20 hours a day picking through garbage to find plastic bottles to recycle), but it brings to light the realities of consumerism. I literally climbed a trash mountain. Not to mention the irony of the laundry detergent package I saw in the mud that read, “Hygiene”.
I was so blown away by the Paw that we exchanged with there. He no longer works in the landfill, nor does his wife and children, but he lives there because he owns his land and he wants to make the community a better place. Unlike in America, where people strive to get out of the slums, Paw was trying to improve the village. He chooses to live in a dump — literally.
The problems with each village we visit are hard to stomach. With each unit and each exchange, I continue to recognize the realities of a developing country. It is natural to make comparisons to the United States, and we have many of these issues. We have medical problems associated with damming and mining (the coming two units). We have poverty that is solved by cash cropping. There are so many problems in our world. This country is so amazing, and my time here is invaluable, but it is hard meeting amazing people and learning about their suffering, unable to fix it.