On an alternative education program, it is not final exams that we have, but rather, final projects. After working with communities all semester long, learning about their struggles, successes, and current projects, we as students finally get to be a part of it. When I initially came I was confused what out projects were. I did not understand the process; and that process is collaboration. My final project is unlike anything I have ever worked on because I am not only working with a group of five other students, but with an entire community. And these people not only want, but need, it to be perfect, because it changes their livelihoods. (Also, everything has to be translated into Thai.)
For my project, I am working with the Rasi Salai community as they begin the very early stages of starting a Green Market, or an organic market.
We created surveys and the conducted them both in the city with consumers and on potential producers’ farms. After collecting our data, we returned to Khon Kaen to analyze it, create an educational pamphlet on organic food, and prepare for our annual Human Rights Festival. What a crazy two weeks it has been! So now, as it nears an end, I finally have clarity on what it means to collaborate with a community, and I have a better idea of what grassroots movements really are. I came into this program thinking there needed to be outside involvement, but after having worked with a community that has been organizing for 17 years, I understand that motivation and passion are what drives movements, not power or money. A dam was built in the community, and rather than giving up, they fight (“sou sou!”) In this case, that means working within their situation, and making it better. So currently, that means an organic market. I know it is early stages, but I am really looking forward to years from now when I return to Thailand and go to the Wetlands Peoples’ Green Market.
As for now, well it’s time to wind down. (No, that doesn’t mean free time). We will have the Human Rights Festival, which is a gathering of many communities and NGOs presenting their issues and networking together. Then off to the retreat to reform the program structure and reflect on my experience. It is hard to believe that its all coming to an end, but nice to know I have a community at Richmond to come home to.