Thailand Reflection Blog Post
While travelling through Thailand I kept remembering a discussion I had prior to the trip with Professor Peter Ingle. I don’t remember specifics, at least not enough to quote, but I do remember a discussion that surrounded what it meant to be a global citizen and what role service had historically played in developing countries. For many, service is a self-serving act and in the long term, turns out, is not sustainable. Without educating we are only doing, which in developing countries, we become very expensive and unskilled labor.
Meanwhile I had already started reading a book called Poor Economic which takes a comprehensive approach in understanding the logic and reasoning that poor families in poor and developing countries use. It was not until I had arrived in Thailand and our group had arrived in our first village where I began to connect all these pieces of the puzzle. The discussion with Ingle, the readings from Poor Economics, and the experiences on the ground in Kalasin all came together where I started to have a point of clarity of why I was there.
There are many reasons for people to do service work and many other reasons for why people travel. For me it was not about just one or the other. It became a synthesis of both service and travel. The travel experience of northern Thailand gave me a better understanding of who the people were, why the do what they do and how much alike we both are. Yes, some cultural differences but they make decisions based on a lot of the same reasons American do, it is just on a more basic level because they are in a developing country instead of a privileged developed country.
The service part of the trip came a little later when we made our first visit to a school south of Chiang Mai called Ban Mai. The service was not about service at all. We did not go to Thailand to physically give back to community in the form of labor but rather to help build community involvement and trust. It was a way to bond with the local school by offering our labor and time to help experience more of who they are and to prove that we can listen and learn how they would do it. I will also admit it was very hard to initially set aside my western ways and become more Thai thinking. Think of it as a go with the flow mentality. Of course this is a give and take of information with both sides giving and taking but it becomes a dance in which we hope that by our presence that we are able to help this small school and village somehow in the long term and through it all they will be better off than if we had not come at all.
This synthesis style of approach is a large key to why this program has become so successful. It is a creative approach to development and it may seem slow, but that is because it is. Good things take time to build and over time it is more sustainable and ensures that the community will be able to sustainably manage the improvements.
It is my hope that in the future I am able to continue to help this village/school/community is some way in the future. It was more than a learning experience. I fell in love with the people and the culture and it is something that I hope to return to again, someway, somehow.