Megan Keaveney & Rachel Mattingly Off Campus Study
|Location||Khon Kaen, Thailand|
Megan Keaveney ‘11 & Rachel Mattingly ‘11
Development & Globalizations: Khon Kaen, Thailand
Thailand, Spring 2010
“Put their heart into your heart. This is the meaning of understand.” -P’Deecha. A simple phrase with powerful implications. As Denison ambassadors to the Kingdom of Thailand, we honestly did not realize what we were getting ourselves into. Our interests in sustainable development, environmental justice, and grassroots organizing were certainly common beliefs that we both shared and questions of how to insert ourselves into the problems and solutions of international development had dominated our college careers. But now we were being given the chance to explore a new culture, engage with these philosophical and theoretical dilemmas and tackle the practical challenges of development and globalization.
The very nature of our program seemed designed to expose us to situations that would push us physically, emotionally, and socially. Our memories of Thailand are at times humorous, at times sad, and frequently related to the physical nature of our experience. We learned a lot about the situations to which we can and cannot adapt, and about our definition of “comfort.” Battling heat, head lice, and tropical illness, we recognized that the opportunity to live with these people in Thailand was more valuable than our customary notions of comfort.
Our educational experience was alternative in nature—but even the word alternative does not adequately capture the uniqueness of our semester. For the first time, our assignments were not about grades, experience, or proving ourselves. In Thailand, our final projects were about being accountable to the communities in which we were living. Megan worked with a group of students to complete a public health profile of villagers living on the edge of a municipal landfill, making a living from scavenging recyclables. Rachel worked with another group to profile a protest community living illegally on land taken from them by the government without compensation. Doing poorly on these ‘assignments’ didn’t mean a poor grade, it meant letting down a group of people who had welcomed us into their homes.
The villagers with whom we spoke didn’t have access to the tools and resources we did. Never was our own feeling of power and privilege more evident than during our semester in Thailand. The villagers would tell us about the problems in their lives, and then we would try to figure out how to fix them, but we also wanted to empower them to do fix the problems themselves, which proved challenging as well.
Our time in Thailand was not just about our own work and projects. We also enjoyed opportunities to participate in and observe local culture and events. This reached a high point in mid-April at the Thai New Year, during a water festival known as Song Kran. For several days, everything closed down (happily enforcing a spring break for our own program as well), and we were able to join in the fun. Our daily ritual included riding in the back of pick-up trucks along the downtown streets, throwing buckets of water on passers-by, and then smearing baby powder all over their faces. To say that this holiday was ridiculously enjoyable is an understatement.
Unfortunately, not all local events were so merry. In March, a protest began in Bangkok that continued through our semester. By the end of April, as we began our final projects, our program director was sending daily updates on the situation and the likelihood that we would have to evacuate. When the government began a violent crackdown on the protesters, students were quickly gathered back from their various trips and put on the first flight to Bangkok. We were then shuttled to a hotel near the airport, where we remained on virtual lock-down until we could get out of the country. We had access to a pool, television, unlimited food and ice cream—all just miles from where political unrest had taken a deadly turn. Rachel was among the last to leave, and immediately before going, watched reports of the city hall near our university being burnt by protesters in response to the government’s actions in Bangkok.
The chaos surrounding our final days was a bit surreal. Here we were, having spent four and a half months in this beautiful country, being shuttled back and forth from our hotel to the airport, trying to get flights out of Thailand. We were completely separated from all the people we had spent our semester connecting with, and the idea of leaving them, almost abandoning them, seemed improper and problematic.
We want to understand them and put their hearts into our hearts but we are left with the challenge of continuing to do so, even as we tread our separate paths.
|elephant||family affair||school girls||green|
|happiness||landfill children||money tree||food food food|
|nong waeng kids||party time||peace||pirk|
|pottery||rasi salai||return to baw kaew||shoes|