NGO

Thai NGO Teaches American Students About Community

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A group of people looking at a laptop

CIEE (Council for International Education Exchange) Thailand is a study abroad program where students learn about issues related to globalization and development. Experiential learning provides students opportunities to live with villagers affected by these issues and to witness first-hand the struggle of the villagers. Students exchange with NGO’s, Government Officials, and villagers to achieve a balanced perspective of the issues. The two co-interviewers were participants in the program.

What does your job entail working as an NGO with CIEE?

I want to start off with how I established a connection with CIEE. P’Decha [CIEE Advisor] got to know CIEE first. P’Decha got Professor Dave [CIEE director] to come and visit the NGO CORD and that’s where I first met CIEE. We exchanged often about slum work. I thought that Dave was a guy who speaks frankly and he has the intention to say whatever he wants to say. We were talking about work, the problems of the villagers and he agreed that in order to work with the villagers we would have to get to know them first. After that, we became close friends and he invited me to speak with the students about the slum issue.
In order to work with the villagers you have to get to know them. In order to get to know them you must live with them. Dave agreed and said that we have to go live with the slum villagers, stay with the farmers, and those infected with HIV/AIDS. So we use the method of living with the villagers. That is how we get first hand information, not second hand information. By firsthand I mean information that we gathered by living and interacting directly with the villagers. Through this process we get better results, we get a better understanding of the villagers. Rather than seeing a hungry person, we live with them and experience being hungry ourselves, so we have a better understanding.

Another point is that we should not be the people who are always taking advantage of others. It’s like we get our information and write a paper and get an A+, or graduate with honors. And than we graduate and we get a very good job and we use the knowledge that we have gained and ignore the villagers, or negatively affect the villagers. That is how most of the academics work. Those academics think they are helping the villagers, but just the opposite is happening. The important thing is that we must start a relationship with them. CIEE is an educational institution producing a new generation of socially informed students. They should get to know the villagers that are being affected through learning about human rights, or actively observing the protests of the villagers. We can’t support the villagers financially, but we can support them with ideas and manpower. CIEE meets with representatives of the villagers and then they can spread the villager’s stories out to society through newspapers or campaigns. This is the role of CIEE.

Why is that role important for the students? What do the students get out of this interaction with villagers?

To speak of it roughly, you get experience. For example, you have never gotten to live at a landfill, or in the slums, or with people infected with HIV. Now you can tell people that you have spent time with these people. If you want to look at it carefully, you get a real wealth of information; firsthand knowledge. You get to understand their feelings.

How do you help CIEE get involved with the villages?

One thing that I like about CIEE is that they try to create the role of the facilitator. I work as a facilitator in a way. First I must deal with logistics for the villagers and act as a facilitator for the villagers. After students complete an exchange I will speak to the villagers about their experiences and what questions they have that might benefit their community or network.

For CIEE, I actually do what I always do, my normal job. The only thing I do outside of my job is make sure that the students are safe in these communities. You will see me in these communities making sure that everything runs smoothly. For example, if a student is drinking with a villager I will sit down and drink with them, but I will make sure to not get drunk. My responsibility is similar to the facilitators. I will throw in questions and see if it’s good or bad.

So your role is mostly as a facilitator?

Yes and a guard. (Laughs)

How did you originally develop the relationship with these communities?

I think it is easier for Thais to go in to the villages and offer a cigarette or have a drink together. This way works, but I don’t think it is very good because I have to use alcohol. But it can be used as an affective tool. In conclusion, we will do anything that is similar to their way of life.

You attempt to find a common ground with the villagers?

Sometimes the villagers are gambling so I will gamble with them. I will often sit and eat with them. This is the starting point. I drink with them a few times and after that they will start speaking about the problems they face. This is the technique I use.

I know that you are going to America. How is his going to enrich your future back in Thailand?

Right now the world is already experiencing globalization. Everywhere is kind of like the same village. I think it is unavoidable to not get to know Americans or people elsewhere. If you don’t get to know people from different places, problems will arise in development issues. If I know how people in America think, I will be able to use the experiences back here in Thailand. I will know issues that poor people on the other side of the world experience. If poor people from different countries come together and meet, big things could happen. I think it will be like people that come from the same village have the same understanding. I think that the world is experiencing globalization. We all live in the same village. Whatever is happening over in the States has an effect over here too.

Diana Saleem

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