Author: asimplehellosite

Community Organizing and the Salween River

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This is one of the pictures I took while hiking through the Salween River area. The mountains across the river are in Myanmar. 

The last couple of weeks here at the EarthRights School have been busy but so much fun. Two weeks ago, I started assisting in teaching English classes several nights a week. This has been both a challenging and rewarding task at the same time. I have realized, through my time here, that teaching is one of the most difficult professions. The amount of time and thought that goes into planning a simple one hour lesson is unbelievable. It takes a long time to create the activities and assess whether or not they will really be beneficial to the students. Additionally, we have students of varying English levels here, so we have to make sure we are accommodating all levels and learning styles.

Another important learning experience has come from the week we spent discussing community organizing. Students learned different techniques to organize and interact with communities and started developing their projects they will work on after they graduate from the EarthRights School. In September, the students will return to their homes to do research so they can learn about how to tackle those projects. The goals of the students range, but many of them are focused on trying to stop dam construction that would be devastating to rural communities.

I think the lessons on community organizing were very valuable, but it was not until we all went to the Salween River that I think the importance of what we learned was fully realized.

The Salween River divides Myanmar and Thailand. It is the lifeblood for many rural agricultural communities living along the river in both countries, and both governments have been working with companies to try to construct dams along the river. Constructing dams would permanently alter these communities’ ways of life.

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I took this picture while hiking through the village farming area. In the center, you can see the rice fields. We got to actually go down and hike through the rice fields, which was a very interesting, but muddy experience.

As a class, we spent several days in one of the rural villages along the river. We stayed in the homes of the villagers, which for me, without electricity and modern plumbing, was like camping. We talked to the villagers to learn how they have peacefully sustained their community for over fifty years (the original villagers fled violence in Myanmar). We learned about their struggles and their hopes for the future of their community.

Though I went into the trip thinking that it would be frustrating due to lack of modernity, it has actually probably been one of my favorite experiences thus far. Though the life of the villagers is hard, it is very peaceful. The area we were in was extraordinarily beautiful, and it was nice to put away my phone and appreciate the nature and read by candlelight in the evenings. I also got to go hiking through the mountains and rice fields, which was pretty spectacular.

This particular village has survived because the community has been so effective in working together to sustain their way of life. They work with the local government and NGOs to lobby for their land rights. This was definitely an effective trip for the students to actually see why community organizing is important.

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Learning with the Forum Theatre

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Students play a game on the first day with the Forum Theatre Group. In this game, they created physical images to represent the oppressed and the oppressors. 

It’s been a couple of exciting weeks here at the EarthRights School. Many visitors have been coming in to teach the students (on a side note- this is one of the aspects that makes ERI so cool; many past alumni stay well-connected to the school and come back to share their experiences by teaching the students for a couple of days or even longer). One group that came to visit was the Forum Theatre Group.

Before the Forum Theatre Group came to visit ERI, I was only vaguely familiar with Theatre of the Oppressed and its role in building peace and dialogues in societies. However, over the course of a week, I learned a lot about how it can be conducted and the impact it can have.

For those of you who are not familiar with what Theatre of the Oppressed is, it was first practiced by Augusto Boal, who was inspired by an educator and theorist named Paulo Freire. Theatre of the Oppressed (of which Forum Theatre is kind of like a subcategory) is not made to be formal. Rather, its purpose is to give participators tools to strengthen activist movements, as well as build a dialogue and peace in fun and creative ways.

Our Forum Theatre Group came from Vietnam, but the alumni that presented and helped teach for the week were also from Laos and Myanmar. These alumni are passionate about earth rights, and, in particular, this method for building community unity. Over the course of about a week, the current students at ERI learned about Forum Theatre and created their own skits to perform.

The students played many games and worked really hard to develop their skits. We have a total of 16 students, so we divided the students into two groups of eight. The issue that each group focused on was land rights, but they each developed their ideas in different ways. The students learned about how to create a story and what a protagonist and antagonist are. The students were instructed to end their plays with the antagonist (which was usually a combination of a greedy developer and ambivalent government official) “winning.”

I didn’t quite understand the point of all of this until the students went to formally perform their plays. The unique aspect about Forum Theatre is that, after a group has run through their play, the audience is then able to intervene when they perform it again. By intervening at crucial moments, audience members try to change the ending of the play so that the protagonist can win.

In our case, I thought this was particularly useful because many of our audience members came from the legal and policy branch of ERI. They worked with the students on stage, making up dialogue as they went along. Efforts to reverse the fortunes of the protagonist in the play involved trying to get the antagonist to have a more open-ended conversation, as well as protesting and trying to gain international awareness about the issue.

One aspect of interning at ERI that has been great is that I am constantly learning about these issues, and the Forum Theatre Group is an amazing example of a teaching tool to raise awareness, as well as discuss the problems in a new way within a community. This method in particular definitely requires a lot of effort and understanding, but, when done correctly, I think it would be an effective way of uniting a community and building a base of support to discuss, and ultimately take action on, an issue.

My First Week in Thailand

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This is just one example of the incredibly beautiful temples in Chiang Mai.

It has only been one week since I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but I have already seen a myriad of beautiful and ornate temples around the city, drove up to the top of a nearby mountaintop on the most agonizingly twisty road, and made priceless connections with the students at the EarthRights International School (ERI).

The students at ERI are from Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. They are involved in environmental justice-related careers in their home countries and have come to ERI to improve their English and learn more about environmental justice and activism. The students are incredibly hardworking and passionate, so working with them has been a joy.

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Students play a game during one of the morning lectures. The classes are always centered around participation and having fun.

My day-to-day responsibilities consist of recording the morning class lecture in the form of a lesson plan, as well as working on homework assignments and essays in the evenings with the students. I am also helping to create English lessons the students can practice on a couple of nights of the week to help improve vocabulary and writing ability.

I love the informal nature of the classes at ERI. The students are all encouraged to participate, think critically, and share their cultures and experiences with one another. Working with the students at ERI, knowing that they will take the skills they learn here to do good in their own communities, is very rewarding for me. Helping the students refine their English skills certainly isn’t easy— it can take an hour or more to go through one short essay to explain everything in ways the students will understand. However, seeing the progress the students make over the course of various drafts is an accomplishment for them, and for me as well.

The students and administrative officials here at ERI are very kind and passionate individuals. The students are all so supportive of one another and help one another out constantly. I’m definitely very lucky to be able to work in this environment; it is inspiring.

My Adventures in Vietnam

 

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I took this photo standing at the top of Cat Ba Island.

I had so much fun traveling throughout Vietnam. I spent time in Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Da Nang, and Hoi An. I saw so much of Vietnam in only a few short weeks.

I spent the most amount of my time in Hanoi. Hanoi is an incredible city with amazing food and history. There are a ton of different historical cites to check out in Hanoi (and I didn’t go to as many of them as I should have), but the Imperial Citadel was particularly interesting. The Citadel, like so many other places in Hanoi, and Vietnam in general, clearly shows the last 1,000 years of history. Some of the ancient pieces of the citadel still stand, but the landscape is also dotted by French colonial architecture, as well as war planes from the Vietnam War. Another aspect of the citadel that was pretty interesting was the archeological digging that they are still doing in the area.

The food in Hanoi is also pretty incredible. There are so many delicious places to try, but my favorite places were RoyalTea for bubble tea and refreshing fruit juices, as well as Huong Lien Bun Cha. The latter serves a traditional Vietnamese food called Bun Cha, which is a delicious noodle and grilled pork dish. This restaurant is particularly cool too because it is the same restaurant President Obama had lunch in just a little over a year ago during his diplomatic visit to Vietnam.

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The monkeys at Monkey Island were so cute!

Ha Long Bay is also another incredible place to visit. I was lucky to be able to take a three day cruise around the bay. A long cruise isn’t necessary, but to really see Ha Long Bay, it is essential to get on a boat. One of the most amusing stops on the cruise was “Monkey Island,” which is inhabited by a bunch of sometimes-friendly monkeys. It was also really neat to stop at the islands, where I was able to climb up to the top of them to see the incredible view. The caves were pretty amazing too. Ha Long Bay is a beautiful and worthwhile place to visit.

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This is the view of the Imperial Citadel of Hue before entering.

In Hue, I visited the Imperial Citadel, which was also pretty amazing (but much newer than the one in Hanoi). The food in Hue is also spectacular- Hue Noodle and Nem Lua are two delicious dishes to try. The day was unbearably hot, so I ended it with a short walk along the Perfume River with some delicious Che, which is a traditional Vietnamese dessert of crushed ice, coconut milk, and various jellies and textures.

 

Da Nang was my next stop on my adventure throughout Vietnam. This modern city looked more like a resort town reminiscent of Southern California, especially with the gigantic tourist resorts that are under construction. Marble Mountain is a unique stop to visit. It is incredible for both its natural beauty and religious significance. Da Nang is a very relaxing place, which was nice after the awful heat and chaos of Hue.

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Hoi An, lit up at night, is so beautiful.

I was also lucky to see Hoi An, which is especially spectacular at night. During the day, I toured My Son Sanctuary, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The history and preservation of the site were amazing. Hoi An itself definitely felt more rural and toursity. It was harder to find good street food and interesting things to do within the city during the day, but the night market and view of the river with the lit lanterns was extremely beautiful. On the down side, Hoi An was incredibly busy when I was there.

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My Son Sanctuary was a beautiful icon of ancient history.

Traveling through Vietnam was so much fun, and I am so lucky that I got the chance to see all the beautiful cities and incredible historical sites!

Welcome!

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog! I created it to document my travels through Vietnam and Thailand. My site name is “A Simple Hello” as an acknowledgement to the power of saying hello and introducing yourself to make new connections with people from all over the world. I hope to keep this motto close to heart as I continue my travels throughout Asia, and in the future as well.

Picture Information: I love hiking through Colorado! I took this picture just below the top of Mount Evans (which stands at about 14,000 feet outside of Denver) during the summer. Despite it being late June, the temperature was still in the low 40s (Fahrenheit) at the top of the mountain.