Upcountry Observations

A couple weeks in Thailand’s rural rice-field-laced countryside provided a beautiful and welcome change of scenery from the polluted air and noisy, crowded streets of Bangkok.  With a little more language training under my belt and the time-consuming visa/work permit process (mostly) complete, I’ve been able to venture out and spend more time hearing firsthand about both opportunities and challenges facing some of Thailand’s poorest regions.

Most of my time was spent in Buriram province with the family of one of the women that went through The Well program and has returned to her village to serve her family and neighbors in creative ways.  As the first Christian in her community, she has earned a great deal of respect as she’s seen investing in youth, discipleship, education and economic opportunities for her neighbors.  I’ll hope to share more of her story later, but in the meantime let me just say it’s a privilege to get to come alongside and learn from her even as I’m looking to provide some coaching and support for some of her endeavors.

Beyond that, I met and shared laughs and stories with neighbors, had adventures with village kids (including midnight creepy-crawly-creature-hunts in cultivated rice fields and a trip to the local hospital to stitch up my eyebrow after a raucous game of basketball), ate bugs and other peculiar delicacies (personal favorites are boiled silkworms and red ants) and tried to find as many people as possible to ask questions and learn.  I was able to connect with some government officials (our equivalent of state and county extension offices), some local entrepreneurs, as well as a couple of extremely helpful Peace Corps volunteers in and around the province to explore broader issues regarding the agricultural, socioeconomic and educational system of Buriram and Thailand’s broader Isaan region.

A few highlights…

First things first: rice fields as far as they eye can see.  This is harvest time in much of the Isaan region so most families were involved in some way or another with bringing in the rice crop, almost all of which is done by hand.  Taking in the vast countryside and participating in the process of cutting, bundling, thrashing, drying and bagging rice brought home that well-known reality of the importance of rice to the country and its economic importance to nearly every family in the region.

Beyond the rice fields… a Thai family operating an orphanage and doing a number of innovative agricultural projects with the intent to be completely self-supporting in the next few years welcomed me in to share their story.  From rice to aquaculture to chickens to fertilizer – I was inspired by his entrepreneurial attitude and commitment to discover new ways of doing things better.  Their hope is to not only be self-sufficient, but to be a model/teaching farm for neighbors as they look for ways to increase profitability on the same number of acres through relatively simple innovation and experimentation.  It was a blessing and inspiration to hear his story and learn his perspective on both the successes and challenges related to agriculture in the region; I have a lot more to learn from him.

I also managed to connect with a few extremely helpful Peace Corps volunteers in the region.  One volunteer in a neighboring province informed me of a nearby village that has recently undergone major community development and transformation initiatives, all led by a dynamic local Thai woman committed to environmental responsibility and youth development.  Exciting stuff, and it got me thinking that I need to find some mentorship-type resources for some of the women looking to start similar initiatives in their communities.  Another couple introduced me to a phenomenal school in a neighboring province that has fully integrated agricultural education into their curriculum.  The success rate of this school in retaining kids, providing agricultural economic opportunities for youth as well as character/values/responsibility education and affecting broader change in their communities was phenomenal.  For any of you 4-Hers out there though, you’ll recognize the picture below taken at the school… I found 4-H in Thailand! Looking forward to learning more about the model they’ve put together and figure out what it might take to replicate it in some of the villages in which we’re working.

Each of these visits (and many others left unmentioned) gave me about a dozen new ideas to explore. I get energized when I think about opportunities and possibilities of connecting some of our leaders with these potential local mentors and resources as we look to further improve The Well’s upcountry programs.

But… I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the reality of the challenges that I know are framing any ideas or opportunities we’re exploring.  Poverty, broken family structures, inadequate education systems, corrupt government, deeply ingrained class systems, apathy within local religious organizations, cultural tolerance for abuse…the list goes on.  It seems that each village I visit or conversation I have reveals another ring in the complex web of challenges that keeps individuals and entire villages from experiencing the joy and freedom (and the luxury of optimism) that I so take for granted.  That complex web also happens to be what is helping to fuel the continuation of sexual exploitation back here in Bangkok and in other parts of the country.

It’s taking some discipline even for this eternal optimist to keep an eye on the opportunities and not feel overwhelmed and even defeated by the challenges as I get to know the mess involved in attempting the work of transformational development.   But, I’m thankful to have received a timely and powerful reminder from Pastor Heather at National Community Church in DC (delivered via podcast on one of my recent trips out to the countryside) that we don’t have to naively ignore the challenges, nor do we need to feel defeated when we take inventory of their enormity:

…Faith does not ignore the reality of the present situation. Faith is staring reality in the face and watching it bow in the presence of an Almighty God.”

So thankful for that reminder as I continue to learn about the reality of the challenges facing a couple of very special rural Thai villages and watch as that reality bows in the presence of an Almighty God.

 

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  • Comments (4)
    • Rachel
    • December 8th, 2010

    Thanks for sharing Cori girl! I love reading about your adventures, your growth and your eternal optimism. 🙂 I don’t remember where I read/heard it, but I have always liked the quote, “Don’t tell God how big your mountain is, but rather, tell the mountain how big your God is.” All He needs is a mustard seed! Keep it up chica! love you so much! xoxo

    • Russell Laird
    • December 8th, 2010

    Eating worms and bugs out in rice fields – now that sounds like a missionary story! 

    Interesting pictures but where are the pictures of you hauling in bundles of rice!  It must be nice to be there during harvest time and see the satisfaction that harvest brings! (Assuming it is a good harvest). It is very good to hear how your agricultural background is being put to a good and very practical use to help make a real difference.

    I haven’t been involved in the kind of work you are doing but can relate in a small way to the development challenges you are describing from my time spent in Ukraine. I’ve seen such economic growth there but so much yet unrealized potential. The long-term challenges you describe sound similar and even though it seems like you can see some clearly needed changes that could bring about quick progress the barriers related to culture and mindset will not change quickly. Your understanding and recognition of that is probably a great first step – coupled with your hope and perseverance!

    I scanned through the pics and immediately noticed the 4H flag before I read through your post.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Melissa
    • December 10th, 2010

    Good to see this update, and it sounds like you have many possible outreach activities to pursue. I’m happy to hear of the possibilities and your passion for the challenges!

  1. Your brain is churning right!?!? TONS going on, way to much to blog about, but your giving good bits. Thanks!

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