SUNDAY SOCIAL GOOD: Inspired by the slums and people of Khon Kaen, Thailand
This post is part of my Social Good Sunday series. It is a guest post from Alicia Rice who is living in Thailand working on a documentary film about the people living in the slum communities of Khon Kaen. This is a post about her work.
I came to Thailand as a study abroad student in 2008. For four months, we learned about globalization and development projects in Northeastern Thailand, the poorest region of the area. We read studies and got the chance to talk with government officials and company representatives. But the most important parts of our education were always getting the chance to talk with villagers. We got the chance to sleep in the houses and get to know the people who’s houses were being threatened, or who’s farm was being taken away.
There was one moment in particular that really stood out to me. As American students, we were often left with the question of what we could do, or more importantly, what we should do.
The more you learn about social justice work abroad, the more you learn the importance of people to be empowered and solve their issues themselves. It left me feeling helpless and puzzled.
This moment happened in a village with people who were faced with the prospect of loosing their homes to a dam. We sat around in a circle with the villagers and exchanged. One of the students asked what we as students could do, the same question I’d often asked myself. One of the villagers said, “You can tell our story.”
It all clicked. No, I could not help these people in their struggle; it was their fight, not mine. But, I could tell their stories. I could let others know that this struggle, and millions of other struggles around the world are happening. I could try and help people realize that our actions have an effect on others whether we intend them to or not. And I could work to help others to understand the lives of others in an attempt to build peace.
At the end of my semester, I decided to forgo a Southeast Asian travel experience to live with a slum family I’d been working with. My host father was a scavenger, spending eight hours a day finding recyclables in the trash, and my host mother stayed at home to watch their grandchildren while they’re children worked in other cities. They had no TV, they often slept on the floor, and they had mounts of debt. But still, almost every day, my host father would go out and buy me bread. It was far more expensive that the food they ate, but he wasn’t thinking of costs. He just wanted to make sure I felt like I was home.
It was that spirit that made me fall in love with the slum communities of Khon Kaen. And it is that spirit that has brought me back to tell their stories.
I am here to tell the stories of poor families who live next to the railroad tracks of one of the largest cities in Thailand. Most of these people aren’t people who have squandered their opportunities and brought poverty onto themselves, but instead people who never had that opportunity to begin with. They have come together to create the Network for the Rehabilitation of Community Power, which helps to connect the different slum communities together to overcome their struggles.
When most people think of poverty films, they imagine children with their ribs poking out of their frail bodies. They picture dirty streets filled with sad faces. They expect to hear about the hardships of living on less than a dollar a day. These films have their place; they expose the world to some of the injustices and suffering in our world.
In some ways, I believe it’s easier to show the sad and horrific parts of poverty, but that’s not what I want to do here. And while the lives of those living next to the railroad tracks of Khon Kaen are marked with struggle, I didn’t come to here because these people are faces the world injustices in the world. Instead, I want to show a group of people who are preserving despite this struggle.
And when I asked the members of the Network what they wanted these films to be about, not a single one of them mentioned their hardships.
I want people to feel inspired. I want them to say, “Hey, if they can do it with a smile, so can I.” Because that’s what I’ve learned most about my time living in one of these communities. I’ve been able to experience a sense of community that I previously didn’t know. I’ve learned that even if you’ve got debt and work 9 hours a day at a horrible job, that you can still give to others.
I hope that these films can impart even just a fraction of the love that I’ve felt during my time in Khon Kaen. I strongly believe that positive change is only possible through love and understanding. If we are able to learn about the lives of others, we will live our lives with that knowledge in mind. We will become more compassionate people. And, through that, we will build a more compassionate world.
Alicia has always had an interest in arts but it wasn’t until she found documentary that she found her passion. She has both studied and worked in Thailand, providing her with an education very different to the one she received at home. Her hope is to use documentary as a way to create understanding in the world.
If you’d like to learn more about the project, please visit: www.indiegogo.com/khonkaenurbanlife
Or follow here:
Alicia’s blog: Khon Kaen Urban Life
If you’d like to speak Alicia, please contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org