Healing Earth, Healing Society, Healing Self

“We have to be angry but humble… We have to fight joyfully.”

This statement came from 2010 Right Livelihood Award Laureate Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist from Nigeria, during one of the learning sessions of the Chulalongkorn University Right Livelihood Summer School (CURLS). Centered around the theme, “Healing Earth, Healing Society, Healing Self,” CURLS is an experiential learning journey that aims to promote the concept of Right Livelihood by living rightly on earth.

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Plagued by neoliberalism, characterized by liberalization of trade and investment, privatization of goods and services, and changing of public regulation to support corporate interest, the earth has been treated as a commodity. The market considered as its very soul results to materialism and complete disregard of our impact to the environment. Changing this deeply rooted mindset can be frustrating. It angers me as an environmentalist. Yet “We have to be angry but humble…”

I do my part and expect others to do the same. At the expense of sounding preachy, paired with occasional bursts of exasperation, I point out how we’re not doing much. How we can’t even do the most basic things like segregating waste or refusing single-use plastic! We even reason how individual choices wouldn’t matter as long as corporations continue what they’re doing.  Being angry and humble at the same time sure is becoming more challenging.

During CURLS, learning about the disappearance of Laotian Sombath Somphone, a dedicated community and development worker, was heart-breaking. Environmentalists, activists, earth’s healers, those who fight for what is right, are being harmed for the work that they do. This elicits anger and fear but Sombath’s wife Shui Meng Ng encourages us to keep on fighting. And we have to fight joyfully in spite of it all.

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“Please return Sombath safely.”

Sulak Sivaraksa, another Right Livelihood Award Laureate, said that before you heal the world, you should heal yourself first and be liberated from structural violence. Sulak mentions of an ideal society where there is equality, fraternity, and liberty from greed, hate, and delusion.

Perhaps we should learn from Bhutan which uses Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of development, a departure from the usual Gross Domestic Product, or as Nnimmo refers to as “Gross Domestic Problem.” The fact that Bhutan has never been colonized, practicing Buddhist culture, made it easy to embrace the idea of GNH which is about holistic development and collective happiness. For GNH, there are nine interdependent domains being considered namely health, education, living standards, time use, psychological well-being, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, good governance, and ecological diversity and resilience.

Another example worth emulating is the communal living of the Konohana Family, an eco-village in Japan. They practice sustainable agriculture, they follow the law of the universe, and everyone contributes to the community.

Chulalongkorn University where trees abound, birds and squirrels freely roam about amidst busy students transported in electric buses, right at the center of a highly-urbanized city like Bangkok was the perfect learning environment for CURLS. It made me appreciate the idea of nature and modernity co-existing.

In a predominantly selfish society, there are still those who fight joyfully. Those who remain connected to the earth. Through CURLS, I met some of these people. I also learned valuable insights that could help me towards my path to healing the earth, the society, and myself.

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CURLS 2018 Participants

 

 

 

Photo Credit: CURLS 2018 Organizers

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HANDs! Project: Looking back and looking forward

People often choose to forget the past as looking back can be painful. But when it comes to disasters, lessons from history should always be remembered. This could help you survive when disasters strike again.

This is one lesson I got from the second and final leg of the HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project, a research trip organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, focusing on disaster and environmental education + creativity.

In 2016, the HANDs fellows visited Manila, Philippines and Bali, Indonesia. This year, we headed to Phuket and Phang Nga, Thailand and Kobe, Japan.

The Thailand phase started with a site visit and dialogue at the Bangla Village Mangrove Forest. Members of the community expressed how the mangroves helped protect them from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and are therefore very motivated in preserving the forest.

We then headed to Baan Nam Kem where we listened to stories of the tsunami survivors and learned about community based disaster risk management.

The rest of our stay in Thailand was spent in Yaowawit School, a real-life education facility for orphans and less privileged, which was founded by German philanthropist Philipp Graf von Hardenberg initially meant to help tsunami victims.

Lectures and workshops on sustainability and gamification were given by Robert Steele, a sustainability expert, and Ruttikorn Vuttikorn, a game designer. After which, fellows had to design games and activities for the “Alarm Cat,” a disaster and environmental education program for students of Yaowawit. It was a joy to interact with the children of the school and be able to promote disaster preparedness and environmentalism through creative means.

We said our khop kun krap (thank you) and bid goodbye to the heat of Thailand as Kobe, Japan’s cold embrace welcomed us.

The trip in Japan began with a tour of the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institute (DRI) which was established to archive and preserve the memories and lessons from the 1995 Great Hanshin-awaji earthquake. Hearing stories and going through the interactive exhibition of DRI was emotional but the importance of learning from the past to minimize risk and damage in the future is further emphasized.

A session and site visit of another disaster, the Toga River flash flood highlighted how providing sufficient information and education on disaster could save lives.

We learned about local initiatives on disaster prevention and environmental education from non-profit organizations namely Plus Arts, Kiko Network, and Tamba Greenpartner. We also participated in the “Iza! Kaeru Caravan,” a disaster drill program of Plus Arts, and facilitated games and activities for children.

Guided by HANDs adviser, Hirokazu Nagata, the fellows developed disaster and environmental education action plans to be implemented in our respective countries. We got additional inspiration to be more creative and to think outside the box from Kiito, Design and Creative Center in Kobe, which served as our work station.

HANDs Project provided a rare opportunity of visiting many places, learning from various experts and institutions, and forging friendships with co-fellows. And though the research trips ended, this is simply the beginning of more collaborations as we continue building our hopes and dreams towards a more resilient and more environmentally sustainable future.

Photos from HANDs! Project for Disaster Education Facebook Page.

Learn more about HANDs! Project here.

Amazing Thailand

No, I didn’t try out Thailand’s exotic food of crickets and scorpion. But I did taste their famous Pad Thai (Thai-style stirred fry noodles) and Tom Yum (hot and sour) soup. I wasn’t able to ride elephants. But I was able to ride their version of Philippine’s tricycle – the tuk tuk, an auto rickshaw. I didn’t get any Thai massage but I had the chance to have a combat martial art, Muay Thai workout. These are but a few of the things you can do and experience in Thailand. Add to that the magnificent temples you could visit like the Royal Grand Palace Temple and the Wat Arun Rajwararam (The Temple of Dawn).

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Wat Arun Rajwararam (The Temple of Dawn)

Touchdown Bangkok. A city buzzing with noise, activities, and life. A classic example of fast paced progress and development co-existing with the cultural and traditional lifestyle. Of tall modern buildings popping up with still standing old age temples. Of business people and tourists, here and about, alongside Buddhist monks in their orange robes which symbolizes their vow of selflessness and simplicity.

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Tuk Tuk
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Pad Thai

What more to experience the Thai culture than to stay in an actual Muay Thai camp and meet the famous owners, Mr. and Mrs. Sangsuwan. I mean they must be really famous because they showed us this magazine with an article and pictures of them on it.

There were nine of us who were taken in by the family and were treated to a tour, local delicacies, and Muay Thai training. Each of us had a moment with the coach as he directed us to kick and punch. I was told that I was actually good so I thought this could possibly be a career option in the future!

With us during that training were these young boys and girls who apparently have regular sessions. Plus there’s a lady boy. There was an argument as to his or her gender. A lady? A boy? Turned out, a lady boy which is not uncommon in Thailand.

What I knew about Thailand was limited to its really good horror films such as “Shutter” and its popularity for cheap cosmetic surgery. But now I’m impressed as to how they are overtaking the Philippines in terms of development.

I believe the way they’re liberal towards reproductive health reducing population is one factor. They also seem to put premium on education as they employ Filipino English teachers. A lot of my friends who decided to become English teachers in Thailand feel right at home. My Thai buddies also told me that they had Filipino teachers, good ones at that, which makes me feel even prouder to be a Filipino.

Me, living and working in Thailand? That could definitely be a possibility. I could follow the trails of my fellow Filipinos and be an English teacher. Or be a Muay Thai boxer!

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Muay Thai Camp