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Student Works for Villagers’ Right to Sustainable Culture in Thailand

chloefxcrp.jpg The following was published in The Floyd Press on January 15, 2009 and online HERE.

Cloe Franko’s wrists are covered with string prayer bracelets, gifted to her by villagers in Northeast Thailand where she recently spent four months living, studying, and working for the Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE).

The villagers were friendly and generous, intrigued by white skin and curly hair, Franko told a group who were gathered at the Hotel Floyd Conference Room to see a power point presentation of her adventures. “It was hard to leave,” she said, referring to the bonds that were forged between cultures.

A 2006 Floyd County High School graduate, currently majoring in Environmental Studies at Richmond University, Franko said she and twenty-five other students traveled to one of the most impoverished parts of Thailand for the purpose of “understanding developmental issues in Thailand as they relate to human rights and the environment from a people to people perspective.”

During her time in the Issan region of Thailand, Franko, slept on floors, lived without electricity, ate silkworms and grasshoppers (along with sticky rice, green plantain salad, fish and hot pepper sauce) and sometimes wore a pha sin (a traditional long tubular skirt). She also saw 2,000 year old cave drawings, visited an elephant sanctuary, and caught some break dancing moves in nearby Cambodia before heading home to Floyd for the holidays. The dance was performed by a former Los Angeles gang member who was deported back to his homeland after a conviction and is currently making news teaching dance to urban teens at risk.
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Under the guidance of CIEE staff, Franko and her fellow international exchange students alternated living in rural villages with host families with campus time at Khon Kaen University, where they wrote human rights letters and position papers, and engaged in group reflections. They also relayed the villagers’ concerns to local corporations and government ministries involved in the damming and mining developments that are putting the rural villagers’ agrarian lifestyle at risk.

One of the photos projected from Franko’s laptop showed her working with others on a premature rice harvest that was standing in stagnant water, a result of a nearby dam (and another new dam – Ban Koum – is being planned). Another photo shows Franko participating in a candle floating ceremony on the Mekong River. The villagers rely on the river and the ceremony is done to apologize for any harm done to it, she said. “They consider the river a member of the community.”

Thailand is a monarchy and although the King doesn’t have much political power, reverent images of him were everywhere, Franko said. Lack of education and political pressure not to speak out are two obstacles that inhibit the villagers from effectively protecting their way of life. Government corruption is another.cloe1.jpg The gaudy gold temples were a striking contrast to the poverty of rural Thai people, she pointed out.

The right to culture is a human right, one that involves rights to water, traditional agrarian systems and livelihood, Franko (in green above) explained. “We give a legal voice to the villagers,” she said.

One of the results of the CIEE group’s work in Thailand has been the recent formation of an alliance for upholding human rights in Issan. “And our human rights reports were picked up by people in Bangkok and by Amnesty International,” Franko reported.

The vast majority of Thailand people are Buddhist and Franko described seeing many of them paying alms to monks, a custom that honors and supports the monks with the exchange of food for blessings from them. The people are generally shy and hugging is not a Thai custom, she explained. A common Thai greeting is bowing with hands clasped together. The level and the degree of bowing is determined by the status of the person being greeted.

Even so, the Thai people are affectionate and Franko received some goodbye hugs before leaving the country. One villager was direct when he said to her, ‘I want you to tell the world that we don’t want this new dam.’ ~Colleen Redman

Comments

Thanks so much for posting this. I was lucky enough to travel to Thailand last year and amazing and impressed with the people there. I LOVED the country and would love to go back soon. It's great to hear of people like Cloe Franko who are more interested in helping others while they are studying instead of going to frat parties!

By the way, Tanya sent me today. Hope you have a great weekend!

Isn't that funny synchonicity. I was writing about 3rd world activism too.

Of course we who love Cloe were very excited for her...to have this wonderful opportunity to learn and explore and grow. You can bet that hers will be a life of service and contribution and we'll all be better for it.

That's an amazing story. What an impressive woman.

Joe and I and the boys were living on the farm where Cloe and her twin sister Clary were born (and still live) ... in a cabin/bus for the summer. They are both amazing young women, as are so many of our young people here. Granted, I am partial, but it's also true.

By co-incidence I was with someone who had spent some time in Thailand last year and he made some comments about how wonderful the people could be away from some of the more tourist areas. He also commented on the contrasts between the richer city parts and the more rural communities.

I'm here today via Netchick's and will take a look around to catch up on what you've been doing!

rashbre

What great work she is doing. I've been to Vietnam and those pictures of the rice paddies look very similar.

I find I cannot diminish this page; as it is a pleasure to see Cloe and your article about her. It greatly warms my heart that her experiences were so warmly shared and supported.

Another great story.

And Colleen, have you seen the scrabble keyboard already? http://datamancer.net/keyboards/scrabble/scrabble.htm

What an inspiring story! Thank you, Colleen.

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