It has been almost a full month since our global scholars from Oakland arrived in Thailand! This past week our students participated in homestays in an organic farming community and learned about the challenges and benefits of organic farming in rural Thailand. They also learned about small business ownership and art through a self-constructed artist co-op, and had the opportunity to learn some of the art forms that were represented in the co-op. Reflections from this excursion from Louis Bryant – our Co-Director of Engagement and Experiential Learning – are below.
This week started out in Khon Kaen. The students took a 2 hour ride to the Khon Kaen University area and met with a young group of artist at this self-constructed artist co-op. The tiny shacks were quaintly created and resembled a space you might easily find in Oakland. The hipster feel made many of the students feel at ease. We separated into groups based on ceramics, caricature drawing, bag sewing and woodworking. They greeted us with proper Thai-style introductions and then we were in art-mode for 3 hours.
After staying the night at our hotel we set out the following morning to meet our farming families at the community center in Yasothan. The region was as rural as one might imagine with humble homes, smiling faces, and curious eyes trailing our silver vans touring their narrow streets. The students definitely seemed a bit more tense compared to the first homestay and their perplexed looks and frustrated attitudes reflected the difficult moments that were the challenge to them.
Once the students settled into their new host home there was an evening rendezvous at the town community center where the host farmers and students conducted an exchange based on questions that were developed prior to departing our home in Udon Thani. The students asked questions related to their health, farming techniques, economic benefits and losses, and political support for organic farming practices. Much knowledge was gained throughout the session and that was the first of a number of personal exchanges where the community farmers devoted their time toward our students.
The following day the students traveled to one of the organic farmers and learned about bio-fertilizer composed of harmoniously sliced banana plant (they aren’t trees!) mixed with molasses. The students also witnessed and learned about how the systems of the integrated farms support one another. This was a hands on workshop that involved translated question and answer opportunities.
Thursday’s experience involved a trip to a frog, fish and mushroom farm where more integrated organic farming techniques were discussed and displayed. The students were able to hold a few of the 500+ frogs on the property, cuddle baby chicks, see a demonstration on how hormones are injected into catfish, and learn how mushrooms are cultivated. We transitioned to a temple to have an exchange with a chemical farmer where the students were able to make comparisons to the different styles, motivations, techniques, and economic gains/losses due to his profession and choices as an organic farmer. The farmer proudly toured us through his farm allowing us to have a first hand comparison between the different farmer’s working livelihood.
Friday (last day!) was a full day with the family where many of the students were on the farm side-by-side with their host family cultivating and nurturing the land. That evening we had a closing ceremony with the students and the farming community with the traditional Baci string tying ceremony. Later, we met with one of the leaders of the organic farming network. His experience traveling the world has allowed him to understand many perspectives, benefits and costs of organic farming on a large scale. He shared his thoughts, life experience and answered prepared questions about farming in Thailand. Saturday morning we work up early and traveled to the organic market and purchased fresh goods that we will cook together back on campus when we return.
Finally, we also celebrated two birthdays this week!
Happy Birthday Ciara and Happy Birthday Rob!