Field Study days 4, 5 and 6

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

This was a very different day, as we were visiting the Thai Government offices for the first time since our arrival to Mae Sot. On our drive there, we saw hundreds of people carrying bags with their belongings; people selling food; people making lines; sad faces, confused faces. Many were going back ‘voluntarily’, others were crossing the Friendship Bridge for the day. In my lifetime, I’ve had many airport goodbyes, and they were never easy, but for these migrants the feeling must be so bitter. I have not been to Tijuana yet, but I can imagine that it must be something very similar to what deportees from Southern California experience when they are taken in a bus to the border.

We arrived to the meeting, which was more formal than all the others we had attended that week. There were personalized name tags in our seats; microphones and breakfast goodies were served to us by their staff. I felt a bit tense, uncomfortable and extremely conscious -especially about not using the terms refugee or refugee camp during this session.  We were welcomed by Superintendent Dr. Nakornsantipap who invited us to enjoy the Burmese tea that we were sipping (it was delicious). We listened carefully to a presentation about the different operations that the Immigration Department of the Tak Province is involved in. Most of these had to do with transnational criminal networks -which, unfortunately, they had named according to the country of origin of their leader, contributing to the creation of stigmas around certain nationalities. Then, I was shocked to hear him talk about Austrialia’s Christmas Island as well as the USA’s attempt to build a fence with Mexico as part of their “lessons learned” and was surprised to hear that he would be visiting Southern California in April, so I extended him an invitation to meet with some of my colleagues that collaborate closely with law enforcement in anti-human trafficking  work. He shared with us that he’s been part of a committee with UNHCR that is looking for ways to provide some status to the population fleeing conflict, but that the problem is that there are not enough countries that accept refugees. He feels that the only way to stop this problem is to have destination countries be open to receive them. If Thailand was part of the Refugee Convention it would mean more refugees coming and they can’t handle that burden.

After his presentation, we toured the facilities and saw the detention / processing center, where immigrants are held for less than a day while they await their transport back to Burma. We were told that NGOs like IOM and World Vision conduct the assessments / interviews in cases where there’s indication of possible human trafficking and that the Social Welfare department will handle the cases of minors and other victims.



 Rights of Detainees in Thai, English and Burmese

Wednesday afternoon we traveled to the Labor Law Clinic of the Human Rights and Development Foundation, which was founded in collaboration with the Lawyers Council of Thailand and is partly supported by the American Center for International Labor Solidarity. This organization works in collaboration with Governments, NGOs, Social Security, Police, Labor Protection and Thailand’s Welfare Office to ensure that the workers rights are respected, regardless of their nationality. The clinic provides legal consultations to both Thai and migrant workers in Mae Sot; they facilitate capacity building of NGOs to promote human rights and train legal professionals and through all this they promote understanding between Thai and Burmese communities. I was yet again inspired by the courage and motivation of these young lawyers who had chosen public interest law as their career, in spite of the numerous difficulties in a country like Thailand.

The day ended up very differently, with a bike ride to Mae Sot Football Club with Langan and our interpreter Sia. That night, Erin and I joined a team of expats, Thai and Burmese girls of the NGO sector in a friendly soccer match (end result was 5:5). This was one of my favorite intercultural experiences of the field trip, as it allowed us to connect with locals through a fun activity. After the game, we biked to a delicious Burmese restaurant, together with fellows Dara and Stephen. Note that we only had 4 bikes, but there were 5 of us 🙂 so there was a couple riding tandem…



Post game dinner

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thursday was dedicated to the International Organization for Migration (IOM): in the morning we met with two staff of their Labor Migration Program and discovered that the Field Coordinator for the Labor Migration and Counter Trafficking Program is an alumna of the Rotary Peace Center in Queensland, Australia! This was an excellent meeting that provided us a deeper understanding on the dynamics of the migrant population and the programs that IOM is conducting to serve them. One of the projects they are working on is called “Reducing vulnerabilities of Burmese Muslims through Community Outreach and Increasing Access to Social and Health Services” (self-explanatory) and the other major one is called “Addressing the risks and needs of vulnerable migrants in the Greater Mekong Sub Region and Malaysia”.

The afternoon session with IOM took us to their Refugee Processing Center, where refugees being resettled to the United States and Australia get their interviews, final cultural orientations and medical examinations. After a very informative presentation we toured the facility and saw some of the refugee children that were waiting for their parents to undergo the required panel physician examinations. At this time particular time only a small group of refuges is being processed to the United States, as there’s a backlog still from the Government Shutdown of October 2013.


Friday, February 7, 2014

 The last visit of our field study was to Mae Tao Clinic, the famous border clinic started by a Burmese doctor called Cynthia Maung. It was a privilege to meet with Dr. Cynthia and to hear from her directly. It was a good way to close the week as it allowed us to see the many needs that this migrant community have and to contextualize more the migrant reality in the border.

We closed the field trip with a group reflection, centering exercise and individual reflection, which was a way to motivate us reflect more about the field study.  For future field trips, I hope to see a component of service that can allow us to connect the theory learned in class with what we were seeing in the field (how agencies operate, etc). It was an amazing week and I’m in awe of the great work that so many humanitarians are doing in this border town. I hope to return soon!

Field Study Day 3: CBOs in Mae Sot

Mae Sot, Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

 Tuesday morning I saw the town wake up during my first run around Mae Sot. Dozens of monks -young and old- were already on the streets doing their morning alms, barefoot and wearing their orange tunics; on the sidewalks, people were waiting for them with warm food that they would put in their containers -carried by the younger monks in this case. It was such a beautiful scene, but I was too shy to take a picture of it. Instead, I was able to capture this moment…


I was enjoying this special quiet moment by myself when suddenly my heartbeat spiked as some dogs started chasing me…but luckily, no accidents to report. I went back to the hotel and got ready for another busy day of field study. Several community-based organizations (CBOs) were on the agenda for the day and I was looking forward to hear more about their work.

We started at WEAVE (Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment), where we heard from Cynthia (one of the beneficiaries of this program, not turned trainer for others in Mae La) and María Mitos Urgel the Executive Director who shared how they are fostering peacebuilding by returning the dignity to displaced women through the provision of income generation. Through their work they celebrate victories, hope and love. After our conversation, we explored their fair trade shop full of beautiful patterns and colors -and I’m happy to say that we all got some souvenirs for family and friends.

From there we went to MAP Foundation (for the Health and Knowledge of Ethnic Labor), whose motto is “No Human Being is Illegal”. They are a grassroots legal aid that empowers the migrant community in Thailand through different programs, ranging from Community Health and Empowerment (‘CHE’ – which focuses on health education); Rights for All (‘RFA’ – care, shelter, education, identity & women issues); Labor Rights and the MAP Multimedia and MAP Community Radio.   It was inspiring to hear the motivation of these young Thai and Burmese law professionals fighting for the rights of migrant workers and to learn of what remedies the workers have to protect themselves in Thailand. One of the similar problems I saw compared to the United States’ context is the abusive brokers (in the US are called immigration consultants or ‘notarios’). In the Thai context, MAP educates the community about their rights through outreach and community radio and when abuses are uncovered, they intervene with the agency first and then if they don’t comply, they will go to the Thai justice system.

Tuesday afternoon was super sunny and very warm. As we walked to Youth Connect, we made a quick stop for ice cream. Once there, we met with one of their program managers and a Burmese alumni of the Transitions Program who now works on the operations side. This organization has been working in Mae Sot for six years and was funded by Child’s Dream Foundation, as a result of conversations with employers about the workplace needs. Youth Connect’s Transitions Program is divided in three stages: from In School, Intensive Program (Transition) and Apprenticeship. This impressive program is assisting 50 students a year and allows young migrants to secure documentation and 2-year work permits (which have a cost of 1,900 THB).


RWP Fellows Visit Youth Connect

Students get apprenticeships in different fields, including hospitality and top students can get selected for a job at the lovely Picturebook Guesthouse (one of their social enterprises). According to Mickey, YCF director: “these programs are changing mindsets of the migrant students, and help them take initiative and be decisive about their future”.

We closed day 3 with a discussion between fellows and administrators, in an effort to reflect on what the field study has encompassed thus far. Several themes came up to me: Bangkok vs. Mae Sot (peace and freedom here; its fresh air; how manageable it is); NGOs vs. Governments (of both Thailand and Burma); International NGOs vs. small Community Based Organizations (and how the latter tend to be more inclusive of its stakeholders than the big organizations).

One burning concern I have is the narrative around the topic of displacement and how the government has tried to tone things down using terms like “temporary shelter”, as if it wanted to deny any responsibility over them. Furthermore, I feel it’s a way to hide the reality that could be so painful to process and that due to these subtleties, Thai society has a bad perception of these groups, due to a lack of understanding. I dared to ask what is the Thai government doing to educate its citizens around these issues, as I fear a harsh racism and immigrants (and refugees especially) being used as scapegoat of many other societal problems.

And to close, I leave you with this treasure. I came across this wonderful book called “Be Good to Each Other” (a color book in English, Burmese and Thai), and here’s a thought…

 Dear Reader:

Look close. Look deep.

Look far. Look    w i d e.

We are not as different as we seem.

We each carry our own story.

We each hold our own beliefs.

And we shall know what is like to

Straddle two, three, four…worlds.

Whatever brings you here,

To Mae Sot, to this border…

Be open. Be brave.

Be good to each other.

The rest comes easy.

Love & Peace,



What is Home?

Bangkok, February 10, 2014

From February 2nd to February 8th, Class XVI of Rotary Peace Fellows, accompanied by the Chulalongkorn University Peace Center staff and two Rotary International staff traveled to Mae Sot (Tak Province) in the border with Burma (Myanmar), North West of Thailand.  The following  entry  is a product of an intense week of institutional visits and discussions with numerous actors working in Mae Sot: civil society organizations, International Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations and Governmental agencies. Before our departure we were warned about the danger of one story and with that mindset we went into this field study and tried to interpret the different narratives. I hope to capture here the stories of some of the amazing people we met during this field study, and really wish that one day in the not so distant future we can all meet again…

I had a lot of expectations from this first field trip, but it moved me in a way that I wasn’t expecting. It made me reflect a lot on the term “HOME”. It has been hard for me to be away for three months while living and studying in a foreign culture, so I can’t start to imagine how it feels to be displaced and stranded for decades in a strange country that doesn’t give you any rights.

What is home? Where is it? It has been more than one month since I left Los Angeles (USA), which has been my home for the past 12 years. Before that, I lived in Caracas (Venezuela) for 11 years and I grew up in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands (Spain) for 15 years. I don’t hold American citizenship (yet), so I’m a migrant, a guest to the country. Under United States’ law I’m an immigrant “Alien” (yes, that’s the official term, don’t laugh!).  Nevertheless, in spite of the tens of thousands of dollars spent between immigration fees on different type of visas and attorneys in order to be able to remain there, I had options to select where I wanted to go.

I consider myself Spanish first and Venezuelan last, as I’ve lived longer in Spain than in any other country. The funny thing is that for my Spanish friends I’m American (since I’ve lived there for so long, though I’m only a permanent resident in the country). I chose to migrate from one country to another (twice). Refugees and others displaced by conflict, are forced to escape, as they fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. And after they have done so, they often don’t have freedom of movement from that new country until they get asylum or refugee status -only after getting humanitarian protection they will have the right to a Refugee Travel Document (if they are lucky enough to end up in a country that has signed the Convention on the Rights of Refugees). So often times, refugees feel lost, without direction.

We often hear “Home is where the heart is”, so today I can say, my heart is with my other half -back in Pasadena, California. Now, could I make a new place feel home if he was there? It will take time, but I could. By making new friends, connecting with the locals and their traditions and finding comfort in those new places and familiarizing myself with the environment.  But can refugees feel home again? Maybe years after being firmly resettled and integrated into their new country -which hopefully, has provided them protection. Unfortunately, in Thailand that is not a durable solution. Burmese refugees living in the border have been there for 30 years. There are different generations and many of the children of these refugees were born in Mae La or any of the other camps, in Thai soil, but they are not given Thai citizenship. They don’t know any other home but this one; the camp is their homeland.  But do refugees that have been away from home for so long feel homesick? Or is this a feeling reserved for those that have the option of returning?

 When reviewing issues of displacement I can point out some of the challenges: difficulty adapting to the new environment; feeling different than others around you; uncertainty of what’s next and what would happen if you had to leave again or if you had the option of returning.  As I’m writing this, I realize that it is difficult for me -and it might be the case of other immigrants working around this theme- to separate my individual experience from that of this group – though as I’ve said before: comparisons are unfair but I have to be aware of my biases as I work around the issue of migration. I’m thankful for what has been an amazing week of observing the dynamics of migration (forced and selective) in this country and look forward to continue this learning experience.

To illustrate some of the stories that we heard during this week, I have left you a couple of separate blog / journal posts on the first visits we conducted during this field study. 

Field Study Day 2: UNHCR + TBC + IRC

Mae Sot, Monday February 3, 2014

On Monday we had a busy start with three very different meetings: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, where two of their Protection Officers discussed the Agency’s priorities for 2014 and how they operate and enhance protection to a vulnerable population in a country that is not signatory of the Refugee Convention. They talked about the current changing context in the border; the official UN position in regards to Myanmar; and the possibility of return for the hundreds of thousands that have been in protracted situation in Thailand for the last thirty years. The bottom line is that they do not think that the conditions are not appropriate for return. With all this, UNHCR Thailand continues to respond to protection needs of refugees from Myanmar (“people displaced by conflict”); they are advocating for a national asylum mechanism and have funded a project on peace and reconciliation in the camp that uses mediation and restorative justice (implemented by International Rescue Committee’s Legal Access Center). One crude reality with the voluntary repatriation program is that the younger Burmese want to go back, while the older generation refuses to do so, out of fear -and with reason.  It came to my mind that this is a parallel with my clients’ children in the United States, who don’t understand what their parents went through escaping persecution and torture to secure a better life for them. But I must remind myself that comparisons are unfair.


Fellow Ian, from Malawi, thanks UNHCR Staff on behalf of our Class. 

From there, we had a very different meeting with Chris Clifford from The Border Consortium (TBC) from whom we got a more critical view of the change in context and a different picture of reality. Chris Clifford -using something similar to a mind map– walked us through the history of the 120,000 refugees that live in the country; TBC’s strategic plan and its various programs to address their needs. An organization that was formed by “volun-tourism” today counts with a more solid program that provides food, shelter, nutrition, Community Managed Targeting and Income Generation (IGD) while also looking into conducting operations into Myanmar by being very involved with Non State Actors.  One very important insight we heard from him was the importance of letting the refugees decide and of not isolating them (versus the approach of some NGOs of making the decisions for them). It was a sound reminder of the importance of ensuring participation of the affected parties in any development project, so that their voices are heard and that they own any accorded solution.


Chris Clifford presenting to the RWP Group


After lunch, we traveled to the Mae Sot office of International Rescue Committee (IRC), one of my agency’s Collaborative partners. I’d like to think that the Los Angeles office of IRC is responsible for me doing the work I do today as they received me as a volunteer for five months in 2003 and later sent me off to LAFLA with great recommendations, so I will always be grateful to their staff for sharing their time and mentoring me in my first refugee-related job. Once again, while so far away, I felt home. Why is this theme so recurrent?

We were kindly received by Atchara, the Project Coordinator of IRC’s Legal Assistance Center (LAC). This program funded by UNHCR promotes sustainable access to justice for refugees by strengthening engagement and the capacity of response within the camp and with Thai authorities. LAC increases legal awareness and helps refugees assert their rights and access remedies. Unfortunately, refugees don’t know what’s going on outside the camp, nor that they are under the jurisdiction of Thai law so this program empowers them immensely. Atchara highlighted that the Karen refugees come with their own practices and that they are very autocratic, so there was a huge need for training on human rights and human standards of treatment of detainees. They have been away from their country for a long time and have been confined to remote closed camps. The lack of resources and many barriers make the Royal Thai government reluctant of many issues.


On a side note, shortly after arriving, we heard from her that there was a fire at the Umpiem Mai refugee camp -which we later found out was controlled. It was worrisome as there had been some fires in December at Mae La, having to do with the type of construction materials they use for these “temporary” shelters. I keep thinking of the intention behind the semantics of all these terms, and how the Thai government is trying to diminish the importance of these groups seeking humanitarian protection within their territory -and that it’s not just the fact that they are not parties of the 1951 Refugee Convention (nor its 1967 Protocol) but that admitting that there’s such a huge need debilitates their image.

After an intense first day of institutional visits, I met up with Langan, an alumna of the Rotary World Peace fellowship who now lives in Mae Sot and works for IRC. We had met years ago at the California Refugee Summit while she worked for the Oakland Unified School District and had reconnected last year thanks to Rotary. Now she’s working at the Resettlement Support Center of International Rescue Committee -which is in charge of processing the Burmese refugees that are being resettled in the United States. What an amazing network this is!

Field Study Day 1: Bangkok – Mae Sot (BKK – MAQ)

Sunday February 2, 2014 was here: Election Day. We left the housing complex super early to prevent encountering any street closures on the way to the airport. No incidents and we got there so early that we could not check in for another 30 minutes -but better safe than sorry! The flight was delayed due to dense fog, but we made it safely to our destination. Upon arrival to Mae Sot, we drove to the colorful Rim Mei Market that sits by the Moei river (in the border with Burma) to immerse ourselves in this very multicultural town. Here, Burmese and Thai weavings intertwined in -what seemed to be a somehow- quiet market full of mixed colors and flavors. Some hours later, after exploring and doing some shopping, we were looking to taste the Burmese flavors but failed to find a delicious plate of Mohinga soup -which Iona had described so amazingly on the plane. Instead, had another delicious soup dish very close to the Friendship Bridge (which crosses Thailand to Burma).

That afternoon, after much expectation, I was devastated by the news that we would not be able to access the Mae La Refugee Camp (or “Temporary Shelter Area” -as it’s called by the Thai government). For months, since I first applied to the Fellowship, I had dreamt of being there and helping out providing some service to a community that has been forgotten for decades. Instead, our first day in town included a mere drive-by to the area, to see the camp from the outside. It felt terrible to be there -almost as if we were visiting the zoo. I was embarrassed and upset that they had taken us there just for the show, but I recognize that there were others in our group who wanted to witness this -even in this manner. My hope is that future groups of Rotary Peace Fellows that come out for their field study have better hands-on experience in this regard.


We closed our first day in town with a special reception by the Rotary Club of Maesot Maung Chod (Club RI 3360) -big shout out to the organizers! Everything was memorable: the location, the food and the karaoke! Here’s a picture of the group singing The Rotary Song. Suddenly, while being so far away from our loved ones and exhausted from a day that had started at 4 AM we felt welcome to the city and part of their big Rotary family.


Saying goodbye from the distance – Rest in Peace, my dear Lily

Bangkok, Friday, January 31st, 2014

On Tuesday, January 28th, my co-worker Lilia González passed away after her courageous battle with leukemia. Even when I know she’s now resting in peace,  I’m selfish to see her go, I’m sad that we didn’t say goodbye properly and I can’t imagine what will be like going back to work in April and not having her by my side, with her smile, enthusiasm and dedication for social justice. Image


(This picture is from Lilia’s birthday in May, 2011)


It was a very hard week emotionally, but also one in which I grew enormously, surrounded by the kindness and love from my new brothers and sisters. I cried with them for the first time and they cried with me. I’ve strengthened bonds, made new friends and found guidance when I least expected it. Special thanks to Brenda Sunoo, our professor’s wife, who was an amazing support and guide during this time of grief.  

Being away at this time was very hard. I wrote this letter to my colleagues last night, as I wanted to be closer to them in what’s been a terrible loss, the death of our dearest Lily.

Dear LAFLA family:

With a broken heart and from the distance, I received the news of our Lily leaving us this week. She’s resting in peace now and I wish we had said goodbye.

I’d like to call to the office today and talk to you, hear your voices and see how you’re all doing. It’s Friday night here and I found out of Lilia’s passing on Wednesday midnight before I was going to bed. Thanks to Nancy and Desiree for reaching out. Yesterday, in class, we had a minute of silence in her honor and prayed together. I’ve found refuge on new friends and I’m blessed for that, as I’m so far away from all of you, with whom I wish I could be at this moment.  I never thought the time would come so soon, and yet, we almost lost Lily in many occasions in the last 6 years since her diagnosis when she was pregnant with Ashley.

When we face loss of a loved one, we’re often selfish and think of how we will miss that person. With Lily, even when we knew how much she had suffered, in a way we thought she would get better. She tricked us with her smile and energy, as she was so positive, optimistic and cheerful all the time. Even when she was facing many challenges physically, her spirit was unbreakable and that’s what kept her going.  She was a warrior. It will be hard to go back to the office and not have her there. I wish I had told her more often how strongly she influenced our daily lives at LAFLA and what an inspiration she was to me. I will always treasure her smile, her strength and the deep and the meaningful conversations we had together in and out of the office – and I wish I had found more time for those. 

This has been a hard week for all of you and I hope you’re able to grief her passing and acknowledge her strength and dedication. I’ve read some of your emails to feel closer to you, and cried a lot. I’m sure you have too. I hope you find the space to discuss all these feelings with each other.

In the last 4 years I’ve lost many dear people close to my heart: my father, one of my best friends…and more. I have to admit that not giving myself enough time to grief and to acknowledge the feelings have made each loss harder than the last one. I hope you can find peace to be with all the feelings that this loss brings us. I also hope time will heal the pain that we all feel now and that we can move on to remember Lily with the usual happiness that she spread all around her. 

Sending you a big hug, missing you lots!


Culture, Mediation, Negotiation and Facilitation

Bangkok, Saturday, February 1, 2014

It’s Saturday morning; I’ve already run 5 miles -missing my Pasadena Pacers; gone to the gym; talked to Freddy; had coffee with Bridget and cleaned the room. Yes, a very domestic start of the weekend.  In the background I listen to Héroes del Silencio and I prepare the bag for our departure to the North West for our Mae Sot field study, I realize that I haven’t been keeping track of this week’s events. So here’s my weekly post.

In class it was our third week of lectures, which started with an international fashion show. Since I was not able to bring a typical dress from Tenerife, I decided to go pop culture and bring a Spanish fútbol  jersey. Pictured here the rivals: Netherlands and Spain – with rockstar Bridget. 


For five days, we traveled across the Dispute Resolution Spectrum and learned mediation, facilitation and negotiation techniques from Jan Sunoo and Valerie Harragin, from the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service. After discussing the problems with stereotypes, we discovered which working style each of us had and were not surprised to see that half of our group is “amiable”. In mediation, we saw the importance of active listening in action and how to look for links that strengthen the relationship between the parts involved in the dispute to help them get to a joint solution.

From Tuesday to Friday had numerous exercises, including one interest-based negotiation in which I was an agricultural development officer for an American conglomerate trying to build a resort in the beautiful land of ‘Rungia’. On Thursday we said goodbye to our colleague Suthan, a social worker from Sri Lanka, who had to return home due to a family emergency. We’re now minus 1 and it will be hard not to hear his stories, learn from his resilience and bravery on his daily work empowering Tamil women.

On Wednesday, 14 of us had a cultural expedition for Korean food -my first time (don’t kill me!) after living in LA for 12 years and working in K-Town all this time and had never tried this before). It was lovely, especially as we were introduced to many of the rituals by Jan and his wife Brenda.

Lastly, on Friday, to practice appreciative inquiry in an expressionist manner, we had fun writing the lyrics of a rap song for Da Minista (aka: Don Franco):














My weekly report – end of January

Bangkok, Sunday, January 26, 2014

It’s been a couple of days since I last entered some notes in the journal, so being Sunday night; I need to recap the end of the week…here and there. 

Thursday we finished the session on Conflict Analysis with Erik Melander, which was very interesting and different from the previous one. We closed the day with an overview of tragic events of the last century, which reminded me a lot of the documentary In Our Time, for which Freddy wrote music some years ago.  Discussing these atrocities brought a lot of emotions to the room, as -unfortunately- some of these conflicts have affected personally some of my colleagues. The timeline was something like this (shall we never forget the atrociousness):

Wars between states (more destructive):

  • Korea (1950-1953) (hundred thousand of deaths)
  • Vietnam (1965-1975) (million deaths)
  • Iran – Iraq (1980-1988) (use of chemical weapons) (+ death of 5000+ Kurd civilians)
  • Ethiopia – Eritrea (1998-2000) – 100,000 died in this war, most of them soldiers

– Average Battle of Deaths of Intrastate Armed Conflicts  (civil wars have decreased)

  • China (1946-1949) big war (Taiwan-China)
  • Vietnam (1955-1964) (-1975)
  • Lebanon (1976-1990)
  • Afghanistan (1979- today)

– Worst Genocides

  • 1959: Tibet
  • 1965: Indonesia
  • 1967-70: Nigeria (Biafra)
  • 1971: Bangladesh
  • 1975-1979: Cambodia (Killing Fields)
  • 1983-today:  Sudan (North-South + Darfur)
  • 1961-1991: Iraq (Kurds + Kuwait

Erik closed the class and the week of the program with the following:

“Remember that the world is much better today than 30 years ago.

Because of media logics, positive things tend to be overlooked.

There are a lot of positive things that we can do!

And take the bigger picture into account!”


 And yes, time flies!  I want to make this count.  It’s been 3 weeks now since I arrived in Bangkok, so it’s only 2 more months left!I need to do more, I’ve been feeling so trapped inside Chula, though this last weekend I was able to explore a little bit further -thanks to the Refugee Bazaar event at Café Bicycle -the Bangkok version of Café Bolívar and met some very interesting people. Too bad I did not have business cards with me, but I’ve already email them (crossing my fingers to reconnect with them to continue the fascinating conversations). During the fair, a little Pakistani refugee girl (in blue here), ambushed me for a henna tattoo, which I was not planning on getting. I have to think that it’s a nice souvenir of a memorable night. 


I also met Anoop from Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, who reminded me a little of me -as both a coordinator and connector with so many agencies and very involved in the issues in this region. I also got to practice my broken French with Beatrice, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was selling necklaces and earrings (got some green ones) and 2 other refugees from Pakistan (2 sisters) who had fantastic vegetarian options and whom I hope to meet again.


Sunday morning was relaxing, reading a lot and updating my Individual Conflict Assessment (ICA). Then around noon went for some pool time and brainstorming discussion   under the sun with Iona (New Zealand) -which was quite productive. Tried getting my laundry back but it was closed, instead got some fruit and headed back to the dorms. I read some more and skyped with Freddy -from my room (wifi luxury!!!). It’s midnight already and after 1 hour of journaling I might have to change my plans of running in the morning from Monday to Tuesday…let’s see! Good night!


Bangkok, Tuesday, January 21, 2014 (Sunday, Monday and Today…)           

I haven’t written much since Saturday, so I have some lines to catch up with… Where to begin? Sunday!

After an intense Saturday, I went to bed early and watched some Newsroom, as we had absolutely no wifi in the building -connections were down. Sunday morning I woke up to find out the situation was still the same. Before leaving for church, I decided to try the new coffee shop in our building Mongkol, which was AMAZING! I sat down and enjoyed it together with a butter croissant and some orange marmalade. Yes, it sounds so trivial but I needed this so much! Finally a perfect latte that is not super expensive (same price as in campus!), what better stabilizer to close this week?

At 9 AM, I left for Church with Suthan (Batticaloa, Sri Lanka), Stephen (Assam, India) and LaMonte (Philadelphia, USA).  Anjali, the cousin of my ACLU-SC friend Ahilan had invited us to her church -which I mistakenly thought was Catholic. Once we got there, we realized it was Anglican, but that people from other denominations also attend. It is a very international gathering. We first met Neal and Anjali’s kids. She was directing the service, which was fantastic. Longer than the usual services I have attended in Catholic churches, but definitely much more grounding. Many of prayers are the same and different than Catholic Church, it is much more participatory. After the service, we had some tea with them and got to talk about a Sri Lankan family that’s seeking refugee status here in Thailand, who Anjali is trying to help. We headed back around 1 PM and decided to get lunch at MBK.  While I thought we were going to end up talking about religion, we didn’t. It was an interesting lunch conversation, about the group experience of the fellowship and life and the similarities among us.

In the afternoon we got news from Martine hat there had been a bomb explosion in Victory Monument and to avoid any protest areas.  That same night, a security tree was designed by Suthan and circulated among us. This will allow us to get crucial security updates in circumstances like this.

Before heading to campus to study for the week, I got to do some Facetime with Freddy and the gang, as most of my friends were at Elik’s place for his birthday. It was very emotional, after so many weeks here, to see them all at the same time. It makes me realize how much I value the life that we’ve built in California.

Monday I woke up with a cold, not nice… so the day went by with a headache, some chills and congestion. Also, as I got to campus, I received a message from my brother Santiago that my mom had been in the hospital as she fainted at home and was by herself. Not a good way to start a week. After a couple of minutes, I was able to get more updates with him before heading to class: she was already back home resting.

Good thing is that Monday we discussed a very interesting topic and had an excellent speaker, who kept us engaged regardless of the deep theoretical content of what we were discussing. Our lecturer for the week is Erik Melander, a Swedish professor and Second Lieutenant in the Army Reserve who had served in the Bosnia-Herzegovina mission.  I loved how Stephen introduced him, he didn’t just read his bio but added a very personalized style to his introduction and made us laugh as well.

In the afternoon, I retreated to my room and slept this cold away. Then made myself a cheese, avocado and tomato sandwich (which was very good!) and studied some of the materials on Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment, which we will be presenting to the group on Wednesday afternoon. I talked to my mom around 8 PM and then came back to read some more and watch some Newsroom before falling asleep.

 Today is Tuesday. Still, with a cold. In class, we continued with the mind mapping and discussed the Conflict Triangle and the 3 angles: Actors / Attitudes ,Behaviour/Dynamics and Contradictions / Compatibilities. After the lunch break, we split in groups to work on the case of Farmers vs. Herders in Darfur.  I worked with Franco, Sulo, Rachana, Dara and Josephine for the first time.  Came back home after grabbing an afternoon coffee and caught up with the journaling (amazingly enough, I’ve been writing for an hour almost now!). Here’s one of the mind maps that we used in class this week:



OK, time for a mini-nap before I head out to get some food reserves and water. Still with a cold, but hoping this goes away soon -at least no asthma attacks yet! Tomorrow morning I will be meeting with Martine to discuss the topic and next steps, so I need to prepare a bit about that. 

Exploring the city, finally!

Bangkok, Saturday, January 18, 2014

City tour of Bangkok and our first bus ride together (many AOC memories!). We visited the Grand Palace, The Temple of the Reclining Buddah and The Temple of Dawn (which was amazing!). 




I’m so tired! It’s been a long day, and I can start feeling the toll on me. Well, that and the fact that Erin and I decided to go for a 6 mile run to Lumpini Park after being out in the city tour for 8 hours. On the way there, I realized that the park lays on one of the intersections where the protesters are setting camp and that the park itself had been occupied by tents with hundreds of people. Maybe they came from the countryside and they are just staying here until they see change. While there, we caught up with a zumba class -yes, in the middle of the park! It was great…and exhausting. My feet hurt so much now.

  I just showered and ate dinner, hoping I could gain some energy, but instead I’m collapsing while I try to write the journal and prepare to do some of the readings. I should go to campus to use internet and get up to date with communications too… but I need some alone time. That’s what’s taking a toll on me, I think?

Things to remember:  the reclining Buddha statute; zumba express in Lumpini Park; feeling guilty as we ran by the protests in Silom; and the spectacular view of the city from the top of Wat Arun.