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9 posts from November 2013

11/14/2013

Elephants in Chiang Mai, Robbie Kaufman

Elephants we saw on the side of the road giving rides to tourists in Chiang Mai.

Robbie

I’ve been in Thailand for about 3 months now, and I think it’s safe to say that everything I knew about this country has been challenged. Even as I’m learning new things they are simultaneously being questioned or straight out proven wrong. It’s a bizarre and fascinating experience and our trip to Chiang Mai for unit 5 was perfectly in keeping with this trend. I thought Isaan, the northeast region of Thailand, was seen as the lowest region by most of the country. It’s portrayed as poor and uneducated, with dry, unfertile land and despite aspects of these stereotypes being completely untrue, it seems as though much of the country has been persuaded to believe in them. Then we started learning about the Karen people and hill tribes in the province of Chiang Mai. Often times these people are refused citizenship and forcibly evacuated from their land for “destroying the forests”, which often times (not so) surprisingly isn’t the case. They are rejected by the very country they live in.

We spent two days living in the Nong Tao village and learned that actually these people were Thai citizens and were facing a number of issues, some of which hadn’t even occurred to me. I’ve come to expect these surprises and try not to get too attached to any piece of information that I think I know. I’ve learned that issues are complex and the whole idea of two sides to every story has been very relevant to my experiences here.

For the two free days after our unit, I stayed in Chiang Mai city and got to see some of family. I was looking forward to seeing them and getting a break from thinking critically about everything I saw. Essentially I planned to spend my two days as just a tourist rather than a student-tourist. Naturally we all wanted to do something with elephants, a common tourist attraction in Thailand and one of the few things I knew about the country before coming here. After a bit of research we learned about many ways elephants are horribly mistreated, including broken backs due to humans riding them. After a bit more research we signed up to spend the day with elephants that had been rescued from abusive situations, ranging from circuses to illegal logging.

The illusion of Thailand’s elephants as happy and wild was quickly shattered, perhaps most jarringly so when I saw an elephant awkwardly hobbling around the grounds. She’d suffered a broken leg in a logging accident, followed by a broken back from male elephants during an unsuccessful forced mating attempt. Every time she took a step it looked as though she stomped into a hole and the back right side of her body plunged much lower than the rest. One leg had healed shorter than the other three, so when she stood, either her right hip jutted out at an unnatural angle or her leg dangled several inches off the ground.   

We spent the day feeding, bathing, and petting the animals while learning about many of the stories that had led them there. I found myself caught between two emotional extremes. On the one hand, it was obviously overwhelmingly sad to learn about what the animals had endured. Five of them had been blinded by former abusive owners and many had suffered a variety of injuries. At the same time, it was hopeful and uplifting to see that someone cared. The woman who runs the park has to purchase the elephants from their owners in order to rescue them and the park costs about $250,000 per year. She works extremely hard to provide these elephants with a better future, and their gratitude could be seen with the affectionate trunks resting on her shoulders and patting her back.

These complexities are what make the world so interesting, and while it’s sometimes sad it can also be beautiful. Learning to accept these contradictions and evaluate situations is definitely one highly valuable skill that I’m going to take away from my experience here.

 

*** CIEE DG Fall 2013, Unit 5: Comparative Study ***

Transformation of Group Dynamics, Hannah C. Ratliff

A huge part of CIEE Development and Globalization program in Thailand is centered on teamwork. Throughout our first four units all 14 of us students had the opportunity to facilitate the learning process within our student group.  We’ve gradually been learning how to work as a fluid unit by utilizing one another’s strengths and acknowledging one another’s weaknesses. However, throughout the semester I’ve noticed our student body assumes different dynamics between being in a village or being in a city. 

Throughout units 1-4 and for a short period in unit 5, we stayed within villages that were being affected by the specific environmental issue we were studying at the time.  We stayed in villagers’ homes either by ourselves or with a partner. We all became part of the village family. Although there are many times in the village that you’re with solely your family, there are also a number of times you’re with the entire community, for instance: 

Tractor-ing up mountains in U’moong

Hannah

Touring caves in Huay Ra Hong

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Visiting temples in Na Sami

Hannah3

Singing and dancing in U’Moong

Hannah4

Partaking in ceremonies in U’Moong

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Or merely eating communal meals in Huay Ra Hong

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It is very easy to feel like your part of a larger family while staying in the villages; almost every person knows one another; children run in and out of houses, and entire families live on the same road. In my opinion, the community’s stays bring out the best in not only individuals but also our group as a whole. The villagers taught us what family meant to them and in that process aided us in creating a student family. 

The student-villager family is something I look forward to for every unit, thus when I learned while in Chiang Mai on unit 5 we would be staying in a hotel majority of the visit I was a little bummed. 

Staying in the hotel ended up being the perfect given the location of our unit, however the student dynamic was altered. We functioned just as we would have in Khon Kaen: we got our work done during “classroom” time and did our own thing for most of the other time. In the villages we always ate meals with our families or with the entire village, in Chiang Mai, like KKU, we went out and bought most of our own meals individually or with a small group of friends. At nighttime in the village we’re usually sleeping or on rare occasions having a community celebration, but when nighttime came about in Chiang Mai half the student group was out at the bars while the other half was in watching movies or the news. Although it was very different from most units it worked well because we were in such a touristy spot. We were able to be a strong group but still see attractions around the city individually.

The change that came with moving from units in the village to a unit in the city was the dynamics of our unit. As I see it, we function as a family within each village and purely as a student group in Chiang Mai and most other places.

*** CIEE DG Fall 2013, Unit 5: Comparative Study ***

11/05/2013

Local Voices Silenced by Economic Development, Katie Mathieson

The wall stands as a larger symbol of the struggles between the natural beauty and tradition of Thailand and the promise economic development and industry. 

Katie
Thailand sits on gold reserves valued at 180 billion US dollars with the potential to solve current debt problems and make Thailand an economic leader in the region.  The question remains, but at what cost?

Local residents don’t feel it’s worth it.

Tongkum Limited Company (TKL) has been in operation since 2003. Six communities live within two and a half kilometers of the open-pit mine. They claim the mine has contaminated the local food and water sources.  Both the company and the government acknowledge occurrences when poisons leaked from the mine, but neither institution will recognize the mine as the source for the contaminated local streams.

After years of struggle the only way local residents could participate was to build a wall. On September 7th they constructed a wall preventing TKL mining trucks from entering or exiting the mine, thus halting any production of the mine.

The first wall stood for 11 days before being destroyed. A new wall stood in its place the following morning.

The wall has become the center of a struggle between local residents and the international gold industry. In the pursuit of development, lax implementation of mining regulations has left local residents frustrated with the government’s response to impacts they feel the mine has caused. The protests of local residents focuses on their rights to participate in the management and exploitation of natural resources as outlined in Article 66 of the Thai Constitution.

On October 11th we arrived in the community of Na Nong Bong to find local women and children sitting in the middle of the road. At the request of the local government, 100 police officers had demolished the second wall just hours earlier. In the absence of a wall, local residents were blocking the road themselves.

In a matter of hours construction of a third wall began. The power and significance of the wall extends beyond its material purpose as a blockade. The wall stands as a symbol of the inherent division in Thailand’s development, separating the struggle of local residents in this area and the potential for Thailand’s growth in the global gold market. 

 Alain Kilajian and I spent the afternoon at the sight of the wall where roughly 300 community members took the day off from their farming to support construction of a new wall. Children played on the rubble of the previous walls, women gathered in the shade and arranged large spreads of food, and men took shifts digging the foundation for the new wall. The passion and strength of the community radiated from every individual in attendance.

In an effort to incriminate local residents building the wall, TLK staff ventured down from the mine to the site of the wall. Determined to protect their rights women and children assembled in front of the wall chanting “Tongkum augh bei! Muan-leh mai augh! Poo cow cun ma!” literally, “Tongkum, get out! Mining, not want! Mountain, want back!”

Eventually TKL mineworkers and staff retreated back up to the mine, met by delighted cheering of the local residents. 

Construction of the wall continued late into the night. A local monk designed the wall incorporating a steel framework to connect the meter in diameter cement cylinders now lining both sides of the road.

The struggle of local residents is not unique to the six communities fighting TKL.  The wall represents a larger struggle present throughout Northeastern Thailand. The value of the way of life of traditional farming communities is sacrificed to the greater worth of the land local residents have inhabited for centuries. Thailand is putting its minerals and inherent natural beauty up for sale to join the ranks of newly developed countries.

*** CIEE DG Fall 2013, Unit 4: Mining ***

Iron Women: A Model For Success In Thailand, Jane Okerman

Women exclusively comprise the front line of a recent protest in Na Nong Bong Village, a community that like Nonsomboon is fighting against Tongkun Limited (TKL) mining company in order to remove a detrimental mine that is already occupying their land.

Jane

While on unit 4, studying the effect of mines on various communities in the Leoi province of Thailand, we had the opportunity to stay in and exchange with people in Nonsomboon village. Nonsomboon villagers are fighting against the Thai government and Canadian mining company in hopes to defer the placement of an underground Potash mine on their land. This will be the first underground mine to be built in Thailand, which poses many questions for the future of the country’s development, especially on an international level.

The villagers facing this issue believe that by building a mine, the government is disregarding villagers’ way of life and destroying the livelihood of many innocent people. What was so striking about the exchange we had is what was conveyed to our student group about the resilience and success this village has had in warding off the mining plans, compared to a similar community in Leoi province, U-Moong village. The U-Moong villagers have been facing the very same issue but are just hanging on by a thread with the threat of 3 new open-pit mines on their land. However, in Nonsomboon, the government and mining company have been trying to implement their plans for the past ten years and have made very little leeway and it appears that they may never get their way.

The village, 70% united, has officially established the group Udon Thani Conservation Group, comprised of passionate members who will do anything to keep their land unaffected from the treacherous mine; a truly resilient group of people that inspired my fellow classmates and me to hear and gain an understanding for their story and insight into their process.

This awe has led me even further in investigation into the real core of these fighters and here’s what I found: possibly one of the strongest members of Udon Thani Conservation Group is Mae1 Manee, someone we had an opportunity to exchange with and the leader of the Iron Women group of Nonsomboon village. The Iron Women are 40 tenacious women who have laid a solid groundwork for progress among the communities in northeast Thailand who are fighting for their rights. Although this group has been acknowledged as one of strongest groups of women in the protest world they did not always start out that strong.

Their tactics have evolved to be something of a unique way to accomplish things. Mae Manee and the Iron Women have deployed homemade bombs made out of feces and urine in plastic bags at the police or using dirty menstrual stained underwear to defer the authorities. These women have taken up the front lines in protests and feel as though their gender gives them an advantage.

The police are less likely to fight women. “It works because they [police] still have respect for women,” Mae Manee recounted as she discussed her and her fellow females’ role at the head of the action.

Another strong characteristic of this group is their knowledge base. It doesn’t matter what type of formal education these ladies have, as most have hardly any past primary school, because they have self-educated themselves wise beyond their years. Mae Manee reads everything she can get her hands on including the extensive text of the Thai law. Knowing the law inside and out gives these women a strong advantage. They are more confident in their fighting and protesting because they know they are within in the law. They are the most innovative and successful group of fighters we have met among many during our studies abroad so far.

Learning about these inspiring women has also helped me to really understand the role of women in Thailand. In the United States, at home, gender roles and equality is often times up for much debate and argument, something that I have recently become more interested in. So to be able to extend my studies regarding this issue to a more international level has immensely increased me knowledge and provided me with new context to bring home.

 *** CIEE DG Fall 2013, Unit 4: Mining ***

Women and Engery, Mariah Phillips

CIEE students make use of the learning center that Meh Pah helped to start.  The Learning Center is responsible for educating youth about the impacts of dams on farming, health, the environment and land rights.

Mariahblog

After returning from my home stay near the Hua Na and Rasi Salai dams, I had a confluence of experiences to reflect upon.  One of the most stark and interesting of these experiences was the role of women in the larger communities affected by dams and other energy producing plants.  But before I delve into the intricacies of gender dynamics among energy movements in Isaan, I should give some background and context on the energy issues themselves.

Thailand, in its mission to develop, has placed a great deal of emphasis on alternative energy sources, increasing irrigation technology, and industrializing.  This, in many instances, compromises local communities and the more simple, agrarian, lifestyles that they are accustomed to leading.  For instance, in communities neighboring the Rasi Salai dam, farming has been severely hindered by longer lasting floods brought about by the dam and inefficient water management practices.  In a village where the vast majority relies on farming income, excessive floods can tear communities apart and force people to move in search of cultivatable land elsewhere, or to work in the cities.  As a result of these disturbances, villagers have banded together to voice their objections and grievances, making their struggles known to the greater public and the governmental agencies responsible for their plight.  Most of these movements have been in the form of peaceful protest, engagement in public meetings, and education for younger generations about the current and future issues facing the community. 

In Rasi Salai specifically, a learning center has been established in an attempt to impassion the younger generations about the importance of protecting the villagers’ land and educate them about their rights.  This learning center just so happens to have been started and run by a woman by the name of Meh Pah.  Acting as chair of the Association of Wetland People, she is in charge of organizing and recruiting people to her cause. She has played a crucial role in cultivating such a positive relationship with Rasi Salai’s former nemesis the RID (Royal Irrigation Department).  But what is more shocking than Meh Pah’s involvement in politics, is her perception of how her gender has acted as not a hindrance, but an advantage.  She says as a woman she is seen as much more levelheaded, and compassionate making it easier for her to gain the trust of villagers in neighboring communities.  It also has enabled her to communicate with RID officials more effectively.

Another woman that our group spoke with echoed this notion that womanhood has an advantage in fostering strong relationships.  P’Satsai, leader of a movement to prevent the construction of a nuclear energy plant near her village in Ubon Ratchathani, claims that villagers trusted her more quickly.  As a woman attempting to recruit an array of people to her cause, this ability to forge trusting relationships in a timely manner is of great importance.  It is possible, that if it was not for her role in the movement against the plant, they may have never succeeded in preventing its construction in Ubon Ratchathani.  This is an impressive feat for anyone, regardless of gender, and the fact that such an impressive case was fought and won under the direction of a woman is something to note.

Furthermore, consider the gender dynamics in the communities in which these women live. Village life, as I have experienced thus far, has been relatively gendered, conforming to traditional roles.  Bearing this in mind, it is incredibly refreshing and eye opening seeing women with so much agency and respect among their peers.  Thinking about the implications of such an idea, womanhood and its role in social movements, is empowering and exciting.  If this were to be adopted and practiced more widely, I can only begin to conceive of the shift in gender equality that would follow as a result.  By utilizing women and their reputation for compassion and levelheadedness, perhaps we can begin to entrust them with greater socio-political standing and readjust the already grossly lacking agency given to women.

*** CIEE DG Fall 2013, Unit 3 : Dams, Water and Energy ***

Established yet untitled, Alain Kilajian

The beautiful village of Huay Ra Hong, Phetchabun.

Zoeblogphoto

Before heading into UNIT 2, “The Land Rights” unit, we rigorously studied many of the implications surrounding land issues in Thailand. We read about multiple communities being evicted from their homes all over the nation because they did not own their land. Many villagers argued that they had been on their land for centuries, that their parents worked on their lands, that the parents of their parents worked on their land, but that is all pretty much irrelevant in front of the eyes of the law. Indeed, there are only two possible outcomes concerning land: either you have a land title or you don’t.  And most villagers don’t. This means that the land they live on is actually government or “state” property, legally giving the latter full rights to do what they please with the land.

Consequently, on our way to the Huay Ra Hong village, in Phetchabun province, I envisioned a community torn by the constant fear of being evicted, continuously fighting to receive a land title. I also imagined a poor village with inadequately built houses, bad roads, without public institutions. Basically, I expected an underdeveloped community. However, to my great surprise, Huay Ra Hong was a well-established village. The first buildings to stand out as we entered the village were a school and a pharmacy. Cement paved roads brought us from one location to the other as we drove through the village. All I could think about was how a village with no land title could be so well established; furthermore, how could such a well established village with such solid infrastructures and institutions simply be evicted from their land.

As I arrived to the home of my host family, I was eager to begin hitting on these larger issues. However, first thing was first, it was time for dinner. Later that night, I asked my host dad a few questions about issues surrounding land titles and eviction. He answered as cool and as calm as can be, “We have no land title. And I am not afraid of being evicted.” At that point, nothing made sense. Once again, questions took over my mind: why don’t these villagers have land titles? Why aren’t they afraid of eviction if they cannot prove their land ownership? Where does the government stand around these issues? Many of these questions were actually answered the most adequately by my host dad and his role in the village.

My host dad, “Paw Deum”, is actually the TAO of Huay Ra Hong. The TAO is the most local governmental position: a member of a village who acts as a middle man between the community and the higher levels of government.  In Huay Ra Hong, my host dad’s role consisted of distributing water to the rest of the villagers, dealing with finances concerning water and electricity use, and finally, managing money provided by the government to build new infrastructures such as roads and schools for the community. It seemed very strange to me that the government did not “legally” recognize this village, yet, offered funds for it to maintain and develop infrastructures. Furthermore, this untitled village also had a structured socio-political organization where certain villagers were actually government officials. A new questions arises, is the government supporting this village? Or is the government trying to get rid of this village? By refusing to give them land rights, the government is doing the latter but by providing them with funds for development, it is doing the former. The intention of the government and its relationship with the village are both unclear. This is a pattern that we have been seeing and discussing throughout our stay in Thailand.  One thing is for sure: it is often quite difficult to read the true objectives of the Thai government in its policies and plans.

*** CIEE DG Fall 2013, Unit 2: Land ***

Ascending, Maggie Adams

Looking out from the rock I stood on top of, this is the view I got to see.

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Driving up the bumpy roads to the Huay Rahong community, I couldn’t help but gaze out of the windows of the van into a world of delicate mountain ranges.  It reminded me of the endless Appalachian Mountains in Virginia.  Our Paw’s (Dad’s) from the community homestay hop in the swanky vans and listen as we bust out into verse of popular American music hits. They laugh and stay quiet for the most part, we are unaware of the adventure we are about to embark on. 

We pull up to a small gravel path, cross the street, and begin our journey up a path of the mountains. Spirits are high, my blood is flowing. They lead us higher and higher, and we begin to climb what seems is an endless staircase. As we get closer and closer to summit, there is a lull in the hike where you look out to see the beauty that is their daily life. It’s like something out of a movie.  It’s not every day you get to go with Thai locals on a hike in the mountains they live in for their daily life. That’s the beauty of this program to me, experiencing what little other foreigners can even imagine. Speaking isn’t even necessary. Our trust is strong with these men, and wherever they lead, we want to follow.

Finally, reaching the top of the staircase we walk through a mound of weeds where a mass of boulders lay before us. My heart begins to race faster and faster. I wait for a space to pass and leap forward to find a handhold to climb to the top. Each move, I get closer and closer to the top. Finally, I grab my final hold and lob myself on top of the highest rock. My body chills with a sense of connection.

Looking out at the mountains made me realize how close I felt to these communities. When you think of something in nature, as just something pleasing to the eye, I think it’s less impactful. But, when you actually can look out at something so big and realize you are a part of it, something changes in you. That’s what’s so beautiful about this program. You don’t have to sit back and here from a tour guide about where all the other foreigners want to go, but you get a chance to first-hand experience it as a part of your life, as a part of their life.

It’s hard to be in a place you don’t always understand what people are saying. But in Huay Rahong, I realized that you don’t have to be fluent in the language. You just have to learn to adapt. We are all a part of something bigger. Taking a step back and looking at who is in front of you. Walking in their shoes, learning where they are from, learning what they see every day, learning how they eat and work; this is how you truly communicate with people.

After laughs from my Paw as I scurried up and down the rocks, all around the terrain, I looked at my Paw and he just gave me a simple smile. It was comforting. As we rode back in the vans, I already felt closer to him and the community.

I think this homestay is a real eye opener for me. Huay Rahong made me realize that I am not only here to learn from people and do what I can to help, but it made me realize that just being is as important as anything. It’s about being a part of a family, a community, land, and so much more.

*** CIEE DG Fall 2013, Unit 2: Land ***

The Dilemma of Organic Agriculture in Na Samai, Zoe Swartz

Chemicals provide both ease of life and environmental challenges for Na Samai farmers.

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Our group began our study of development and globalization by looking into agriculture in Thailand, particularly focusing on organic vs. nonorganic. In Thailand, 90% of farmers use chemical fertilizers to grow their crops so are not considered organic. In order to better see the whole picture of Thai farming, half our group stayed in the organic farming community of Kachoom and the other half with nonorganic farmers in the Na Samai community. Before going on unit, our group did a significant amount of reading on food systems, particularly on the dangers of chemical fertilizers and big agrobusiness. Because of this, at the onset of our home stay, we were all expecting that life would better in Kachoom and that the people of Na Samai would have great desire to switch to organic agriculture. 

I personally was most excited to see the organic community and learn about their sustainable farming techniques. However, I was assigned to stay in Na Samai, the nonorganic community. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t get as much out of the unit since I wouldn’t be seeing organic agriculture in action. To my surprise, experiencing community life in Na Samai, challenged my views on organic farming and I began to understand the complexities and pressures that come with being a farmer in Thailand. 

On our first full day in the community, it was apparent that there was much more to life in Na Samai than just farming. Many traditional crafts, such as wood carving and basket weaving, are still practiced and provide villagers with another source of income. Whenever I was around my meh, I was transfixed by the mechanical way in which her hands were constantly busy intertwining straw to create impeccable cow neeyow baskets. One of the villagers, Paw Lan, even started a copper factory right in the village that provides jobs for many community members. Villagers also seemed to place great importance on their relationships with each other. It seemed like villagers were always together, whether farming, weaving, or enjoying a meal. Although villagers seemed content in Na Samai I still had the lingering thought that they must not be happy with their agricultural techniques. There was something disconcerting about watching a farmer, covered from head to foot, spray toxic chemicals on the picturesque rice fields. I felt anxious knowing that these chemicals could slowly be destroying the community’s idyllic natural environment. 

 The next day we were able to exchange with Paw Lan, who owns the the copper factory and is also a rice farmer. At first we bombarded him with questions about transitioning to organic agriculture and the health and environmental risks of chemical farming. However, to our chagrin, the more Paw Long talked, the more it seemed that he had no true desire to change his practices. Tension was beginning to form as responses became increasingly polarized. Paw defended chemical use, saying that chemical fertilizers produce much higher yields and require and much less labor. Furthermore,  Paw makes ten times more per year using chemicals allowing him to live an easier life and spend more time with people in the community. This increased wealth, according to Paw, also helps keep the younger generation from leaving the community because there is more for them to do than just rice farming. 

 As the exchange began to wind down, Paw posed a question to the group: “If you were me, which would you choose?”

Before my stay in Na Samai, I definitely would have said organic. However, after exchanging with Paw, the choice felt more perplexing. I still am a proponent of organic agriculture because I think that environmental damage, loss of seed diversity, and possible health risks associated with chemical agriculture outweigh the ease and income gains that chemical fertilizers sometimes provide. That being said, if I were Paw, I’m not sure which I would choose. For him, chemicals seem to provide a dramatic increase in his quality of life and, as of now, he has not experienced any health or environmental problems. From everything I have read, I worry that it might be only a matter of time before something goes wrong for Na Samai as a result of chemical use but right now they are happy. I now see another complex layer of the organic agriculture debate and see that, for nonorganic farmers, experience has the most pull in their choice. 

*** CIEE DG fall 2013, Unit 1: Food and Agriculture ***

The Organic Farmers of Kudchum in the Thai Province of Yasothon, Austin Edy

From our readings and lectures from Unit 1 we have learned that Organic agriculture is a more sustainable way of farming when compared to using chemical fertilizers.   

DSC_1122The Green Market in downtown Yasothon opened on May 24th, 2008.  In downtown Yasothon the market takes place every Saturday in an old bus station from 5am-8am.  This market sells only organic foods and herbal medicines.  From our readings and lectures from Unit 1 we have learned that Organic agriculture is a more sustainable way of farming when compared to using chemical fertilizers.  During an interview with three of the Green Market organizers our CIEE student group learned a lot about this unique market in Thailand.  The rules to sell in the Green Market are as follows: the product must be organic meaning no chemical use during any stage of farming, a certification for the product from two separate groups who monitor the organic farming standard, and no MSG in the product.   The market has a select clientele base that is made up of retired Government officials as well as quite a bit of youth come to buy their goods from the market.  The Green Market (GM) organizers explained that the reason retired Government officials make up a large chunk of their clientele is because they now love to be healthy.  The retired officials also wish they could grow their own local vegetables but they are not able to considering they live in the city and have no access to a farm of their own.  The GM organizers also explained that in their market, the food is just as expensive if not cheaper then in a traditional market that can sell food grown via chemical fertilizers.  This is quite interesting considering in the United States organic food is much more expensive then traditionally grown food.  This then begs into question why the organic farmers would farm organically.  

I asked my father at my home-stay in the village of Kudchum, which is in Yasothon province, why his family began farming organically.  He switched to organic farming three years ago because of health problems in which he attributed to the chemicals he was using.   He also claimed he had debt due to asking for loans from the bank in order to pay for the chemicals.  He is now the manager of the organic rice mill in his village.  Him, his wife, his daughter, and granddaughter live quite sustainably.  In terms of organic vegetable and livestock they own chickens, cows, grow the vegetable morning glory, grow rice and sticky rice, as well as catch wild crabs and toads.  They cook all of this for themselves.  My home-stay mother would also sell chickens, toads, crabs, morning glory, rice, and sticky rice at the GM.  Over the four days I stayed with my host family I only ate one item that they bought, which was about a half pound of chicken meat.  Besides that every meal came from their own property tended to by their own hands.  My home-stay mother and father worked extremely hard.  My father would be out of the house by 7 am and come back by around 7 or 8 pm, and my mother went to work from 8 am to 6 pm at the rice mill sifting through large amounts of rice to find and remove the pieces of rice that had yet to have the chaff removed (the outer husks of the grain) all while taking care of her 1 year 11 month year old granddaughter throughout the day.  Not only did my home-stay mom have a day job but she also took care of the property and things around the house; she was a constant worker.  From my experiences in my home-stay and my visit to the GM I know have a better understanding of sustainable agriculture and living. 

*** CIEE DG fall 2013, Unit 1: Food and Agriculture ***