Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Reflections on 2 Support and Learning Team Visits in Northern Thailand in January 2006

Here are 3 thoughts that come from the 2 visits to communities that we made during our visit to Chiang Mai and Phayao last week. I’ve not found them easy to write about and I am not at all sure that I am being fair, but perhaps it will stimulate others to add their thoughts and thus provide a more balanced view of the visits.

After the 2 visits, I remembered what Alison Campbell of the Salvation Army told me 2 years ago. “It’s very easy when a meeting is dominated by people with relatively more power that certain voices are invalidated.” And again, “It’s nice to be included but that doesn’t mean that what you say is going to be heard.”

Well, in one of the communities, the woman representing the PHA (the part of the community living with HIV/AIDS) was emotionally supported and at times was almost physically supported by the other people at the visit. Hers was a vigorous voice and I would be very confident that what she said at a meeting would be heard. When I think of the other community, the member of the PHA made his contribution and he was certainly at the centre of what the other members of the community were saying, but he felt a much more isolated figure. It felt as though there were others who had more power than he had and you felt it would be very easy for him to be included in the groups deliberations without being heard. Perhaps, I am being unkind, perhaps, it was just that these people were shy of strangers coming into their community and so they become bureaucratic and formal (just as we do). But what we did see was the power of the group which owns the problem and which is emotionally involved with the problem.

The second thought is a very selfish one. It is my pleasure at seeing people using this Self Assessment tool. This wasn’t people talking about people who had used it, this was people who had used it and were continuing to use it because they found it helped them to address the problems in their community. The community showed their emotional support for their problem with their body language. But they were using the tool in a very hard headed and hard nosed way to address the issues they needed to address to solve their problems. This was something that I have wanted to see for a long time and it was a source of real pleasure to see it being used so intelligently. And I learned one specific thing from them about the tool that I can put to use very easily in my own work. These people have real expertise that can and should be shared by others. I believed that before. I know it now.

And then the third learning. What did we give them? What did they get from us? Well, we listened. And I hope and I think that we listened carefully. But it felt that it was a lot easier to give encouragement and support to the group which, I felt, really didn't need it all.

Phil, your comments seem fair. What did you give the community? It's a subtle question. Not just a feel-good that someone listened. As you said, they don't really need that. But you learned something from them, and you were the student of them. So an imbalance has been rebalanced. I think that's a gift on a different scale that may not be directly perceived, but it is still meaningful.
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