Replacing Yellow With Black: Mourning the Death of the Thai King 

picture-095

Yellow Flags to Honor King in Thailand, 2006

Memories from Southeast Asia a decade ago flashed through my mind when we paused during my  church’s service on Sunday to mourn the death of the king of Thailand.Unfortunately, all I really remembered about the Thai monarchy, though, was that everyone wore yellow shirts on Monday.

“To respect the king,” I was told.
The other thing about the king I could recall was conversations with my expat teammates when they returned from watching a movie at the theaters.
“Everyone stands to honor the king while they play his song and a short video about him,” they reported.”Thai people love their king.”
Had I studied political science or slightly more mature I might have paid more attention and asked questions while in Thailand about this beloved figure. Instead, I was preoccupied with bungee jumping, rafting down rivers, sampling street food and riding scooters or motorcycles.
Learning of his death a decade later, however, I realize that our globe is losing someone special. Although I don’t feel equipped to write a proper tribute, I wanted to acknowledge the legacy of this leader. A little research from a variety of sources lead me to believe that King Bhumibol Adulyadej was indeed a community entrepreneur. In his 70 year reign, King Bhumibol worked hard for the well-being of his subjects, showing care for poor and ethnic minorities. He helped develop farming practices as alternatives to growing opium. He also initiated a variety of other agricultural development projects such as irrigation, drought and flood alleviation and crop substitution. And he was a peacemaker both internationally and within his country [photos of his life including pictures with Queen Elizabeth and President Dwight Eisenhower can be seen here].

Some reflections from Thai people, passed on to me via a friend from Thailand:

  • He was King of our country, but became a commoner to have a relationship with us
  • He chose to dwell among us. He had residences in many provinces, and he chose to not keep to himself in his palace in Bangkok
  • He was the ‘hope’ of the country
  • ‘Father of the Nation’ – Father’s day is celebrated on December 5th, the king’s birthday
  • His Majesty was our ‘soul’
  • He cared for the welfare of his people
  • He put the people’s needs before his own
  • He was a ‘peace’ maker when their was division within the politics

Honoring the king isn’t something we do in the United States. Monarchy has never been part of our DNA. However, monarchy is ingrained in the history of Thailand and goes back 700 years! Reflecting on this makes me realize how ancient cultures are more connected to their story than the I am with my lens as a citizen of a the United States, a nation and political system that began within only one third of that time in history. It is little wonder then that the people of Thailand will be in mourning for their king for an entire year, wearing black, lowering their flag to half-mask and showing only coverage of their king on television for a season. As Will Ripley, author of the CNN coverage, How Thais are mourning the death of their King, put it:

“the nearly universal adoration Thais feel for their late king is undeniably palpable — and unparalleled in the modern world.”

Why I Want to Create Wealth

rich-dad-poor-dad

Land was wealth 300 years ago. So the person who owned the land owned the wealth. Later, wealth was in factories and production, and America rose to dominance. The industrialist owned the wealth. Today, wealth is in information. And the person who has the most timely information owns the wealth. The problem is that information flies around the world at the speed of light. The new wealth cannot be contained by boundaries and borders as land and factories were. (p.95, Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the rich teach their kids about money—that the poor and middle class do not!)

Chew on that above paragraph for a few days and you’ll start to realize how profound Robert Kiyosaki’s words on finances are to a variety of realms. Think about it: the latest news—the most timely information—has power to sway masses of people that can influence a nation’s election. Yet this is true in a thousand other areas as well. In terms of social good, for example, if victims of human trafficking were equipped with the right information at just the right time, we could significantly reduce if not eliminate modern day slavery.

Kiyosaki’s best seller has given me huge insight into the significance of wealth creation. Most people work the majority of their lives for an employer, sending most of their income to the bank for loans and to the government in taxes. For the most wealthy, however, Kiyosaki points out that no matter how much we try to tax them to redistribute wealth more equally, they always find loopholes to evade the system. So taxes never affect those who are the most well-off. His words came to mind during last night’s Presidential debate. Donald Trump has successfully evaded our tax system his entire life. Yet after watching I thought to myself, “As offensive as I find the man, he was probably right when he accused Hillary’s financial supporters of also tapping into tax evasion loopholes.” The wealthiest people always do.

Kiyosaki’s advice is not to avoid paying taxes, but rather than spend our energy complaining about the wealthy not sharing (because essentially they never well), he encourages readers to focus on wealth creation. While reading his Rich Dad Poor Dad book last week, I came across a similar challenge from a vastly different source: a workshop at a Christian conference focused on international development by means of business.

“It’s time to ask, ‘what causes wealth?’” our white-haired facilitator said.

  • Churches consume it.
  • Families consume it.
  • Governments consume it.
  • Nonprofits consume it.
  • Only businesses create wealth.

Kiyosaki had expressed similar sentiments through his cash flow charts: much of what poor people and middle class people consider to be assets actually consume our income. And just like our workshop facilitator said, Kiyosaki emphasized how in government, successful budgeting is combined with spending (a.k.a consuming):

The government ideal is to avoid having excess money. If you fail to spend your allotted funds, you risk losing it in the next budget. You would certainly not be recognized for being efficient. Business people, on the other hand, are rewarded for having excess money and are applauded for their efficiency. (p.85)

Spending as close to the amounts allotted us in our budget to avoid losing money for future seasons is also a common practice for many churches, nonprofits and aid organizations-places often dedicated to fighting poverty. Our workshop facilitator, however, pointed out that “Good intentions don’t end poverty. Enterprise and freedom end poverty.” Many organizations are beginning to recognize this with the development of social enterprise, high-bred fusions of business and non-profit worlds. But we need to keep pushing, beyond providing jobs for people.

“Instead of training job seekers, we need to train job makers,” our workshop facilitator instructed. And he backed his advice up with scripture:

“Remember the LORD your God, because he is the one who gives you the ability to produce wealth,” (Deuteronomy 8:18 NIV)

Let the People Dance! Reflections on Haitian Roots 

Poverty. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Orphans. These are words much of the world associates with Haiti. As I contemplated writing this reflection, I scrolled through my Instagram feed to see another natural disaster in the form of Hurricane Matthew swirl towards this country.

In response to such national devastation, Lakou Mizik, a Haitian roots band, narrates their nation’s story differently: through song and dance. As The Guardian put it, Lakou Mizik is “a joyous antidote to Haiti’s hard times.” The group of multi-generational musicians travel throughout the United States and Haiti sharing their songs and in their own words “using Haiti’s deep well of creative strength to shine a positive light on this tragically misrepresented country.”

Haitian Roots

Haitian Roots Band plays at the Nectar Lounge in Seattle

I attended one of their performances at the Nectar Lounge in Seattle this past July where I got glimpses of people and a country to which I have never visited. Yet as I swayed on the periphery of the lounge to their upbeat tunes, I reflected on my own journey of awareness of cultures and how I and my white dominant culture engage with diversity in the form of “ethnic” entertainment.

Ten years ago…

My thought would have been: What are people here thinking of me?

My motivation for attending: to experience another culture’s song and dance.

Five years ago…

My thought would have been: Who cares what people think? Let’s all dance and bring the crowd along too!

My motivation for attending: same as ten years ago although I would have been more relaxed. Also, to have fun and maybe flirt with some cute guys.

In the summer of 2016…

My thoughts were: Why are so many white people here consuming Haitian song and dance, taking up the center space directly in front of the stage, while people of color in attendance are hanging back on the outskirts of forum? Does this scene represent what my African American friends have been complaining about online recently: white liberals who embrace the trend of protesting, tweet #BlackLivesMatter and consume other cultures as entertainment but do little to actually change systems and structures? This feels like acculturation.

My motivation for attending: to reconcile after a fallout with a business partner and get paid for a contract gig I did in February.

I have by no means “arrived” in my awareness, or what some may call my awakening, towards diversity. I’m sure in a few years or even a few months I’ll look back at naive notions I hold today. I’m glad that people countries such as the United States have opportunities to experience the song, dance and culture of live musicians, to expand our view of the nation-even if ever so slightly-beyond scenes of flooded homes and starving children as portrayed by news and international aid organizations. But if we want to move beyond pity to partnership with people of other cultures, we must first show appreciation. And true appreciation begins with listening. It starts by taking a back seat, and leaving room in the center for people to dance to their own music until we on the outside are invited to join.

Clean-Cut Jesus? 

hill_top_pavilion

Transformation. Our guest speaker, a cross-culture worker in Asia, opened his message yesterday at Rainier Avenue Church by illustrating this theme in the form of photos from Hong Kong. He told us that years ago, the Walled City was the densest place on earth and averaged over 100,000 people per square kilometer; he contrasted that to Manhattan’s 27,000 people per square kilometer density today. The Walled City’s cramped, unsanitary quarters attracted people who were involved in crime, prostitution and drug dealing.

“Now however,” the speaker proudly declared, “that area has been transformed into a beautiful park.”

He pointed to a photo of a lush green space featuring structures replicating historic architecture.

“This is an example of how Christ can transform our lives,” the speaker concluded.

As much as I’m a fan of urban parks, my biggest question was, “Where did all the people go?”

I kept waiting for the speaker to explain this, or to provide examples of how individuals who lived in this walled community had experienced personal transformation that lead to outward changes-they started fighting crime and stopped using opium. But he shared no stories about the residents.

Afterwards, I found the speaker in the lobby and asked him my lingering question.

“I don’t know where they all went,” he admitted.

“I’m wondering if the city just pushed them out,” I said. “But Jesus calls us to people in places like that. Replacing people with a nice park is a terrible example of transformation.”

“It was just an example of what God can do in our hearts,” he replied.

Although I understood his analogy, the reality of removing thousands of residents and calling that “transformation” continued to disturb me. Later, the topic came up with a few other people who attend my church and said they were wondering the same thing: where did all the people go? We began researching and found that the city evicted them, offering various token amounts of compensation to the residents and businesses located there.

The conversation reminded me of when I was in the Midwest last year, in a town where scripture verses are plastered in public and 90% of the population attends church on Sunday mornings. My parents and I had just gone out for a nice dinner and were carrying our leftovers back to the hotel.

“We could give these leftovers to someone who’s homeless,” I suggested.

“This town doesn’t really have homeless people,” my dad explained. “The mayor has kept it clean-cut and family-friendly so they got rid of all the homeless population.”

That made me sick to my gut. I was reading the book of Amos, and as I did words poured forth in prose form that I titled “Ode to a Midwest Town.” img_5056

“I hate your religious feast”
God spoke through Amos
“I won’t regard your offerings
“Away with the noise of your songs!”
Words to a religious people
Devout
Why was God angry?
“You trample on the poor
And force him to give you grain
You deprive the poor of justice in the courts.”
Bible belt
Clean cut
Manicured lawns
Martha Stewart-like decor
Southern Living feasts
Have we not done the same?
Pushed away the poor
Excluded all who look different, talk different, worship different from you?
Bar the homeless from your streets
Tell them it’s too bad they have nothing to eat!
They should have worked harder
Though your system denies
The right to function equally
Ability to live and work and thrive!
No gays allowed here
No Muslims, blacks or Hispanics
You want to round up Latinos
Send them back to Mexico
The Klu Klux Klan
Not so long ago
Lynched every black man
Who dared to show his brow
And people who worship Allah
Well they should stay away
In countries where your boys can bomb them
When they go to mosque to pray
Yet you call yourselves Christian
Most devout in the nation
With a church on every corner
Southern Gospel in your parks
Bible verses line your gardens and your walls
“In God we trust” can be spotted
At every turn in town
Your lives look perfect
Your roads and houses clean
You think you are good and humble
Living in your homogeneous bubble
Where is the Christ
Who went to the margins
Embraced sinners
Tax collectors and harlots?
Where is God
Who opens a temple for all
Welcomes the poor, disabled and foreigner
Gives the prophet this call
“Let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never failing stream!”

Clean Streets, Missing Christ 

Whether in Hong Kong or Seattle, a Midwest town or metropolis city, in our attempts to rid ourselves of “rift-raft”, are we eliminating the people Jesus would have intentionally spent time with? We may have clean streets-and that can be great-but are they missing Christ? Transformation can also have an ugly side; it’s called displacement. Before we celebrate our clean look, we need to ask what it is that the pretty parks replaced?

Travel By Number: How Each Enneagram Type Approaches International Development

During my most recent excursion outside the US, I was drifting to sleep one night and musing on how each Enneagram type approaches international development, as well as traveling abroad in general (yes, these are the types of things I think about when trying to fall asleep). Aggregated here with memes for your enjoyment. If you know your type, let me know how well my descriptions match you!

fair-trade-hipster

Type 1: I’m here to help right all that’s wrong and bring about justice—but I’ll do it in the proper way, unlike my forerunners and many of my colleagues.

Souvenir: T-shirt with catchy slogan expressing my sentiments of the world (ideally created in a Fair Trade factory).

hug

Type 2: I’m here to love on everybody—so many people in the world just need love and I’m here to serve them in any way possible.

Souvenir: Photo of me with a child.

leader

Type 3: I’m here to start a movement lead by local, indigenous leaders—though it had better be successful or it won’t look good on my resume.

Souvenir: Gifts for my team of family and friends made by members of the organization I helped start.

hellicopter

Type 4: I’m here to explore the arts and music, the poetry and ancient philosophies of this civilization—and if I come across the dark, morbid side of their arts, that’ll inspire my own creative expressions even more!

Souvenir: Several unique statement pieces of clothing or jewelry to incorporate into my wardrobe.

bookworm

Type 5: While I’m here, I will learn everything I can about this culture and civilization—the history, politics, languages, religions, sports and popular opinions about all of the above.

Souvenir: Book purchased at historical museum or replica of ancient artifact.

safety-first

Type 6: I’m here to do my job well like I’ve been instructed. Please don’t ask me to leave home after dark though because it probably isn’t safe.

Souvenir: Item I could have purchased at home but got for a fraction of the price here.

adventure

Type 7: I’m here for the adventure and the more bazaar it gets the better! I’m here to experience it all—the risks, the fun, the excitement!

Souvenir: Gift from a local friend I just met yesterday.

water fight

Type 8: I’m here to fight injustice! And I will do anything to defend protect my family of local friends who now look to me as a parental figure.

Souvenir: Prize I won in a game or competition.

my people

Type 9: My main goal is to blend into the local culture as much as possible so as not to be conspicuous or create waves. Please teach me everything I need to do in order to be sensitive to people here.

Souvenir: Local clothing worn while there to blend in.

If My Hosts Were Refugees

footwashing

Receiving a phone call from my director while my Bengali sister was washing my feet.

“When tragedy happens we look for someone to blame,” my pastor said this past Sunday, reflecting on Orlando’s mass shooting that occurred the night before and imploring us to pause to grieve the lives taken. Yet blame is the easiest thing to do. It’s what the religious leaders during Jesus’ time on earth were all about: catch a woman in adultery and blame her. Find a man born blind and blame him or his parents for sinning. The list goes on.

One community that’s receiving blame after this incident is Muslim immigrants and refugees.

We blame our fears and we fear what’s unfamiliar. Among communities of faith, some might discourage encounters with people holding worldviews different from their own because such interactions could result in questioning or even rejecting their beliefs. For me, however, engaging on a deep level with people holding beliefs varied from my own has actually expanded and deepened my faith. Living several years in Bangladesh gave me insights on stories from the Bible that I would have never recognized had I stayed in the United States. Furthermore, my Muslim friends taught me about reverencing God, showing hospitality to strangers and praying in a disciplined fashion. To this day I still pray with my palms facing up, a position that indicates receptiveness to receiving God’s blessing.

A couple stories from the book I’ve been writing offer additional glimpses into the spiritual insights I gained from my experience of living with a Muslim family in a country far from my own:

Daisy*, the younger of the two daughters, was an energetic artist with a zest for life. Her older, more docile sister Nadine* would tease us and say that Daisy and I were “dushtu bons” (naughty sisters). She sometimes accompanied me to the English service at the Assembly of God church and after one service asked me to explain the meaning of the word “fellowship.”

“It’s like when you’re worshipping and you feel connected to God,” I tried to explain. She looked at me confused. As I was reflecting on our conversation later in the week, Revelation 3:20 came to mind:

“Look! I have been standing at the door, and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with me.”

I thought of how Daisy and her family demonstrated hospitality to me, a trait prominent in Muslim cultures. My western mind was blown as I realized my understanding of “fellowship” had been limited and shaped by my religious experiences and had deviated from the original Biblical context. I excitedly shared the verse with Daisy and my insight into the meaning of this word that she had been so wonderfully displaying to me.

Another evening I shared the Last Supper story about how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.

“You all have been doing so much for me,” I said. “But Jesus taught that we should serve others. And in his day, people wore sandals and had very dirty feet, much like here. So I would like to wash your feet.”

“Oh no! You can’t possibly wash our feet!” they exclaimed.

I was their honored guest and a foreigner at that! They insisted on washing mine and I eventually agreed on the terms that I would get to wash theirs in exchange. It was a beautiful, sacred moment and gave me insight into the depth of shock Jesus’ disciples must have felt when their leader washed their feet.

~

Yet should friends like Daisy and Nadine find themselves in the United States, I cannot promise they would receive the same level of hospitality. Should they with their brothers and mother come to my country, the United States of America, would anyone invite them to their home? For many refugees and immigrants, they never get offered a drink of water, let alone someone giving up their own bed and washing their dirty feet! Fear causes us to suspect, rather than welcome. Biases presume that newcomers arrive only to take with little to offer. And simple busyness prevents many of us in the United States from engaging deeply with anyone, especially our newest neighbors in town!

Although I haven’t blamed these communities, I’ve still found myself making stereotypical assumptions. For instance, two weeks ago my pastor showed a video of a brief interview with a refugee family whom we at Rainier Avenue Church are welcoming into our neighborhood. As the father told his story, the mother sat in silence, hushing their children. I assumed she knew little to no English and had no formal education. Imagine my surprise when the interviewer turned to her and in English more fluent than her husbands, she told of how she had a degree in computer science and had worked at a university in Baghdad. Assumptions busted! She and her husband have so many talents to offer—from education to experience. Yet how well will we welcome them? When they apply for jobs, will we turn them away? When they ask for a place to sleep, will we tell them to get out of our already-crowded city? I am grateful to organizations like World Relief that are helping families like this one get connected to housing, jobs and most importantly people. And perhaps in welcoming new friends the way they would to us in their country, we will experience deeper understanding of each other and of God. For in the words of a twentieth-century prophet:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction….
The chain reaction of evil —
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars —
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Strength To Love, 1963

*Names changed to protect privacy

ZUMBA for Community Development

How does a small town respond when gang members from “the world’s most violent city” less than an hour away begin to stream into their bars and streets? For residents of Cofradia, Honduras, they gather in the town square and DANCE!

Located about a half hour west of San Pedro Sula, Cofradia is a tiny town with a population of about 18,000. On weekends especially, the town has become a host for gang members to grab a cerveza or sing karaoke. Sometimes the night ends in a fight, sometimes a death.

To counter ­­violence, city officials decided to host ZUMBA fitness in the town square on weekend evenings—Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

I got to participate in one of these community-wide events when visiting a friend who currently resides about a block away from the town square. The dance exercise begins at 7:00 PM, about an hour after the sun sets all year-round since Honduras is so close to the equator. Several hundred people gathered to participate as well as watch the ZUMBA activity. We laughed and danced, following the moves of the instructor on stage. It felt like a dance party, exercise class and neighborhood block party all in one. When I crossed the street to collect my phone to record a video, I noticed a couple police patrolling the area.  Although law enforcement was present, safety on the streets is ensured more by a group of people coming together for some fun exercise than additional guns and weapons.

“This is fitness for community development at its finest,” I thought.

Just a few more blocks down the street I found a CrossFit gym that also offers ZUMBA. As someone who works for a fitness center dedicated to community development, I was thrilled to see that residents in Cofradia have opportunities for fitness that are creating healthier inhabits and habitation.

10 Benefits of a Community Yard Sale

yard saleMany people think I run an annual to bi-annual yard sale simply to make some extra cash. Although my yard sale earnings contributed towards paying off student loans, the intangible benefits I receive from managing these sales extend beyond the monetary. Following my most recent sale this past weekend, I jotted down ten reasons I love running yard sales in my neighborhood:

  1. A core value of Christian Community Development gets lived out. John Perkins talks about the three R’s in Christian Community Development: Relocation, Redistribution and Reconciliation. Hosting a yard sale in my community is a way of living out the “Redistribution” piece. Most of the stuff I sell comes from wealthy people, who have discarded their belongings when moving, or from hoarders who have passed away and can no longer benefit from their earthly possessions. I get joy when hosting these sales by seeing how the discarded possessions of wealthy people get repurposed by my low income and working class neighbors.
  2. Low-income neighbors, immigrants and refugees can outfit their homes and families. Many refugees and first-generation immigrants purchase clothes, dishes, house ware and furniture at a reduced rate to outfit their households. Yard sales like mine offer our neighbors the ability to buy these items at low-cost (say a couch for $10-$20 or a shirt for $.25)…and that’s far more dignifying than receiving handouts!Shoes lined up for the sale
  3. International development happens at a grassroots level. In addition to buying for their local families, some first-generation immigrants purchase affordable items to ship to their relatives and friends in developing countries. I see this as powerful, grassroots community development that supersedes the work of giant organizations and mega NGO’s which often intrude with foreign ideas about what people need. Since yard sale goods are selected and shared by people who were once local residents there and know the community, culture and needs, the “aid” coming in the form of boxes filled with bargains is likely to be what’s both useful and appreciated.
  4. Leftover items find new homes. At the end of my sale this past weekend, I took five bags of remaining clothes to a clothing exchange where a group of working-class friends (who value repurposing items over buying new) rampaged through them and discovered all sorts of wearable finds!
  5. DJ at yard saleOffers intermediate employment. With the last two sales, I’ve been able to employ a couple friends who were in-between jobs.
  6. Get to meet my neighbors. Hosting a yard sale connects me and my household to our neighbors, literally our front-door community.
  7. My neighbors meet each other. Simultaneously, my neighbors get introduced to each other at the sale, oftentimes some of whom previously knew no one else in the area.
  8. Ideas for future community gatherings percolate. During the course of these neighborly interactions this past weekend, we discussed hosting a progressive music night—something similar to a progressive dinner in which we would go from one house to the next for a different genre of live music. Conversations like this highlight the gifts that each person brings to our local context.
  9. Professional connections form. This past weekend, for example, I was able to introduce my assistant to a potential employer whom I’d been trying to connect for a couple of months!
  10. Our neighborhood gets safer. Knowing one’s neighbors builds trust and has proven to be the leading cause in crime reduction.

Green Stoves in the Slums

ashadesh

Today I’m sharing a guest post about a social enterprise that’s taking off in India. This piece was written by a friend who does community development and lives in the slums of Kolkata. 

Ashadesh is a social business in Kolkata­­­­ that helps us take action. Many people in South Asia use charcoal to cook with, which causes respiratory diseases and death and also harms the environment.

Why do they cook with dirty fuel?  Because they have no choice.

In order to get a gas cylinder hooked up, they need to pay a large up-front fee.  After that, they can get ongoing government-subsidized gas for the long haul.  Ashadesh helps people through the paperwork and subsidizes this up-front cost.  After getting over this unjust barrier, they’re set.

Unlike the poor, you and I have lots of choices.  You and I can offset (make up for our environmental degradation/climate change) our carbon.  This means roughly 5% of the price of a flight goes directly to help get gas connections for the poor at an affordable rate.  By using clean fuel, the person using their new gas connection emits much less carbon, and thus offsets our carbon output, or footprint.

Here’s how holistic the business is:

Health is improved.
The environment is protected.
The poor save time and money.
The unjust system is overcome.
Dignified jobs are created.
Rich and poor partner together.
This ethical business is prophetic in a culture of corruption and exploitation.
The business will be completely handed over to locals within two years.

And on top of all that, my teammate who runs the business, and his family, live in the very slum community where they do business.  As they share life with their neighbors, they share struggles and hope in a very personal and contextualized way that makes sense and is tangible.

Now, I don’t think it’s up to us to save the whole world, nor do I think we can do it overnight.  But I want my actions to match my belief.  I want to be a faithful steward of natural resources and a faithful neighbor to the poor who have less choice than I have.

All businesses need investors.  My dear friends, I cannot think of a more holistic, social enterprise investment than this.

Will you join me as I offset all my flights and driving for work and leisure?  Not out of guilty obligation, but out of joy, freedom and hope.

Visit ashadesh.com.au right now to learn more and get involved.

Lake of Tears

Rangamati

“When you destroy the earth, you destroy yourself. This is the common thread in indigenous people all over the world.” ~ Melina Laboucan-Massimo

Electricity by means of hydropower on the surface appears to be a good thing. For some places, like the town of Harsud, India, however, the implementations of this decision resulted in devastation of their lives without decent compensation. Arundhati Roy recaps the saga in her well-known piece called “The Road to Harsud.” This story resonated with me because a similar situation occurred in Rangamati, the hill town where I lived in Bangladesh. There, a dam was built to provide power for mainland Bengalis at the expense of 100,000 indigenous residents who lost their land. Local residents to this day call the resulting beautiful body of water the “Lake of Tears”. Most were never fully compensated for their land as they had been promised and 30-35 thousand people whose homes had been submerged immigrated to India.

When I read Roy’s work, it made me angry on many levels, including:

1. Government’s waste could have increased current power supplies more efficiently than destroying a town, villages and natural beauty.
2. The callousness towards minority people groups. (Note: “adivasis” means indigenous people; adivasis were also the victims in Rangamati). “A house collapses on four labourers. When they are extricated, one of them is unconscious and has a steel rod sticking into his temple. But they’re only adivasis. They don’t matter. The show must go on.”

3. Discrimination against the victims based on wealth. While the rich could bribe their way to compensations (even a barn would qualify as a second house), the masses of impoverished people were slighted.”Essentially those who are landless—fisher people, boat people, sand quarriers, daily-wage workers and those who are considered ‘encroachers’ do not qualify as project-affected and are done away with.” What was called “Better Management” actually destroyed communities.

4. Lack of social concern for the 249 villages plus the town of Harsud that became submerged due to the installation of the dam. People lost everything—their homes, their livelihoods, their communities—at the expense of one powerful company. Perhaps most horrific is that the World Bank praised this company’s work!

5. Lack of planning and calculations for desired outcomes. Just one of the statistics Roy found was that in order to irrigate 1,23,000 hectares (303,940 acres) of land, it would submerge 91,000 hectares! However, 30,000 of those hectares were already irrigated!  This would mean only a net profit of 2000 hectares irrigated!

To my Chakma, Tripura and other adivasi friends in Bangladesh, I want you to know that “Amar mon khub karap!” I have not forgotten about you and I hope that someday you will have and see the beautiful ranga mati restored.