Experience from Mekong Peace Journey (MPJ) 2012
by Northernman, Laos participant
Starting of Journey….
…more we share…more trust we gained…no trust no peace
I really don’t know where to start and don’t know what I should share as I came back to my country with so many unforgettable memories. It would take me a month or more to record and share all of what I have learnt, seen and gained from attending a three weeks Mekong Peace Training Journey 2012.
Three weeks of training program was long for me so before I decided to join the program, I worried that I would get bored and tired by middle of the training program. However, I finally decided to join the training journey.
5 participants from each country, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam met at Thai Volunteer Service Office at Bangkok on July 6th 2012, then together with organizing members or known as Regional Strategic Team (RST) traveled by a bus to Chiang Khong district, Chiang Rai Province in north of Thailand where the Mekong Peace Journey 2012 would take place from July 7-29 2012. The full name is “A Regional Peace Building Training for Young Adults in Mekong Region 2012.
I was selected to stay in a room number 307 which in total 4 participants from different country. It took me a few days to remember and pronounce my roommate’s names correctly, Sua Sam from Myanmar, Panha from Cambodia, and Ushio from Thailand. There were 13 female participants among the total 25, 4 people per room with different nationalities and separated between male and female participants.
The guesthouse that we stayed was located on the Mekong River’s bank and the other side of the Mekong River is Houysai district, Bokeo province, Laos.
Various activities during sessions of the first week and discussions I had with my new friends outside training hours were mostly about sharing personal interests… background…life story and experiences. I realized that more I shared about myself to my friends, more I discovered and understood myself. In addition, we always had to choose a person that we know the least in each pair work activity so after one week spending time living, laughing and learning together, I had a feeling that everyone was very closed and good friend. One night, I talked and told the moon that 24 hours a day was too short as I did not have sufficient time to talk with all of my new friends…then the moon answered to me “that’s a life”.
As training session started at 8:30 and last until 5:00 with 1 and half hours break so by 7 o’clock in the morning, coffee and food were always ready. When finished eating, each one had to wash one’s plates and glasses…it was one of enjoyable moment for me as the washing task had helped me to slow down my uncontrollable flying thoughts and monkey mind. A lot of jokes, funny as well as greet stories were shared during a time of having meals. I would not deny that sometime I did not enjoy available food very much but at the end I still had a good meal, then I came to the realization that a good meal depends on the place and your meal partners more than the food itself. Moreover, part of family atmosphere was created and developed day by day through sharing breakfast, lunch and dinner together, if not for all, at least for me.
When there was no rain, many participants did morning exercise…most female participants would walk to a local market…some did jogging. For me, I often had a morning walking meditation along a path that lies between the river and the guest house… a series of high and green mountains covered with white clouds in the side of Laos, boats with 8-10 people going and back from one side to the other of Mekong River…birds singing and flying from one tree to other tree…those were some of memorable images for me. I greeted everyone pass me by giving my smile. Silence…fresh and cool air… and beauty of surrounding nature of quiet morning time gave me a lot of inner energy and in result it created peace in my mind. My morning exercises led me to the discovery and experience the real meaning of inner peace.
Besides sessions during training hours and all discussions and activities with other participants outside training hours, another interesting time for me was country presentation which started from Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia on different dates at night time. The country presentation enriched my personal knowledge and understanding regarding cultures…economic…political system…current issues and challenges of my neighboring countries. Now I know and understand more about my neighboring countries… “Having a friend from one country is worth than reading 10 books or more about that country”
Cooking day which delivered by each country on different days was also really enjoyable time. For me, it was not about just had tasted food from different countries but when I ate the food, I had a feeling that it was a taste of care and love that my friends from each country gave to me…as the food was prepared properly with good willing and cared.
Throughout various activities, interesting games and presentations brought by different resource persons, I had learnt variety useful concepts and knowledge that many of them I could practically apply to solve my personal life’s challenges and apply along my journey of contributions to positive changes of community, society and region. Some of notable topics for me were; understanding holistic peace, positive and negative conflicts, pluralism concept, principle and process of a dialogue, conflict analysis tools, conflicts resolution and transformation. I did not fully understand every concepts or lessons delivered during the whole training but at least I aware that they are existing and when I have to use them I could find and make more understanding about them. However, the most important thing that I will always keep in my mind is that “Peace could and should start from ourselves but we need peace and love in ourselves before we can share to others”.
Almost every activity in each session, participants had to work in pair…some time as national team…often as task group…many time as a group randomly selected…so participants had to actively and fully involved all along duration of each session. At the end, I had learnt and understood what participatory learning approach is and how it was applied.
15 minutes of refreshment break in the middle of morning and afternoon session was pleasant time…local made snacks and drinks were often served…not only sharing funny stories or jokes…but often it was time for positive gossips…who interested in which person or had a special good feeling for someone. Loud laughing…happy smiles… discussions across tables…all were common atmosphere during a time of coffee break and many times each one would forget time to go back for session. However, as there was a task team that responsible for time keeping of each day so the team would rang a bell…gang…. gang…… gang………gang…time’s up…time’s up…
17-18 July 2012 was a community visit in Thailand it was the community where Lao ethnic people from Laos live. They immigrated into Thailand during a war time long time ago in Laos. The community located alongside Mekong River, we went there by boats, overnight for a night and came back by a bus…people in the community still keep their own cultures strongly which came with them more than 50 years ago, it was my first time to see Laoness in non-Lao state… “It is possible to take someone physically out of his homeland, but it is virtually impossible to take one’s pride of his/her homeland out of his heart” (Apple, a lovely Vietnamese participant)…there was another group people and they are Hmong ethnic people live next to the community we visited, they also immigrated into Thailand long time ago. Really sad to know that though they have same homeland but they do not even talk with each other due to prejudice that was rooted in the blood of the people of the two groups from generation to another generation.
Every Friday evening after training hours, all members which included participants and organization members would directed to Friday evening market…where local grown fruits and vegetables were found mostly… but most people (MPJ) seemed to enjoy a variety of fresh served local food that were sold along a street…in order to try many as possible, each person would buy different food and share with each other. Going to the market, we had learnt local people’s lifestyle. Except, interruption from big trucks on the street in every 20 minutes, it was another impressive experience.
Chiang Khong is a small, quiet and could considered as safe town. It borders with Houysai district, Bokeo province, Laos. From the guesthouse that we stayed, we could enjoy really beautiful view…especially at night time.
It was my first time to meet, live and learn with really amazing young adults, each one’s knowledge and skills was admirable and each person had brought with them a great deal of enthusiastic and keen to learn and share in every minute at any time. Without their smiles…motivations…and creativity skills, the training sessions might be less enjoyable and learnable for me… moreover, it proved that a mix of differences and diversity lead to creative and innovative ideas.
Tight schedule, long training hours of a day… country team meeting after dinner (not every day but often)… task group duty and media session assignment…and time talking with friends at night. After two weeks pass, it was undeniable that many times I got tired…miss family…miss friends. But each morning, when I saw smiles and got a friendly greeting from both friends and RST members. My tiredness would definitely disappear.
Unfortunately, the team could not stay overnight in a community for a visit in Laos. The team had to overnight in a hotel and visited community through tour agency scheme.
A visit to Kyiang Tung in Shan sate, Myanmar was a memorial trip for me; it is a town of unspoiled Buddhism…cultures and traditional livelihoods. I do not want to imagine but it would not be avoidable as globalization could access to every corner and space of this planet.
RST members’s contributions were invaluable and impressive…they had RST meeting every night, some time it was up to 11 pm. Each member was very supportive and helpful all the time. They observed and ensured that each session was not only learn-able but should also enjoyable and in addition, no one would be left behind the others. RST hard working reminded me that peace would not happened if we do not put our efforts, skills and volunteer contributions and work together. If someone ask me what is peace, my answer would be…respect other people’s identity and right is PEACE.
20-07-2012 was another unforgettable day, I started the day with blue sky…peaceful mind… and good mood…but the day was ended with very quiet and lonely atmosphere. No any dialogue or discussion in the room 307 as usually there would be discussions in this room every night until midnight or longer…no playing guitar and sang songs in a big group as normal… no big laughing from any of my junior friends as every night… everyone must be tired, I thought. Physically tired or tired inside their minds was beyond my ability to answer. I was writing an article alone from 22:28-23:44, the title of the article called “A Cool Day @ Chiang Khong with Mekong Peace Journey 2012”
Helpful and distinguished experienced media resources persons and sessions were introduced before community visit in the three countries, the media session were divided into three groups which there were a writing group, photography group and filming group. I joint the writing group. I do not know how much I have learned from writing sessions but now I gained motivation and inspiration to begin writing…could be article…or short story.
There were many sessions that were delivered in a situation of rush, especially the last day was very rushed for me…I did not know for other, but for me it was. However, I told myself that it was not rush but indeed, I (myself) was too slow.
Though my life has passed much different kind of situations…good time…tough challenges, but after three weeks of living…learning… eating…talking…laughing together, MPJ became a family for me so It was really-really hard for me to accept that in less than 24 hours, we had to say good bye and depart from each other…I just could not hold my tears at the time I expressed my personal impression and appreciation to have such great and valuable opportunity to meet…build relationship and trust with all of them. They are really amazing for me…not least but they are full of creative and innovative ideas…I would use this opportunity to give a BIG huge to every one in MPJ 2012.
However, I traveled back home with full of; …great stories …motivation …encouragement …inspiration…and valuable friendship inside my heart. During 19 hours of being on a train from Bangkok to Laos, many times I reminded and told myself that…the ending of the training program was a starting point of friendship with my new friends for strong network and cooperation for prosperity…sustainability and peace in our own society, Mekong Region and ASEAN as a whole.
Peace would not happened if we do not put our efforts, skills and volunteer contributions and work together!