Last month (Nov09), we had a good chance to welcome people from 2 countries to experience “ SALT ” through our SALT Visit Programmes in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand (2days programme). The first group of participants came from Myanmar with 10 people from "Burnet Institute, Myanmar" and "CARE International, Myanmar" plus another 2 people from the organisation who works in the border area between Thailand and Myanmar, "SMRU (Shoklo Malaria Research Unit) - PMTCT Programme” (Maela Refugee Camp in Mae Sod, Tak Province, Thailand). The second group came from Indonesia with 6 women from “Layak Foundation”. These 2 programmes were very exciting for me, I've learned a lot from both groups and of course, we've learned a lot from the communities we visited.
In the programmes, we visited the communities where they are applying SALT as their way of thinking/working and also linking it to their religion’s beliefs. For me, I found it is very interesting to listen to other people explaining about our beliefs in the different ways, especially from a region’s aspect.
The 1st programme was organized on 9-10 November 2009 for 12 people from the Burmese Organisations. We went to Jedi Maekrua Temple in San Sai District, Chiang Mai Province to meet with the representatives from the Committee of the HIV/AIDS Working Group in Jedi Maekrua Community (religion leaders, community leaders and volunteer workers that included PLHA). The HIV/AIDS Working Group in this community was initiated by the Buddhist Monk, Phra Kru Samuhhavichern Khunnadhammo, by turning a Buddhist Temple, Jedi Maekrua Temple, as a center for the working group. Their strategy to promote and expand the network was to start working and coordinating with community leaders and involve in the group and let them play the role of influencing more and more people in community including PLHA (People Living with HIV/AIDS) to see the benefits of having this working group in the community and start to join the activities.
This temple has been developed for being used as a "Community Faith-Based Center" with the supports from the Buddhist Religion Network in Chiang Mai Province who is part of the Interfaith Network on AIDS in Thailand (INAT) under their Global Fund Project.
During the visit, we first listened to Phra Kru Samuhhavichern, a Buddhist’s monk from Jedi Maekrua Temple who is a leader of this center, for a short briefing about the center before we split into 2 small groups; one group discussed with the religion leader and some community leaders and another group discussed with the volunteer group, including PLHA. I was with the first group, discussing with all the leaders. In the discussion, we’re all exciting and asking so many questions. Our friends from Myanmar were very impressed by the role of the Buddhist monks at this center and how the Buddhist’s principles/teachings helped community people to understand better about HIV/AIDS.
“In Myanmar, we never see a monk working on HIV/AIDS issue and it will be a surprise if we see a monk working with many women like this”, one participant from Myanmar shared during the discussion.
“Is there any people criticize or think that this should not be a role of a Buddhist monk?”, another participant from Myanmar asked.
Phra Kru Samuhhavichern smiled and answered gently “I think differently and look at it in the opposite way. I think it is a monk’s defect if there is some issue emerging in our community or some problem attacking our community people. As a monk, I believe that I have a responsibility to ensure that people in my community will behave good, think good, do good and if there are some people slip or got lost in a bad path such as addicting to drugs, enchanting in risk behaviors, getting HIV/AIDS and I still don’t care and don’t feel that I should do something, I will take this as my defect.” This is the inspiration for him to start acting and doing something to face with community’s issues together with his people in the community.
He also shared one of his beliefs which I found it is very interesting and relevant to what we believe in the Constellation. He mentioned that “We are all having a limited opportunity, we are all a victim of life crisis and we are all still far from the Nirvana, the way to ending our sufferings/problems, including me. What and how different we practice and spend our life will put us in the different level of the distance towards to Nirvana. This make us realize that we still need to develop and improve ourselves to be able to deal with our own problems or our own life crisis.” For me, this is the same as what we believe; there is no expert!!, but he just explained it in a different way.
“What we do to help our people is not just giving materials, objects or money to them but it is about helping them to develop, to improve and to be better by using a process that can build their own intellectuals. Giving Dhamma will encourage their self-learning which they can adapt what they have learned to manage their own issues/problems by following the religion’s teachings and principles. Once they gone through this process and manage to find their own way to solve their problems, we will be there to appreciate what they have done which will stimulate and encourage them to do better. Their learning can also be shared to their friends, their family, and others so that other people can also learn from them and we will still there to support the development which will be continued in our community.” , Phra Kru Samuhhavichern summarized at the end of the discussion.
Even I’m Buddhism and I have heard about Dhamma, Buddhist’s Principles and Buddha’s Teachings since I was born but this is the first time I saw them in practical and were explained clearly by a monk who is in my perception is the person who always talks about something which is impossible to understand and impossible to see in our human's life. This visit totally changed my perceptions about Religion, Buddhism and Buddhist’s Monk. I am now really interesting and exciting to explore more about the teachings and the principles in each religion to see how we can adapt them to explain our human’s life. My dream is not about reaching the Nirvana or getting out of human’s problems as mentioned as a highest goal in Buddhism but it is just about trying to become a better person and I believe that this is something we can do to contribute to our religion and to improve our qualities of life.