Driving through the hills of Northern Thailand, I am amazed how comfortable I feel with my Indonesian friends. I only know Eki, Gina, Lulu and the others for 4 days, although it feels like I just travelled with them for a month. We come back from Phayao where we visited Suwat, the public health official who is in his free time is a natural community ‘leader’ with a beautiful temple in his backyard. Yesterday, we had an incredible peer assist between Mali (represented by Sangare, coordinator for the Mali NGO network), Indonesia (with 5 friends from NGOs and provincial AIDS committees) and Thailand. The creative local responses filled up Suwat’s temple especially around topics like: “How can sex workers negotiate condom use”, “the role of religion” and why we have to start community discussions on life instead of HIV. Sangare will share a suitcase full of inspiration when arriving back to Bamako.
This week I truly felt like a global citizen. During the International Knowledge Fair in Chiang Mai with 76 participants from 13 countries, we shared from a human level our experiences. Somehow language or borders were secondary aspects. In short it was: incredibly useful and inspiring fun! Although I facilitated some of the sessions, I did not feel like I had ‘a specific role’. I learnt so much, even from people that were exposed to ACP for the first time, such as our friends from Plan International. Stories from Kalana from Sri Lanka truly impressed me. Speed-dating, reflection sessions, deep personal sharing, the best Indonesian energizers and not a single Powerpoint all contributed to an amazing event. On the last night, it felt like saying goodbye to friends who happen to work on the same issue. A last hug to Jean-Pierre (Philippines) and Prabakar (India) kept a smile on my face the rest of the evening.
Somehow, this human experience is not exceptional. Since my first visit to Papua New Guinea, Laurence and I receive regular sms messages and phonecalls from people from the settlements. They don’t ask for anything, but simply want to re-connect as humans. These people have difficulties to get food together every day, but are happy to spend 1 USD per minute to call us in Thailand. Why? I think because their self-confidence grew so much through SALT and they want to share their progress with us. We didn’t ask for their results, they just want to shout it out. I’ll quote 3 of the messages from my friend Eli:
- Hi Gaston, we are having 1st coffee night tonight at 7pm! Eli (20-09-2008)
- At the moment, the youth are engaged by Red Cross for theatre drama activity through one of the facilitators, Eli (14-09-2008)
- Brother, it’s Eli. Good night! How are you? I am fine. From Walis Station PNG. God bless (02-08-2008)
I have only spent 3 hours in their community appreciating what they were doing, sharing about my own vulnerabilities, discussing theirs and stimulating progress. I didn’t share as if I was a ‘subject’ of development and they were the ‘objects’ of our interventions, but as human beings. I think that’s the reason I am still receiving sms messages (smile)