Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Summer camp pictures

This was the second year I organized the Summer Youth Camp. The theme of the camp was "Opportunities and Challenges for Young People in Today's Society." This year, I took the camp to Nong Khai Province, to a location close to the Mekong River. I wanted to change the atmosphere for the youth from my church, so it was good to take it to a place rather far away - about 200km. 

The camp site was actually on the grounds of Fr. Truc Phan's church, which is located in a small village surrounded by rubber tree farms. Most of the activities took place on site. However, on the second day of the three day camp, we took it to the Mekong River where we had a hike to the river, listened to a presentation about the river and the environmental issues that the people depending on the river are experiencing, and of course, playing by the river. In the evaluation forms, many indicated that the Mekong experience was their favorite activity. The aim of the second day's activities was to create social awareness, especially environmental awareness, for youth people.  

On the third day of the camp, the youth went into the village to visit the sick and abandoned elderly. This activity was meant as a lesson in having the spirit of volunteerism and taking concrete action to make society better.

The second and third day's activities were different from the first day's activities which focussed more on stirring the heart and mind of the youth through talks, discussions, and sharing.

The camp was successful and received good feedback from the participants. And the best thing about the camp was that after everything was accounted for, we remained slightly in the black. And the whole camp was paid for through individual donations.

Nong Bua Lamphu, 29.4.2010 

HIV/AIDS Center Needs Support

Nong Bua Lamphu: A place appreciated by few

When I first came to Thailand and spent about half a year studying Thai in Bangkok, people often asked me about where I would work after I finished my language studies, I told them Nong Bua Lamphu. Oftentimes, the question I received immediately after that was, “Where’s that?” And it’s not necessarily the foreigners who asked me this question. Thai people asked as well.

Eventually, I found out the reason why so many people asked me this question was because Nong Bua Lamphu was a rather unknown province, even for Thai people. And amongst the ones who knew, many asked me why I would want to go there since for them, NBL had few things that would attract them. I had to explain to them that there were work already in place in NBL that I wanted to collaborate.

You can’t blame the people for not knowing about NBL or thinking highly of it. NBL is one of the youngest, smallest, and poorest provinces in Thailand, nestled in the middle of Udon Thani, Leuy, and Khon Kaen provinces in the northeast region of the country. NBL means “Lamphu Lotus Pond”, which is a rather attractive name.  It has a half a million population, the majority of whom live in rural villages that make up the 6 districts. The central district has parts that are more developed, but it’s not yet ready to be a city.

Nong Bua Lamphu is not a tourist spot, even if there are a few tourist destinations. The activity that attracts the most people is the weekly Tuesday afternoon market where all sorts of goods are sold cheaply.  In the center of town is a lake where both swimming and fishing are prohibited. Next to the lake are sports grounds where people come to play football, basketball, and do outdoor aerobics in the afternoon. These grounds also serve as the place for festival events that take place in town.

Many people from NBL make it a point to leave it when they have a chance. Young people leave to find education or work opportunities. Adults also leave to find jobs. In the villages, many old people are left living alone or to raise grandchildren whose parents have already left to find jobs in Bangkok or other big cities.  Usually, they work in factories, restaurants, or construction work. Many end up working in bars and even the sex industry, which makes them susceptible to getting infected with HIV among other problems.

Even though NBL is not a highly developed province, but the youth of this province also have access to the internet to know what’s going on in the outside world. Even though they benefit from the new technology, the good comes with the bad. Many youth are addicted to computer games and internet. Because they don’t live in an environment where there are many social and cultural programs are afforded to them, they end up spending more time chatting on the internet than they do reading books or engaging in other beneficial activities. Even if they are ambitious and work hard in their studies, it would be difficult for them to obtain quality education in Nong Bua Lamphu since the local government is limited in its means.

The Life Ruamkan Program aims to contribute to the governmental and private efforts being made to address some of the issues prevalent in this province. We hope our model of coming together as a community of people from diverse backgrounds and social status to study, work, and play together and to support each other, it will inspire each of us and others in the community to continue to expand this model further in other life situations that they are in, contributing to a more peaceful and compassionate society.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Is it called superstition?

A while back a confrere of mine came to Thailand for a visit. This was his first trip to the country. I took him around Bangkok and other places to visit. I tried to inform him about the Thai people and culture as best as I could, and to the best of my understanding after having lived and worked in the country for over two years. Of course, I took him to the temples and the shrines where many Thai people, both Thai and tourists, came to visit or to pray. Later on, I was told that my confrere went back, and in an official meeting of the congregation, made an observation that he felt ashamed when he heard me making the observation that Thai people were superstitious. I of course was not present in this province wide chapter, so I never had the chance to respond to his comment nor could I make any defense as to why I believe my observation was justified.

I am not exactly sure why the term "superstition" has turn into a sort of non-politically correct word in the world of missiology or inter-religious dialogue. I am not a linguist, nor am I a missiologist, even if I am a missionary. For me, certain behaviors are best described as superstition, even if it makes the politically correct people grimace at such a description.

I myself grimaced yesterday when I found out that behind my rectory, there is a banana tree with supernatural powers. A few days ago, two of the AIDS patients in the hospice went around looking for numbers to buy the lottery. They came upon this otherwise ordinary looking banana tree behind my rectory and saw that somehow, someway, the sap from inside the tree had oozed out to form certain numbers on the surface (or what they thought to be shapes of numbers).

The patients decided to select these numbers to buy 200 baht worth of lottery tickets, and lo and behold, they won. The numbers appeared on the outside of the banana tree were apparently correct. As a result, the two men decided to give offerings to this banana tree by tying a ribbon around it. In addition, they brought a chicken and some energy drinks, as well as candles and incense to make offerings to the tree.

I never actually saw the act taking place. Only the following morning, I was informed by one of the youth that this had taken place. I went out to look and of course, I found what was left of the incense and candles left amidst the pile of dry leaves at the bottom of the banana bush.

I was imagining that with this banana tree having special powers to help people win the lottery, the word would go far and wide, and soon people will be coming in droves to look for numbers that the tree has to offer. But so far, no such phenomenon has taken place.

The only thing that has taken place so far is that I have gone to the staff of the AIDS hospice and asked her to tell the patients that I do not approve of this type of offering taking place on the grounds of my church. And after I told Brother Damien, the director of the MPH Center about what happened, he asked me to add the Mother of Perpetual Help Center grounds to the prohibition as well.

So far, the ribbon around the banana tree remains tightly wrapped. I've been looking at the tree occasionally from inside the rectory to see if there's anything unusual about it. But so far, nothing much has happened. The only unusual thing that has occurred is that another tree in the same bush has somehow fallen down behind it. Unfortunately, there are young bananas growing on the fallen tree. I wonder if a blast of wind has caused the fall, or the gardener has decided to cut it down, or this was the result of the overwhelming power coming from the tree that oozed correct lottery numbers.

Nong Bua Lamphu, 7 April 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

Youth Stations of the Cross

This afternoon, the youth in the church led the Stations of the Cross outside the church. It was a rather grand event with the youth taking turns to carry the cross and lead in the prayers. Even though the number of parishioners in attendance were not as many as wished, but the event was nevertheless deeply moving and crystalized well the spirit of Good Friday. I was very proud of the youth today because they were very willing to take part in this deeply important activity.

Nong Bua Lamphu, 2 April 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Summer children's program at church

For the second year, the church organizes a summer children's program in which children come to the church to study, to engage in art and reading activities, as well as other fun games and activities. The children all manage to have a good time, in addition to getting some learning in. Our "team" consists of nearly ten people. Ms May is the regular teacher for the student. Ms. Mem takes care of the morning spiritual activity before any learning takes place. Thon and Thang is in charge of the fun songs and games. I am in charge of teaching English. And there are three other volunteers to help the children along.

These children find that by coming to the church everyday, they are learning new things as well as having. They also find out that it's not important to be playing computer games all day in the summer.

I've decided to continue with this summer program after the success of last year. This year, more students enrolled in this program. And we had to reject a number of others because the large number of children would be too difficult for us to handle with our limited space and manpower. However, we are getting more interest by the day. Parents who have their children in the program are already asking about next year.

This summer program has potential to expand into a very interesting and fruitful project in the future if more thought and planning goes into making this program something creative and attractive to the community.

So far, we have a good start and solid directions.

Nong Bua Lamphu, 1 April 2010

Holy Thursday youth group eucharistic adoration

Nong Bua Lamphu, 1 April 2010