In this blog, I reflect on a key question that has been posed to me on numerous occassions recently about the relationship between what I call “constitutional spirits” (aka constitutional/legal interpretation) and the “supernatural” in Cambodia.
These are but a few notes in the lush chorus of sounds at the Karenni Social Development Centre (KSDC). I arrived at KSDC about a week ago, accompanied by Robyn and a previous CAPI intern. I am joining several others in facilitating a training course for young adults at the KSDC school.
Our journey to KSDC began in Chiang Mai. After a majestic 30-minute plane ride over Northern Thailand’s rippled, jungled hills, we landed in Mae Hong Son, a small Thai city. The next day we were en-route to Nai Soi, a village tucked a few kilometers from the Thai-Myanmar border. KSDC’s principal, several alumni, and several foreign volunteers, all on motorbike, met us. Our belongings were strapped on the bikes, and we all hopped on with a kind driver for the final trek to KSDC. As we crossed Nai Soi’s village bounds, the paved road ended and the red-dirt road began. We were nearing Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp and its surrounding “hamlet”, Dokhita. Thai jurisdiction overlooks this pocket, and as such, the roads remain furrowed and muddy. After this brief skillful motorbike ride, we approached KSDC—my home for the next 6 months—a home I now share with 20 students, several staff, 2 foreign volunteers, several dogs, (notably Bam and Liam Neeson), numerous geckos and lizards, an irritating but endearing troupe of chickens, and a diversity of unknown insects that buzz and whir at all hours.
KSDC is a community-based organization offering education in human rights, law, non-violence, women’s rights, environment, and English, among other subjects of import to the Karenni people, an ethnic group indigenous to eastern Myanmar. Decades of conflict in their home state spurred many Karenni and other ethnic groups in the area to flee to refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. Camp Ban Mai Nai Soi is but one of numerous refugee settlements on the border, most of which are home to tens of thousands of people. Those living in the camps cannot work legally in Thailand, and as such must remain within the camp, or return to Myanmar. Most students and staff at KSDC live in the camp with their families when they aren’t at KSDC dorms. Some have come from within Karenni State to pursue education in the camp, or at schools like KSDC, as education within camps surpasses much education in rural Myanmar. I have encountered the commitment and compassion of many Karenni peoples of all ages engaged in profound community development activities. It is clear that I have entered a rich web of community engagement, activism, and support. This limited but burgeoning learning is continually informed by a patchwork of both brief exchanges and sprawling conversations with students, staff, and others I’ve met in my first week here.
KSDC’s commitment to supporting and empowering Karenni people through human rights education is a profound response to their complex and ever-unfolding story. Students share life with one another, cooking, cleaning, singing, “playing Facebook”, and pursuing community development studies. There’s also plenty of Burmese pop music and incredible Karenni food. I’m not quite sure what I’ve stepped into—but friendship and fun are of no shortage in this place. Many lives are being lived, within limitation, and beyond seeming boundaries.