An Action Guide for the Community You Love

Tom Weerachat

One of my favorite memories from February, the month of love, this year was the day I met thirteen amazing young women leaders from Kachin State, Myanmar to introduce the Community Action Guide to them. Walking into the room, I could sense the fierce commitment and love they had towards their communities who have faced many difficulties these past few years. These active and passionate women are hoping to improve the situation at home after they graduate from the Kachin Woman Association Thailand’s Internship Program. 
 
We began our meeting by introducing ourselves, saying our names and doing one action that represented our community. I said, “My name is Tom and I am from Chiang Mai, where we have many elephants.” I extended my hand and waved it like an elephant’s trunk. Everybody laughed. As we went around the circle, we laughed harder as people made their own funny actions. This continued until we reached a little girl who looked quite shy. She told us her name, then took a few breaths and said, “We have many Burmese soldiers in our home.” For her action and sound, she mimicked shooting a gun.

I learned very quickly from the game that participants came from places far away from me with many different experiences and stories I had never heard about. I asked everyone to think about what kind of development projects they wanted to see in their communities.

“We want to have a crafting workshop in our community so that young people would have jobs” said a woman from Myitkyina. Another woman stated, “We want to have good schools for children.” Another added, “In reality, what we have had are only unfinished and dangerous road construction and mining.”

I asked everyone in the group, “What do you hope to have in your community that is not there now?”

“We don’t have that power to decide.” One woman answered with strong voice.

I shared IAP’s Community Action Guide in Burmese which contains many interesting activities, exercises, stories to learn more about development projects and shares information that may be useful for local communities. We read the stories together, drawn from the real experiences of communities from around Asia, who had been negatively impacted by projects funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). We asked ourselves “What could we learn from these stories?”

The room was silent. Some people used color pens to highlight sentences. Some made circle around key words. It took us a shorter time than I thought. We got back to the group and began our discussion.

“These are very sad stories. People are not satisfied because every development have impacts to communities,” one person commented.
 
 Another added, “Those are very high-risk projects that bring dispute and difficulties to communities and communities need to be aware of impacts before people’s lives become miserable.” 
 
“Reading the case studies make me aware of the safeguards that would help a community and their response. I learned about what kind of rights you should ask for to protect your community.”

We continued exploring the action guide to learn about the safeguard policies of the bank. We broke into small groups and each group chose one topic to teach. Everybody enjoyed teaching one another and sharing experiences about the policies regarding the right to participation, right to information, women rights and the right to adequate housing. We learned quite a bit from each other!

I would like to show you an image from the group presentation on the right to participation.

The group created the adjoining image of a balanced scale to say that it doesn’t matter if you are a big group or small group, you should have equal weight and equal rights to participate in development.

For the last question of the day, we asked ourselves “Do we want the Asian Development Bank or other banks to invest in our country?”

“If the project gives a long term benefit, we could accept. But it usually has a small benefit for a community but big benefits for investors.”

“After they leave the project area, they should still be accountable for future impacts. Usually, the project comes from a higher authority and it has already been decided. We, the community doesn’t have power against the project at that point. How can people talk back, fight for their rights — this is what we learn from this guide.”

“The people have to be united. Public participation is very much important to fight for our rights in development project”

Finally, participants shared their reflections after learning more about the action guide:

-“This guide helps us look at the safeguards and we can make our people aware and know how to protect their rights. If they don’t know the policies, they just accept whatever happens.”
-“We learn how to protect equality and human rights. This book guides us to solve problems in difficult situations.”
-“This is a guide to get our rights back in development projects. We should get it back by building capacity for individuals and the community. This guide teaches what is a good way to solve problems.”
-“Compare existing peoples’ beliefs, norms, cultures and how development make it disappear, this book is written in a simple way so normal people can understand. Great examples and easy to use.”

If you want to have similar conversation and activities described in this post, IAP’s Community Action Guide series could be a very useful tool for you. Please contact us and you may download the action guide mentioned in this article in English (bit.ly/ADBGuide) in Burmese (bit.ly/ADBGuideBurma). Tom Weerachat is a Program Coordinator at IAP based in Thailand.

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