LAMPLAIMAT, July 23 – After a four-hour van ride, we make it to Lamplaimat to learn that a nearby village is having the first meeting of its Village Development Committee, the group PDA gathers to lead a village’s Village Development Bank. (This is more relevant to our host organization, PDA, and its going into rural villages to introduce and encourage villagers to create their own banking system, grow their local economy and pull themselves out of poverty – a far more empowered state than calmly waiting for the next round of NGO handouts and tolerating illness, poverty, lack of education and deteriorating village social conditions. This isn’t a forum to detail PDA’s work, or our high opinion of what it’s doing, other than as context to testing our curriculum. For background on our project, see the links in the sidebar to the left.) We hope the meeting will provide further insight into the mindset of villagers who come together to lead new initiatives in their village and begin the journey out of debt and away from subsistence living. We’ve come to meet them, to listen to their questions of process of the formation of a community-owned village bank and to better understand the individuals who will be receiving a Barefoot MBA, or at least the precursor to such a degree (no, it’s not really a degree, but a set of concepts we hope will help in their pursuit of a better life).
Lightning flashes in the distance. We listen as the villagers review the purpose of the 24-member committee and then discuss the specific responsibilities of each sub-committee. We hear their confusion about bookkeeping (our classmates had similar questions in Accounting), we see the youth committee’s enthusiasm about running a garbage recycling business (similar to our classmates who passionately chased idea after idea, trying to turn each into a profitable startup) and we saw the pointing of fingers as nobody knew who had the documents outlining how they planned to allocate the funds they would receive from the Village Development Bank (we’ve all had one of those moments).
As bugs continue to swarm around the fluorescent lights above and fall into our juice, we’re struck by the similarities of questions heard at Stanford and those asked here tonight. That’s not a comment on either group; rather, it’s a somewhat reassuring notion that, separated by so many factors, we’re truly not that different after all. Sadly, we’ll have to have that comment translated to share it with the villagers.
Just before we break for dinner, around 8 p.m., another representative of PDA changes the topic to something more serious. Recently, a young teenager accidentally became pregnant, the young father to-be denied responsibility and her family disowned her. She’s gone to Bangkok, and that’s the last anyone’s heard from her. The message here is that safe sex and condoms do more than prevent disease; they also keep families and communities from breaking apart. And, just as PDA provides the tools for the villagers to improve their financial lives, PDA also provides the tools for these villagers to improve their health. Amazingly, the staff members of PDA have built up enough trust with these villagers that few are turned off by talk of safe sex and condoms.
They learn here together at this small community center, a 20-by-30-foot slab of dusty concrete with a tin roof, one exterior wall and fluorescent lights that’s used for everything from community meetings to yoga classes. Elders and teenagers come here, ask questions, listen intently and walk away prepared to take action to move the village in a new direction.
We have partnered with PDA because of the trust they have developed with villagers here and everywhere they work. The community-education model is one PDA has shown to be effective here and one we trust will continue to work as new lessons are taught to villagers, whether about community organization, health practices or business education.