November 25, 2008
For over a decade, I have been traveling to South and Southeast Asia to collaborate with grassroots, governmental and non-governmental groups addressing ethno-political conflict, forced migration, HIV-AIDS, violence against women and peace-building. Over the last 10 years, my primary local partner, Ouyporn Khuankaew, and I have been invited to work with refugee communities of Burma, Thai activists, NGOs and government health workers, the Tibetan community-in-exile in northern India, and with Cambodian groups focusing on violence against women.
Most recently I have been involved in peace-building work in southern Thailand where the Buddhist and Muslim communities are experiencing intensifying ethno-political conflict. My local partners and I employ feminist participant action and other liberatory methodologies to support groups to collaboratively analyze the root causes of the social and political issues of concern to them, and to develop community-based response systems and action plans for social change.
Groups often then request that we offer capacity building workshops focusing on social justice and trauma counseling, leadership, peace building, conflict transformation, and training-of-trainers in order to prepare them to implement their action plans. In early 2005, post-tsunami, Rollins supported my trip to Thailand to collaborate with colleagues from Thailand and Burma in trauma response work and to develop a project to train local Thai and Burma groups in trauma counseling for tsunami survivors.
What I learn and discover in the Asia work is very relevant back here at Rollins in my teaching and service. Ouyporn and I have written several articles or book chapters that discuss the model of consultation/collaboration we have developed. Also I use the model in my teaching of multicultural counseling and other courses in the graduate counseling program. Students read our articles and we explicitly discuss the methodology so that they can develop an understanding of effective approaches to cross/inter cultural counseling, consultation, and activism.
Each spring I take a group of students to Apopka, Florida, to work with members of the Apopka farm worker and migrant communities. Students put into practice what they have been learning during the fall term by serving as listening partners and group co-facilitators with individuals and groups who have often come to the United States from the Caribbean, Central and South America as first generation immigrants, economic refugees or individuals/families seeking political asylum.
I have taken groups to both India and Thailand to increase their understandings of the issues and challenges for communities living in exile as internally displaced situations (Tibetans in northern India and people of Burma living along the Thai-Burma border) and to develop skills in working across "borders", particularly with groups and individuals from disenfranchised or disempowered groups. I have also continued to mentor two former students who have gone on for doctoral work (Liz Abrams and Michelle Clonch) by taking them with me to apprentice with my while doing the on-the-ground work with several groups from Burma and Thailand. They both have developed strong interests in intercultural/international work and are in the midst of their own internationally based research as part of their doctoral programs.
Finally, last year I began to cultivate a relationship with colleagues from north Cyprus, another area of ethno-political conflict, traveling on a President's Internationalization Grant. I will continue to develop the relationships there by returning next April. The issues and challenges for the northern Cypriots is very similar yet also different than some of those faced by some of the groups from Asia with whom I have worked. I expect that over time I will become more deeply involved in local projects and research.
The funding I have received from Rollins over the years has been crucial in the development and implementation of my research, service and activism projects in Asia. Cultivating close, trusting relationships with local colleagues and partners and developing the foundational intercultural knowledge and skills requires time and immersion in the local cultures and contexts. These relationships and attendant cultural competencies are essential in supporting effective, culturally appropriate/grounded research and practice- in effectively crossing borders.
By Kathryn Northworthy
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