Hello everyone I know. So I haven’t had a blog since I was a teenager but the Advocacy Project requires that I keep one so I’m excited to have the excuse to write something for the people I love and admire. I would appreciate any feedback and suggestions as I travel down this unknown road.
And now a little bit of Q&A based upon the conversations I’ve had with people asking me what I’m doing this summer. (I’ll also include the more critical questions my friends are too nice to ask.)
You: So, Kan, what are you up to this summer?
Me: I’m an Advocacy Project (AP) Peace Fellow this summer. That means I’m offering my services as a graduate student to a local NGO in Nepal.
You: What’s the Advocacy Project and what do Peace Fellows do?
Me: The Advocacy Project’s mission is to produce social change by helping marginalized communities claim their rights. This is done by partnering with advocates that represent these communities. The Advocacy Project believes strongly that change is best achieved by those who are most directly affected. Peace Fellows are expected to help their hosts (1) to tell their story in a compelling manner, (2) to develop information tools, and (3) to develop campaigns, through fundraising and outreach.
You: Okay… so why are you going to Nepal?
Me: Upon finishing my last exam, I came home, sat down, and asked myself this very question. This led to various other existential questions, which led to a few drinks. Hmm, anyway, let me give you the short answer: the Advocacy Project placed me in Nepal to work with a new partner NGO, called Backwards Education Society (BASE), which does social empowerment work for Tharus and other marginalized people in Western Nepal. I liked the idea so I’m going.
You: What does BASE do?
Me: Excellent question. Let me refer you to the description on their website:
You: Wow, that sounds great… so, what are you, a random outsider grad student, going to do for BASE?
Me: My goal I’m focusing on at this stage is to tell their story and to develop information tools. So what does that mean? I’m going to hang out with the organization for a bit and just learn about what they do. Then we’ll sit down and evaluate how new media can further their empowerment goals. This will likely involve incorporating photo, video, and audio—aimed at domestic and international audiences—through the internet as well as more traditional mediums. One of my goals for this summer was to learn how to use new media to conduct human rights campaigns. With that in mind, I decided to bring a high definition digital video camera to record video—my goal is to collaborate with BASE to create a documentary film, oriented for international distribution for broadcast, film festivals,and education markets. The hope is that this project will enable BASE to draw interest to their work from broader audiences and to generate funding from a more sources. In addition to this larger project, we will create short video profiles and photo profiles and post them on a web site that can be easily updated by BASE staff with future profiles. I also hope to train a staff person there to be the point person for new media so they can maintain these strategies.
You: I don’t think you answered the “outsider” aspect of my question.
Me: You’re very perceptive. I respect that. So I’m an outsider. Yes, and I’ll be a particularly conspicuous outsider. I’ll be a 6’3” East Asian man with a big camera walking around rural Western Nepal with almost no prior knowledge about the place, the people, or the language. So that’s a big issue in my mind. What is the appropriate role of an outsider? How do I be something more than a vacation-do-gooder? These days, I’m having trouble justifying anything without questioning my justifications as rationalizations, but here’s what I’ve got: It’s about the relationships and the storytelling.
The relationship aspect: I approach this summer humbly as a volunteer interested in pursuing justice and alleviating suffering. I am a person just like my hosts. I walk this Earth on the path provided me by circustance and fate. I am here to do no harm but to create joy and harmony wherever I can. I am here to foster relationships by working diligently with those around me using our hands, our minds, and our dedication to our task.
The storytelling aspect: One of my most lasting lessons from my years in theater is the power of story telling. The story we tell becomes our lives and the process of telling it is sacred. I understand I am privileged to be able to witness a story unfold for my hosts and with their permission I hope to help transmit their story, in their words, to the rest of the world. I dedicate my efforts to ensuring that this telling will be transformative in process and in outcome.
You: Ok, wow, more than I wanted to know. So where exactly will you be? Can I contact you?
Me: Uhm, right. Sorry about that. Here’s some more practical details: I’ll be based in Tulsipur.
The very short wikipida article reveals only that there are not many people and that the roads are probably unpaved. I’m excited to be living in a rural area. It will be the longest period I’ve spent living out in the country since I did Shakespeare at Winedale.
I’m told there is dial up internet so I’ll be able to receive and respond to email. I’ll have a phone number eventually if you want to skype me.
You: So when do you leave?
Me: My plane leaves in 13 hours. I need to move all my stuff into storage right now so we can’t talk anymore. Oh, one last thing. I’m leaving so early so I can join up with a Fordham Law School fact-finding mission on landlessness in the region. I’m hoping this will help me better understand the situation and give me some practice with the video equipment. I’ll be hanging out with my former college housemate and HIA fellow, David Mandel-Anthony, who invited me to join their trip.
I’ll update you with more in about a week–hopefully with some vlogs too! There’s a lot more to talk about. My initial research on the Tharu is fascinating. They are actually several groups with their own customs and languages but have adopted a common ethnicity in response to their common experience during modernization.
That’s all for now. Be well. Keep America safe, beautiful, and weird while I’m gone (especially Austin, Texas).
You: I’m on it. Looking forward to hearing from you in about a week.
Posted By Kan Yan
Posted May 6th, 2009