On December 29, 2009 I received this letter . . . They want me to come to Thailand! They want me to come to Thailand! Oh my God! They want me to come to Thailand. I don’t even know exactly where Thailand is. I’ve got to do some reading. Thailand is about the size of France and used to be called Siam (Hey, I saw the King and I). In my quick study of the country, one thing stands out for me—it is the only Southeast Asian state to avoid colonial rule. After the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand endured sixty years of almost permanent military rule before the establishment of a democratic elected system. The years since 1973 have seen a difficult and sometimes bloody transition from military to civilian rule with several reversals along the way--the latest in August 2008 when yet a new government was formed. Even as I get set to embark on this trip, there have been recent protests and demonstrations calling for the resignation of the current Prime Minister. Who knows what I’ll see while I’m there. I remind myself—the way of a street soldier is not easy, but it is best. The more you know, the more you owe. Let’s do this. I’m off on another adventure. To another place I’ve never been. In another part of the world I’ve never been to. The mission is the same though—to help keep young people Alive & Free. So of course I’m going. I’m a Street Soldier and this is what I live for. One thing already makes this trip different from the others. On my previous excursions abroad (Nigeria, South Africa, Canada), I‘d been sponsored by the speakers bureau of the U.S. State Department, usually at the request of somebody in the country I going to visit. This invitation however, came from an agency of the Thai government—the Office of the Ombudsman. Created in 1999 by the country’s constitution, the Ombudsman is charged with “considering and investigating complaints of injustice, illegality or mal- administration, done to the person by civil servant, member or employee of a government body, state agency, state enterprise or local government.” The Office even investigates the politicians. The Ombudsman submits reports, comments and recommendations to the National Assembly; and in the case that the Office feels that a law, regulation or action is in violation of the Constitution, the Ombudsmen can refer the matter to either the Constitutional Court or an Administrative Court for further review. Wow, these are some really important people that asked for me. It’s very humbling—and a little unnerving too. My key contact here is Dr. Pongrapee Buranasompob or Tong as I know him. (No, I cannot pronounce his last name, so I’m glad we agreed on Tong). He is the Secretary to the Ombudsman and I met him when he came to San Francisco to take the Alive & Free Training Institute. He was so impressed that he vowed right then and there to bring me to Thailand and a few years later,…well here I go. By the way, people often ask me how do you get to these places—Nigeria, South Africa, Canada and now Thailand. What’s your strategy, Dr. M? Well, there really isn’t one, at least one that you can put on paper. You see this is the Alive & Free Movement and this is how a Movement works. It takes on a life and motion all its own. I got to Nigeria because the aunt of one of the Omegas I sent to college worked in the Office of Public Affairs in the U.S. Embassy there. I got to South Africa because my National Consortium member in Seattle recommended that a gentleman in Cape Town come to America and take the Training Institute. He then lobbied the Embassy office in South Africa to bring me to his country. I got to Canada because of a referral by the State Department contact in Washington. And now I’m in Thailand because the father of my Consortium member in East Palo Alto told Tong to come to America and take the Training. One thing I do know is that the problems are the same everywhere and that Omega’s Alive & Free Prescription can certainly help. Tong told me it is definitely needed in his country. Violence among the youth there has gotten out of hand. Just a month ago he tells me there was a huge incident between two schools. These schools have had been feuding for a while now, but it really got out of hand recently when there was shoot out at a shopping mall right here in Bangkok. It really shook up the public and is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Drugs are a problem here—ecstasy and meth in particular—and young people are carrying guns. Girls have drama with other girls over boys, and I’m told there is police misconduct toward citizens and prison guard misconduct towards detainees. All of this sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And let’s not even get into the bigger issues like religious strife in the south or child trafficking or alleged human rights violations by the government. Tong has certainly set me up with some important people to begin the conversation. He’s got me over here for a week and he’s got me presenting every day, even doing an Alive & Free Training Institute. Here’s an email I received last November: November 24, 2009 Urgent: Details on the Workshop in Thailand “We have now invited 200 + authorities working in the department of juvenile protection to come. I will send you our proposed program soonest possible. The Ombudsman asked whether it is possible to award the authorities coming to attend the workshop a certificate of attendance. It will be a partnership between the Ombudsman of Thailand and you (or your organization). Please kindly advise. The schedule should look something like this; Day 1 (feb 1) Vision Casting for policy planner, government executives and NGOs working in Thailand on "Violence prevention to help reduce moral deterioration in Thailand". You will be the main speaker with other keynote Thai speakers (experts on the subject who is known for the work in Thailand). There will be an exhibit outside the Ombudsman's hall for PR purposes. Our Ombudsman (she just receive the ‘woman of the year’ award) will provide your welcome remarks. Day 2-3 (Feb 2-3) Violence Prevention Workshop or seminar led by you. We expect 200 + authorities on the field to attend. The General director of the juvenile protection department will join the sessions as well. Details will be given for your approval and adjustments soon. I will ask our academic department to send you a formal letter of invitation so it is more concrete. Thank you for penning the dates down.” Dr. Pongrapee Buranasompob Secretary to Ombudsman of Thailand And another. This one on November 30, 2009 “On Thursday, Dr.Punnarat (Boyd) of Saint John Mary International (you met him with me in SF last time we were there) will gather all international school teachers in his network to come listen to your 1-2 hour talk on "Violence Prevention Program for the Schools". His school hall can accommodate up to 500 people. If you are OK with the idea, and we will take you for a tour of the city (shopping/dining) afterwards.” With Kindest Regards. Tong Dr.Pongrapee Buranasompob Secretary to the Ombudsman of Thailand. Tong says he’s had the entire Training Institute Manual and the power point presentation translated in Thai that we’ll have simultaneous translation when I speak. What more could a brother ask for. And when everything’s said and done, he plans to publish a booklet to help schools better understand the Alive & Free Prescription. He’s also scheduled some press interviews, one an appearance on national television. Wow! This is too much. I’d better get some sleep. He really believes in this and I don’t want to disappoint him. Alive & Free Thailand is about to begin! DAY 1 Everyone is so nice here and so polite—a lot like when I was in Japan, only more so. It’s just so cool. They are always bowing. They put their hands together like in prayer and bend slightly forward. You have to see it, no better yet, experience it to get it. Americans sure aren’t like this—most of them are rude as hell. I’ve even had my first lesson in speaking Thai. Hello is “sawasdee krab,” thank you is “khob khun krab,” and easy easy is “sabai sabai krab.” I should be able to say these. I had dinner in the hotel last night and the food was impeccable. It was actually a buffet, and I ate everything in sight. I love Thai food anyway and this was the real deal. They had way too many dishes to choose from —duck, chicken, pork, seafood—some of them prepared a couple of different ways, and at least eight different deserts. (Boy, Dre would love this place). And this was the hotel food. You know they’ve got some great restaurants in this city. I think my speech went pretty well today. Nice audience—about 200 people. My job was really to convince them to come back for the Training on Wednesday and Thursday. Tong told me later that a lot of them are coming back and bringing their staff too. I met a lot of people—public officials, judges, policy planners, university professors, public school counselors and teachers. I think we’re off to a good start. Later on the staff took me to dinner. We had a great time and they all said they were really looking forward to the next two days and learning more. When I got back to my hotel room, I glanced at the local newspaper. The headline read “Coup Debate Refuses to Die.” The article presented the case for and against the possibility of a government change happening and happening soon. According to the opposition leader, the coup could take place sometime between February 4 and February 14. Oh Lord. I’m scheduled to leave February 5. That’s cutting it just a little too close for me. DAY 2 Today was an amazing day. Just amazing. Unbelievable. It almost overwhelmed me. “I kept thinking, I’m doing an Alive & Free Training Institute in Thailand. In Thailand! In Bangkok! In Asia! This is insane. This is just way too much. I just can’t believe it.” First Africa, now Asia. Man, has Omega come a long way. The room was full of people—even more than the day before. They all came to hear about Alive & Free and The Movement and Street Soldiers and Omega and . . . well . . everything I had to say. It was quite a set up. For one thing, I had a translator. Everything I said was translated into Thai….immediately! Simultaneous translation! The training manual was translated into Thai. “การกากบดแลเพอปองกนและลดปญหาความรนแรงกาวราวในสงคมไทย Ms. Estell’s power point presentation was translated into Thai. Just looking at the power point in a different language was unreal. We used two computers—mine for me with the presentation in English and another for them with the presentation in Thai. I went through the whole first day of the Training—the disease model, the insidiousness of the disease, the Germs, the Commandments of Violence, Risk Factors--everything. They took notes like crazy. We even did a little film study. I showed a clip from the Lion King - translated of course into Thai as they watched-and we analyzed it for Risk Factors and Commandments of Violence. At the end of the day we had a question and answer session and they asked some really good questions. I hope I gave some really good answers. Something is happening here over which I have no control. I even had a question from the audience about it. As they learn this new material - as they learn about the disease and violence and the Alive & Free Prescription - they are immediately applying it to the current political problems in the country. A lot of folks in the audience are social theorists and, well I guess, they started doing what social theorists do. One of the questions I got caught me by surprise. Someone asked, “since unethical behavior and corruption have sometimes been a problem, how would I suggest using the Alive & Free Prescription to build a better government for the country?” Whoa! Someone even hinted that the current opposing political factions be put in the room with me to work out their differences. They were just kidding, weren’t they? All in all it was a great day and they’re coming back for more tomorrow. Tong says things are going well and he’s the one I want to please. I didn’t give the group any homework, but I’ve got some of my own to do. Some of the participants wrote comments and questions for me to take a look at and respond to tomorrow. Wow, is this a question in Thai? I’ve got to get this translated. Serai serai Dr. M. Hey I just read this comment from one of the participants. It was very nice to hear. “Dr. Marshall. The idea of approaching violence as a ‘disease’ is new but it gave a whole new perspective. As a school counselor, I have been wed to dealing issues related to violence in a way where the issue is ‘understood’ and then find some ways to resolve the issue. This approach, the whole process discussed today, is very helpful especially for practitioners (teachers and counselors) who may at some point have felt they are running out of options. Thank you.” Khob khun krab. DAY 3 It’s hot here, probably close to 90 degrees, but it’s not unbearable and I’m indoors most of the time anyway. I haven’t seen another black person since I’ve been here and I don’t think I will. It doesn’t matter one bit though. I think I’ve become an honorable Thai. They keep giving me things and looking out for me and treating me so nice. They won’t even let me carry my own computer bag. They walk with me and guide me everywhere, even when I know how to get there. I already know I’m going to miss these folks. Today’s task was daunting—to fit the last two days of the Training Institute into one. I had to do Anger, Fear and Pain and the Rules for Living in one day. The feedback that I got from yesterday was that despite the language barrier, the training is going well. In fact the real issue isn’t the language per se, it’s some of the colloquialisms—the slang--I sometimes use (homies, down for the set, etc.). I’ve got to watch that as I go forward. Anger, Fear and Pain was the hit of the Training. Every person’s got it. Every culture has it. When I blewup that balloon as the illustration of the unresolved emotional residue that people carry inside themselves, they all nodded their heads. They watched intently as I showed scenes from Boyz in the Hood (an American film) and Totsi (a South African film). “Hurting people, hurt people,” I explained. “A key part of the treatment process is to deal with our own anger, our own pain so that we do not hurt others.” They nodded in agreement. I closed the session with a film closer to home. Out of the Poison Tree is a film about the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and the struggle of the people there to heal and move forward. (Cambodia borders Thailand on the east). “Sometimes even whole nations must heal,” I said. Man I’m telling you—that session really had an impact. But there was more. Entitled “Thailand Showcases,” the next session was led by Dr. Boyd and Pastor Chow--two men I had met previously. Dr. Boyd is the principal of a school here (I’m speaking there tomorrow) and is using the Alive & Free Prescription in his school. Pastor Chow works with youth who are in jail and uses Alive & Free in his rehabilitation work. They were the proof I needed that what I was teaching does indeed work right here. We were building to a crescendo and the Rules for Living wrapped it up. “A Friend will never lead you to danger,” I bellowed. “Family will never lead you to danger. Love will never lead you to danger. There is nothing more valuable than an individual’s life. You can never kill an enemy. Respect comes from within. No one can disrespect you if you respect yourself. Change begins with you. A healthy person stands alone.” Each concept I taught carefully. And then we were done. It was now time for pomp and circumstance. Tong had printed up certificates of attendance for everybody— over 200 of them—with everyone’s name on them. All the people lined up and came to the front as their names were called. It was very ceremonial. Pictures, handshakes, bows, hugs. We had everything but the music. I took so many pictures—I just hope I kept my smile in place for all of them. It was really something. It was really, really something. Man, that was some Training Institute. DAY 4 Some thoughts and observations: • I haven’t seen an overweight Thai yet—young or old. Tong tells me they are definitely some here, but I haven’t seen any. Everyone looks slim and compact; even the bigger ones are compact. Tong is as tall as me, and he’s trim. He says he thinks it’s the food and the body type. Hey, in America every other person I see is overweight. They’d better watch it though. I’ve seen McDonalds and KFC here. • Thai people wear their age well. Even the older ones are young looking. I know one thing—I’d lose money trying to guess their ages. The only other folks I’ve seen like that are well…black people. • I haven’t watched much TV since I’ve been here—most of the channels are in Thai—but I don’t watch much television anyway. The one thing that’s always striking when I do watch TV abroad is that the US is viewed as just another country in the world, not the country in the world. 99% of American television is about the US, maybe 1% about the rest of the world, unless there’s some headline breaking story—e.g., the catastrophe in Haiti. You begin to think there really aren’t other places, other people that matter. I’ll say this—watching the BBC news is a whole lot different than watching warmed over repeat versions of ESPN. • The Thai women are as cute as hell and they all dress nicely—at least a lot of the ones I saw. I kept thinking where do they get these clothes, until it finally dawned on me. Everything we buy over here is made in Thailand. Got it, Dr. M? • And lastly, I know I shouldn’t be surprised at this anymore, but everybody’s got a computer and everybody—young and old—has a cell phone. Today I spoke at Dr. Boyd’s school—St. John Mary International. It is a beautiful facility, grades 8-12, of about 800 students just outside of Bangkok. The students are mostly Thai, but many are not. I met a young man from the United States and one from South Korea. They gave me a two hour block of time, so after some opening remarks about how I started the Boys Club and the Movement to keep young people Alive & Free, I decided to show Donald Gregory’s story from the Street Soldiers documentary. I focused on the issues that Donald was dealing with—his Anger, Fear and Pain, his full balloon (yes I blew the balloon up just like I always do) and then asked them to tell me the issues and problems that young people in Thailand face. Violence, one said. Drugs, said another. Peer pressure, relationship problems, young people unable to control their anger, gangs and fights at the school. One young man talked about the pressure he felt to succeed academically and get into college. These young people actually talked more in thirty minutes than the adults had in three days of training. I’ve said it before—young people are the same everywhere. I taught the Rule for Friendship—“A Friend (Family, Loved One) will never lead you to danger”—and I let them go. When the talk was over, the young man from South Korea asked to speak with me privately. He told me that he was very violent but didn’t want to be. He said he was getting better, but was worried that he wouldn’t be able to completely stop. When I asked him how he got that way, he said he used to get picked on when he was younger and now he was doing that to other kids. He was now the bully. So I talked about Andre Aikins and his similar story and how Dre had changed. He had to leave and so did I, but he said he’d email me. I’m going to put him in touch with Dre. I thanked him for having the courage to open up to me. Then I was off to do an interview on Thai Public Television. The subject—Hip hop and Violence and the effect of music on youth. We explored the subject from all angles and I told them about Byron Hurt’s film Hip Hop-Beyond Beats and Rhymes. It was a good discussion and will be seen on national television here. I hadn’t seen any of the city since I’ve been here or had a chance to do any shopping, so last night Tong took on me a quick sightseeing tour. We ended up at the Bangkok Night Bazaar and I picked up some things, one last dinner and back to the hotel. The end of another long day. LAST DAY I leave today at 5:30pm, so it’s check out day at the hotel. Tong picked me up for one last meeting and it’s an important one. It’s with the Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy. This was something I scheduled before I left the U.S. I wanted to let them know about the work I’m doing here. I also wanted them to meet Tong in the hope that a partnership could develop so the work could continue. The three of us talked for about an hour and kicked around a lot of ideas. We all hit it off and an agreement was made. The Ombudsman and the Embassy are going to work together to keep things going. They are going to plan some future events. Alive & Free Thailand is underway for real. Time to catch that plane home. EPILOLGUE On the way home I kept thinking, “Man this is the best thing you’ve ever done.” It certainly had been remarkable. It was like an adventure--Faraway place, language translation, agency of another government, United States Embassy. With all that happened, I know the best part of the trip. It was that South Korean boy at the school who asked for my help. I sure hope he emails me. Time to put on the head phones, turn on the music and read my biography on Thelonius Monk. It’s about 500 pages, but then it’s a long flight. Let see here, it says that Monk was born on……………. BACK HOME Just got this from Thailand: Greetings from Bangkok, Thailand Dear all, The seminar on Violence Reduction hosted by Dr. Joseph E. Marshall was successfully finished. A lot of positive feedback and requests were sent to us to organize the seminar again in the future. We are much honored to have Dr.Marshall with us during this important move towards the peaceful and productive initiative. Attached please find photos taken during the first day of the seminar. Once again please accept our high appreciation to Dr.Marshall’s contributions. We look forward to our future cooperation. With best wishes, Roypim Oh and I got one more thing—an email from the South Korean student I met there. Like I said Alive & Free Thailand is underway.
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