Clambering into a long boat on the banks of the river Pai,
I am anticipating what we will find in the Kayan Village on the other side.
The team from the Cross-Cultural Co-Creation Association
is taking an initial trip to visit
Huay Pu Keng village, near Mae Hong Son in Northern Thailand.
The beautiful river is flowing, the hills and jungle are dense around us, and
the villagers are awaiting our arrival.
The villagers are in fact Burmese refugees who fled the persecution of minority groups in Burma. Instead of living in refugee camps, as many people do, the Thai government decided to create several tourism villages, to make money from the unusual 'long necks' of the refugee women. Many families are here, unable to leave as they are still refugees, making a small living from tourism.
Inform yourself about the complex situation in Huay Pu Keng: please explore this website.
Cara, the mastermind behind Ways Of Change, was instrumental in connecting us with Huay Pu keng, as she has worked with the village for the last 6 years. She witnessed the disconnected dynamics of the tourism here, but believed that the villagers themselves should feel comfortable to come and ask for her help before she herself can suggest any changes. She was thrilled when the village chief finally asked her for help to improve the tourism, as for the changes to work, all parties must be on board 100%. Cara loves the phrase 'mutual empowerment'!
Above everything else, I am a manifester!
I believe that when you ask for something in your highest good, then it will come to you.
If you recognise your desire as it comes to you, welcome it with open arms,
then you will reap the benefits.
So one day whilst living my days in Chiang Mai I put the intention out
to go and sit in my favourite cafe,
(The Tea Tree on Moonmuang Soi 6), and there I would meet someone who would put an opportunity in my path.
And that is exactly what happened.
A wonderful lady called Hester sat near me,
and the conversation we began struck a cord in my heart.
Hester told me about an intriguing new project that is at the beginning stages in Pai, a town about 3 hours drive away from Chiang Mai. The Cross-Cultural Co-Creation Association was masterminded by Christina Jordan, an incredibly inspiring lady, and its mission is ''to host cross-cultural co-creative experiences for changemakers, conscious tourists and the communities they visit, designed to nurture new levels of human alignment around the world."
When I met Hester she didn't put it quite as succinctly as that, but the idea of it thrilled me. At the time I was looking for work in social development, but my background is in tourism, and I have an enthusiasm for anthropology. Here is a project, landed on my lap, that spans all three of my interests and has the potential for literally anything to happen!
I quickly signed up to be part of the team. The project is at its beginning stages, so this is the time for thinking, talking and listening. Dialogues have begun that connect current team members, Pai-based entrepreneurs and indigenous communities in the area. The idea is to open communication between these groups in order to work together co-creatively to achieve a common vision.
A retreat will be created in Pai for changemakers and conscious tourists from around the world to nurture their bodies, minds and souls. This nurturing will come in the form of cross-cultural conversations, events and activities, including visits to local indigenous communities (to inspire change in outdated tourism narratives) and yoga retreats (so our visitors return home relaxed and rejuvenated). The aim is to plant seeds in the minds of these forward-thinking people to take back to their home countries and create a global dialogue. An online platform will help connect these people and keep the conversations flowing.
Indigenous 'hill-tribe' villages will be part of an interconnected network of communities, showing each one that they are not isolated from the outside world. Each village will decide its own involvement in the project. Some are already highly established in the tourism industry, but would like to improve on tourist interactions. They currently feel like 'human zoos' and other than quick chats, photo-taking and buying their products, there is nothing for the tourist to get involved in. A mutually dis-empowering state of affairs. By allowing tourists to truly experience the villagers way of life, the similarities between the them can be embraced. Everyone involved can be empowered with a sense of voice and their own value in the world.