HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Light for Eyes, Light for Life

Seub Chadha or Life Prolonging Ceremony

Women overcoming barriers to make a difference

“Women and Spirituality” at Payap University, produced fiery issues

Will there be local flooding?

Baby elephant Plai Boonrod improving

New animals welcomed at Chiang Mai Zoo

Forest management in Nan subject of overseas research

Tolerance for all cultures

Light for Eyes, Light for Life

Nantanee Jedsadachaiyut

The Wan Kaew Project was established to assist underprivileged people with eyesight disorders, and was created in commemoration of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on her 4th cycle anniversary.

Wattana Thongsiri, director of Bhumibol Hydro Plant, Bhumibol Dam of EGAT, hosted this trip.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) in cooperation with UBC Group, Major Cineplex Group Co., Ltd., and Metta Pracharak Hospital (Wat Raiking) on July 26 organized a project named “Wan Kaew”, an optical glasses project coordinated to take to Doi Tao Wittaya School in Chiang Mai.

Wattana Thongsiri, director of Bhumibol Hydro Plant, Bhumibol Dam of EGAT, hosted the trip, noting that the trip was one which EGAT and some private sectors arranged in response to the royal initiative of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

After having their eyes checked, people received help from the staff in finding proper glasses.

“We intend to provide these kinds of trips to 48 different areas around the country to celebrate the 48th birthday anniversary of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. We expect that more than 30,000 people from all ages and backgrounds will participate. At Doi Tao, which was the 22nd trip, we assisted more than 600 people,” said Wattana. From the beginning of the project until now, over 13,000 people have had their eyes checked and received their own glasses.

An elderly gentleman takes the first step in getting his eyes checked.

Songsit Wongmekphithak, an 11-year-old boy, told Chiangmai Mail that he suffered from being near-sighted for years. He claimed to be unable to read the blackboard, so when studying in the classroom he had to sit very close to the blackboard. However, he always is the last person to finish an assignment because he spends more time copying academic questions. But after getting his eyes checked, his life became much easier and happier because he received “new eyes”, a pair of glasses.

A little girl is being administered an eye test.

“I could never before see anything as clearly as now, but from this moment on, I can do anything by myself, especially sewing, which is my job,” said an 80 year-old woman, Mee Thagot.

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s royally initiated project is done, in part, under the realization that uneducated people are an important obstacle to national development. Besides the problems of poverty and lack of educational opportunities, optical disablement, which happens to people in all ages and classes, is also factor, but poor people suffering from the problem have less chance to overcome it.

Many people from many villages around Doi Tao District participated in the “Wan Kaew” project.

Many poor children have to quit school, many adults cannot work effectively, including the elderly, and they live unsafe and uncomfortable lives. All these things affect the standard of living of people in Thai society.

To solve this problem, Metta Pracharak Hospital (Wat Raiking) established the Bank for Glasses in 1994, thereby setting up a campaign for the general public and medical groups to donate glasses to disabled people throughout the countryside.

Cute young children pose with the new glasses they received from “Wan Kaew.”

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has set up a fund to support the Bank for Glasses. But because of the economic crisis, the Bank for Glasses faces a monetary problem, and sadly cannot proceed with these important trips to rural areas to check villagers’ eyesight.

Therefore, in order to respond to the Princess’s royal initiative, EGAT, UBC Group, and Major Cineplex Co., Ltd. have joined hands to donate and operate the “Wan Kaew” project, and thus encourage more government and private sectors, including the general public, to participate in this effective and loving project.

The budget for each trip, which is about 100,000 baht, was donated by both government and private sectors. At the moment, there are 39 sponsors supporting the project, while only 9 units remain.

In addition, people who want to support the “Wan Kaew” project can donate glasses, lenses, and money to Bank of Glasses. Every baht directly helps disabled eyes around the country.

For more information and/or to make a donation, contact 02 436-0000 ext. 6, 02 615-9559, or 02 260-0820 ext. 3166, 3186.

Seub Chadha or Life Prolonging Ceremony

Invocation to the spirits of nature

Marion Vogt

Payap University’s major rebuilding of the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture is almost 100% complete and there could not have been a better time to hold the first “life prolonging ceremony” at the Crystal Spring Campus, as the international religious conference was being held there concurrently.

The sacred string wound its way through the audience, uniting people from all religions.

John Butt, the director of the Institute, invited the participants to take part in this typical northern Thai ceremony, and people from all religions, all countries and all ages came to honor this special occasion. For many of the foreigners this was a ‘first time experience’, so John Butt gave a very detailed background on the ‘Seub Chadha Ceremony’ beforehand.

Volunteers sit inside a tripod of branches.

Before Buddhism, there existed a broad-based belief in the spirits of nature and it is these beliefs that give Thai Buddhism many of its characteristic rituals. Here in the north it is believed that the life of each person is guided by a destiny created from former lives. This destiny is also affected by actions in the current life. It is normal for Thais to make donations to their temple, because this good deed will have a beneficial effect on their destiny.

In addition, it is believed that each person passes through life crises which can cause a premature end if they are not handled properly. For this reason people will perform a ‘seub chadha’ or’ life prolonging’ ceremony to ensure safe passage through a spiritual or physical crisis.

The first part of the ceremony is to ask the spirits of the 4 elements of nature for support, which takes place outside.

Although monks are often invited to participate in the ceremony, it is also performed outside of the Buddhist context on birthdays, to mark promotions in status, the completion of a new home or during or after a serious illness or accident. The ceremony calls up the spirits of nature to purify and protect the participants, allowing them to prolong their predestined existence in this life.

This ceremony has as its focus, the tree as a symbol of life. The participant is seated inside a tripod of branches. A sacred thread is passed through the branches and wrapped around the head. This string is usually attached to a Buddha image and sometimes to witnesses. Along the tripod small flags and offerings are attached up to the apex. At the feet of the tripod are young banana plants, green coconuts, water, sand and many other symbols of life as offerings to the spirit world. In addition, a bundle of small branches along with the tripod are taken to a temple and placed at the foot of the sacred Bodhi tree and allowed to sprout, which symbolizes the renewed life imparted by the ceremony.

Sacred thread was wrapped around the heads of 4 volunteers from different continents, religions and backgrounds.

The people of so many religions were seen sitting together, accepting, tolerating and taking part in this ceremony which hopefully will work as the invocation to the spirits of nature to guard and protect all the participants to ensure a long and prosperous life. That is, after all, the northern belief.

Women overcoming barriers to make a difference

An opportunity missed

Marion Vogt

“Women overcoming barriers to make a difference” was the theme of a workshop at the 8th Women Leaders Network Meeting at the Chiang Mai Plaza Hotel, with Dr. Orapin Sopchokchai acting as chairwoman.

Dr. Orapin, a very elegant and distinguished lady herself, introduced the panelists telling the audience that each was already a role model for others. “They have achieved things others are still dreaming of, just by believing in themselves.”

The message was that behind every successful man is a woman and behind every successful woman is a story!

The first speaker was Judith Van Unen, Business and Professional Women of Australia president, whose concept was based on “Life is very short, we are dead a much longer time, so I have to take risks, overcome fears, grab life with a passion, believe in myself and overcome the guilt which is taught for generations. The guilt women suffer from is because as a working woman it is thought they neglect their children or if by staying home and telling their children to follow their dreams, it will backfire one day with a question like, ‘Mama, why did you never follow your own dream?’”

Let us all be change makers.

Ms Judith was certainly a role model having overcome cancer twice, raised 3 children and being a successful career woman but she said she always believed in herself, she always kept her humor and she never was afraid of failure because successful people have to take risks. Men and women have to be like an arrow. Men are the arrowheads, women are the flights, but an arrow needs both to reach the target - so we have to combine strengths and refuse to see men as a competition but as people who can help us to achieve our goals.

Spontaneous applause for Judith (left) when she named the King of Thailand as her male role model, because of his qualities, abilities and strength, a man who has acted as a ‘controlled risk taker’ and only wants the best for his country. A man who listens with his ears, not only his head, and speaks from his heart.

The second speaker was Mme. Chen Ying, chairwoman, board of directors of Anhui Huayuan Development Co. Ltd., People’s Republic of China. Mme Chen, a very severe and tough lady, a former army officer, began by saying, “I am as good as any man and I am the leader of many enterprises with factories in Canada, China and in Thailand, and I believe women have to overcome barriers to realize their dreams and stop struggling with themselves. Women have potential but sometimes just lack the education, especially when they live in remote areas. The past focused on disadvantaged women; the present is helping women to become leaders.” Nobody in the audience doubted that Mme. Chen was as strong as any men when she served in the army.

However, the third speaker, Ms. Evelyn Chan, ASEAN Sub-Regional coordinator for Business and Professional Women International and president of Business and Professional Women Singapore gave the audience knowledge that successful women can be human and humorous and they need every little bit of this when they plan to break into a man’s world as she did.

Evelyn works in the construction business, a job which was until today predominantly a man’s world. She said the only way to succeed was for her to earn the respect of men, to behave like a man, and that is exactly how she entered this domain. She gave up her dresses, changed to overalls and steel helmets, accompanied her male colleagues to drinking sessions, joined in their meals but never forgot that she had to be twice as good as them to survive.

Her role model was a man but also her mother in law who wanted her to take a broom and sweep the house rather than getting a career of her own. Evelyn admitted that she also was very lucky to have an understanding partner who was never too tired to communicate and who lent his shoulder when it was ‘one of those days’. It was easy to believe Evelyn when she said, “I believe in women, their natural instincts, their passion, their interpersonal skills, and their sensitivity for body language and since most successful women have at least 2 roles to balance (family and job) they are able to overcome the lack of physical strength.”

Dr. Joanna Lei, chairperson, Hope Agent Development Association and executive director, board of directors Eastern Broadcasting Company, from Taipei looked very fragile in her white costume but she had a message for her audience. “I produced CDs, if you want to buy them, leave your address and I’ll send them to you.” In case you missed it, she repeated it at least 3 times throughout her 12 minutes! Dr. Joanna said that only 15% of the top management positions in Taipei are occupied by women and it is still harder to access bank credit for women, than it is for men. She called upon all women to be change makers to help others to get to the top and to try to take political leadership, and not to forget to buy her CDs.

The workshop was a collection of easy listening stories, very positive, good questions from the audience afterwards, but regretfully no answers to them. Women from 21 countries were present, but which organizations can be contacted to overcome the barriers women are facing were not given. The workshop had the wrong target group. This audience consisted of mostly high powered businesswoman. No normal ‘just a housewife’ group was there and the expectations were not reached and achieved. It preached to the converted, which does not achieve the aims of the promoting groups.

“Women and Spirituality” at Payap University, produced fiery issues

Gender issues overbalance spirituality

Metinee Chaikuna

The topic of “Women and Spirituality” produced much intense debate between the female and male participants. It was a part of the International Conference on Religion and Globalization which was held July 27-August 2.

The speakers at the panel discussion included Roshan Dhunjibhoy, the chair of the panel from the Heinrich Boell Foundation of Thailand; Mary John Mananzan from St. Scholastica’s College, Philippines; Oyporn from Thailand; Madhu Khanna from Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, India; and Najma Sadeque, Shirkat Gah Women’s Collective, Pakistan.

While the main issue was supposed to be about women and their spirituality, most of the speakers spoke on women’s power in their country. The Thai speaker said that globalization made people forget their roots. However, Buddhism taught her to know that a person’s roots were important to one’s life. She also suggested that people should go back to their roots and they would find their own spirits. She asserted people have the power to control everything, and every culture supports power be given to men. However, she said that women could manage to get power in their own way.

Madhu from India also talked about globalization in the religious world, giving examples from the Hindu world. She also said that in globalization, people do think that men are superior to women.

Mary John Mananzan talked about the resistance of women in the Philippines who resisted a dam construction, of which the fighting became a legend.

Oyporn added that in Thailand, it was found out that when protestors gathered only women could organize the group to rally peacefully. She also talked about the political problems and criminal problems which occurred to women in Asia. She claimed that in the police stations in Thailand women were raped and police would ignore domestic brutality.

The conclusion by the chair was that women would be able to work very well if men would cooperate.

Reactions from the floor brought some males in the audience to respond, some opining that the speakers did not reflect spirituality; they just told of their experiences which reflect women’s bitterness. These opinions drew further acrimony from the women present, and the results of a conference on Women and Spirituality would appear that most women saw spirituality and ‘gender power’ as the same entity, a conclusion that was probably unfortunate, as was the situation where the interpreters could not continue through “technical problems” thus stifling debate.

In conclusion, the chair suggested that men and women should cooperate with each other to develop the world. One would hope, peacefully!

Will there be local flooding?

You can now look it up on the web

Marion Vogt

Thada Sukhapunnaphan, director of the Hydrology and Water Management Center for the upper northern region is making public a hydrological water measure which he initiated. He took the opportunity as guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Chiang Mai West to inform the members about the new project.

Thada Sukhapunnaphan, director of the Hydrology and Water Management Center for the upper northern region, spoke to the Rotary Club of Chiang Mai West about flooding around the Ping River.

He said that an early warning system regarding floods, particularly during the rainy season, could not only save lives but considerable damage can be avoided. Generally, floods of the Ping River occur during the months August to October, and the main factors are the invading tropical storms and the low pressure trough that lies across the northern part of Thailand. This causes floods in some lower areas and people living along the riverbanks should be vigilant and follow information on the weather forecasts and river situation, always preparing themselves for evacuation if needed.

Watch Out! Flood warnings for Chiang Mai.

On his newly installed website, you can check if rain is coming, how much rain is expected and if there will be flooding. A daily update is guaranteed for all Northern provinces, including Prae. The website features maps, pressure and wind measurements as well as a 6 hour advance warning system before flooding is expected. The website address is: http://welcome.to/hydro-1.

Baby elephant Plai Boonrod improving

Electro-acupuncture seems to be helping

Nuttanee Thaveephol

Plai Boonrod, the baby elephant that fell in a deep pit on May 9 this year and injured its spine, appears to be getting better with Chinese acupuncture treatments.

Plai Boonrod plays with its keeper while receiving hydrotherapy.

Vet. Sitthidej Mahasawangkul, from the Thai Elephant Conservation Center said that after Plai Boonrod’s X-rays, which showed no broken bones, the baby elephant’s back legs and tail were still paralyzed, but the Elephant Conservation Center has cooperated with the veterinarians from Chiang Mai University to try Chinese acupuncture.

The veterinarian team treats the baby elephant.

The electric current stimulation is carried out for 15 minutes each time, 8 times a day. “After acupuncture, Plai Boonrod’s back legs begin to contract and try to bear its weight whilst it can move its tail. This tells us that Plai Boonrod’s symptoms are becoming less,” said Vet. Sitthidej.

However, the treatment does not finish there, as massage and herbal compresses and other physical therapies still have to be performed together with the Chinese acupuncture.

New animals welcomed at Chiang Mai Zoo

Need to refresh the gene pool

Nantanee Jedsadachaiyut

Chiang Mai Zoo received 14 animals from Dusit Zoo as part of the Wildlife Conservation and Breeding Expansion Project. The new zoo members have been on display to the general public since July 30.

Thanong Natheepitak, the director of Chiang Mai Zoo said that the zoology organization had to improve the genetic make-up of the wildlife to increase the numbers of both Thai and foreign animals in the zoo.

The animals transported from Dusit Zoo to Chiang Mai included four barking deer, a tapir, a male tiger, four squirrel monkeys, a Cassowary bird and three Ria birds.

Thanong is hopeful of further imports to beef up the local zoo contingent.

Forest management in Nan subject of overseas research

Danish PhD thesis on our forests

Metinee Chaikuna

Nan Province in the northern Thailand has been chosen by Sacha Zurcher, from Roskild University, Denmark, as the subject for her Ph.D. studies. In the course of that study, she has been here three times, with the first trip in 2001, when she came with the SLUSE (Sustainable Land Use and Natural Resource Management project) Joint Field Course as one of 2 teachers from Denmark to take care of 20 Danish students and 30 Thai students.

Sacha came back to Nan again last year to do her individual research to complete her Ph.D. She said that she chose this province because she is doing research on forest management around the watershed of Nan River.

This year, her third time, she continued her research. She chose 4 villages in different districts to study the community forest of each village and how each of them managed the nearby forest. The villages were the Kiumuang village in Santisuk district, Huai Labaoya village, in Muang district, Parai village in Pua district, and Namliang village in Tung Chang district. These are also in the conservation zone according to the Royal Forestry Department classification.

She found that each village has their own way to manage the forest. Kiu Muang village uses their religion to protect the forest by having a tree ordination ceremony. The forest has not been destroyed since the ceremony was undertaken.

Phrakru Pitak, the abbot of Aranyawat Temple who carried out this ceremony disclosed that several years ago, the forest near Kiu Muang village had been destroyed by logging concessions. Because villagers had faith in Buddhism and pay respect to the monk he thought that if monks made the ordination for the trees, the forest might be protected by the villagers’ hearts. They do not need laws to protect the forest. Nowadays Kiu Muang has become a model village that can restore and manage their own forest.

La Baoya is a Yao hilltribe village. In the past, they lived by slash and burn cultivation methods. The forest had been destroyed for a long time. The former village headman, Wanchai Saejao then declared the forest close to their village to be reserved forest and community forest. He told the researcher that the idea of setting up community forests was from the training course from the Ministry of Interior, which every village headman needs to take. In 2000, he arranged a meeting with villagers and asked them to make a boundary for the protected area. Then he and his assistants led villagers to make firebreaks around the protected area.

Parai Village is located near Phuka National Park. The villagers are Lua people who plant rice for household consumption and cultivate lychee orchards. Because the village is very near to the National Park they have a limited area to use for agriculture. However, Lua people have their own tradition to protect forest areas. Parai people protect the forest behind their village as a burial site, called “Funeral Forest”. Nobody can take anything from this forest for it is a sacred place of their ancestors’ spirits. They also protect the area around the head watershed so that they can have water. This forest is called “Head Water Forest”.

The fourth village is near the Thai-Laos border. In the village, there are three tribes; Hoh, Kamu, and Thai that live together peacefully. Sacha said that she liked the atmosphere of this village most because the village showed the integration of diversity. The village is clean and well organized.

They also have forest nearby their house to use and manage. People are very friendly, and were proud to present their own forest. All of the inhabitants of the village preserved their forest, and were proud of their accomplishments. In the 500 rai area community forest; nobody is allowed to hunt or cut down large trees for construction.

The research in Nan took 4 months between March and July this year and Sacha is hopeful of finishing her Ph.D. thesis shortly. She plans to return next year, having found Nan Province of such interest and she hopes that her research will be of value to the local people in the future.

Tolerance for all cultures

Sermon from Dharma Master Hsin Tao

Marion Vogt

Did you ever meet a person and just by looking in their eyes knew they must be at ease with themselves? Dharma Master Hsin Tao, who came from Taiwan to be a part of the international conference on religion and globalization at Payap University, is one of those people. Dharma Master Hsin Tao seems like a man who did not lose himself in meditation, but a man who received his strength and the charisma from it. He believes in the world, the people, and the power of tolerance and nonviolence.

Dharma Master Hsin Tao believes in globalization but suggests that religious leaders have to help politicians balance their way of thinking.

His plenary address on the 2nd day of the conference was a ‘sold out’ affair and he was even more at ease with himself on stage, talking to the hundreds in the audience listening to him. He is a well known, very broad minded person, who has gained the support of senior religious leaders of many faiths, including a certificate of benediction from His Holiness Pope John Paul II.

Dharma Master Hsin Tao was born in Burma in 1948 to Chinese parents from the bordering Yunnan Province of China. At the tender age of four he lost all contact with his family because of the outbreak of war. At the age of nine he had a vision of Lohan (Buddhist saints) and realized that he would become a monk. When he was 15, he heard for the first time from the Goddess of Mercy and he resolved to devote his life to the teaching of Buddhism. He formally entered monastic life in Taiwan at the age of 25.

Dharma Master Hsin Tao (3rd from left) leaving the auditorium with his supporters who came from New York (far left) as well as from Taiwan (2nd from left).

In the years that followed, Dharma Master Hsin Tao initially lived the life of an ascetic Buddhist monk. However, in 1994 he established the World Religious Museum in Taiwan. Through it, he hopes to present the spirit of universal love and religious wisdom, as well as the significant artifacts from all faiths. It is dedicated to exploring the diversity of the world’s great religious traditions and their interconnections.

Dharma Master Hsin Tao (far right) talking with Buddhist monks, explaining the importance of religious dialogue.

He also founded the non-profit organization Global Family for Love and Peace (GFLP) in accordance with the philosophy of respect for all faiths, tolerance for all cultures and love for all life. GFLP is devoted to build a harmonious world through promoting spiritual education and bringing together prominent citizens from religious, political, business and academic backgrounds to organize and direct activities for young people in the field of social services and projects for peace. GFLP was proud to sponsor the Buddhist and Muslim Dialogue Conference on Global Ethics and Good Governance held in France in May this year for UNESCO.

He has also published more than 30 books in Chinese, with some translated into English and German.

His plenary address was as humble as the man himself, but everybody in the auditorium could feel the personality and the faith behind his words. He believes in dialogues as an effective way to resolve conflicts and misunderstanding. The East and the West need a dialogue that takes into account differences in culture and religion. This dialogue is also needed between wealthy, industrialized nations and those considered poor and undeveloped. However, the nature of dialogue is unlike that of negotiation. Negotiation includes give and take, gain and loss. A dialogue does not necessarily possess these qualities. The nature of dialogue is to listen, to understand and to respect. As long as this is achieved, opposition will be reduced, which will not on its own solve the globalization process but the dialogue can prevent conflicts, help everyone resolve their differences and look for common goals, and through this, create a win-win situation.

The feeling from the audience there that day was that if Dharma Master Hsin Tao could reach the world leaders with his wisdom and beliefs, the world could be free of war and terror.