In 2004, the conflict in the Deep South of Thailand re-escalated after successive governments had attempted to terminate it with strict law-and-order policies. Since then, nearly 6,000 people have been killed and more than 10,000 injured. The conflict’s origins, most researchers agree, are deeply rooted in the history of the region. The conflict between the Thai state and the local Malay-Muslim population can best be described as an ethnopolitical conflict concerning the political legitimacy of the state. At the same time, the unrest has developed a complex dynamic of its own, including a significant element of violence not politically motivated.
Relationships and trust among the groups populating the region (Malay-Muslims, Thai-Buddhists and Thai-Chinese) have suffered due to the violence and the wide-spread fear on all sides of being targeted next. In this climate of fear, a group of predominantly young individuals came together to establish a new organisation themed “Knowledge is Power”. Their background is diverse: human rights activists, lawyers, members of civil society and advocacy groups, journalists, women’s NGOs, health and trauma-healing professionals and religious and local leaders. Their “People’s College” was meant to help create a safe public space to explore avenues for conflict transformation and peacebuilding. Soon, they attracted an impressive group of young people eager to make use of the new political space in the region for learning and discussing ways forward.
The starting point of this collaboration with the Berghof Foundation was to develop a curriculum for the first training course of the People’s College. We also wanted to organise its implementation in a way that would encourage the formation of a lasting activist networks. Participants came together from approximately 30 organisations. The curriculum elaborated eight basic modules ranging from the development of the system of nation states, international politics and the political system of Thailand to the specific history of the region, conflict and peace studies, social movements, non-violence and religion.
Apart from the capacity-building element, the project also includes elements of creating spaces for public debate of conflict transformation, e.g. in the form of foras and discussion circles. The project is very much influenced by the ideas of adult evening classes (the “Volkshochschule”) and the workers’ education movement in Europe and North America: knowledge and skills are key factors for effective social and political change.
Aims & Outcomes
The project’s overall aim is to enhance the knowledge and understanding of the people in the Deep South of Thailand with respect to the current political changes in the country and region. We believe this will enable them to take a more active role in the current peace process. For this purpose, we collaborated closely with the People´s College team as well as with various resource persons from Thailand and the region to put together a first curriculum. This curriculum was implemented using a very interactive teaching and learning method, with the aim of testing the curriculum itself and ensuring its relevance for the ongoing political challenges on the ground. In the end, this approach also contributed to the creation of a more permanent faculty.
The project primarily addresses multipliers working in non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations and women’s initiatives, or as religious leaders, civil servants and community leaders. The groups and individual participants were interviewed to explore their interests and motivation in detail, in order to develop criteria for their selection for the first course, which turned out to be very popular. In the future, we would like to expand this group and encourage some of the initial participants to establish their own continuative education programmes.