A first glimpse of the Right Livelihood Summer School in Bangkok

A first glimpse of CURLS

I open the windows to let in some fresh air and get hit by a wall. I immediately decide to shut the windows again. Air conditioning? Really? I turn it on and it´s a relief. I still need to adjust to the completely new climate, everything smells different, looks different and is organized in a different way. Speaking of differences, since today I also know that in Thailand you should avoid pinpointing or stepping with your foot at or on something, as the foot is regarded something unclean and dirty (in fact my feet were quite dirty..). So when I wanted to show another participant something on a poster that was lying on the floor and I used my foot to point towards the issue, I raised some indignant looks. First cultural brick dropped.


Since Friday a group of young adults is gathering at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. They are all participants of the Chulalongkorn Right Livelihood Summer School (CURLS), a joint event of the Right Livelihood Colleges (RLC), the Chulalongkorn University, the Wellbeing Studies Programme and several other organisations which is taking place in and around Bangkok for the next two weeks. The aim of the summer school is to get familiar with the concepts of Right Livelihood, Participatory Action Research and link this to current urban and rural food challenges. The participants´ backgrounds and interests are diverse and range from work with single women in India to Ecotourism in Vietnam to environmental education with Buddhist values in Thailand. We have representatives from the Royal University of Bhutan and PhD students from the States. I am representing the Youth Future Project, the youth association of the RLAF and I will mainly be responsible for feeding this blog.

After a rather official first day with introductory key note speeches, we got into a familiar working atmosphere today. The main focus was on introducing the concept of participatory action research and to listen to some greetings from Right Livelihood Award Laureates. With interactive and creative methods the participants were then asked to first get to know each other and then present their own field of study/ work and their visionary initiative for right livelihood action that will set the base line for the next days. At the end of this summer school we will come back to these initiatives and ideas and see how we can turn them into action. The first attempt of visionary work lay an inspiring and hopefully fruitful foundation for the participants of the summer school.

During the next week we will try and make as many voices from the Summer School get heard as possible. Through interviews or articles by participants we hope to let everyone become a part of this amazing process full of inspiration and hope, participation and action, reflection and solution seeking.


A question on impact and travelling across the globe

It is the first time I travel outside of Europe, the first time I set foot on another continent. So far I have been active on a rather local or at least national or European level, where travelling by plane wasn´t necessary. When I received the invitation for the Summer School, one of the first questions that came to my mind was the question on how I could justify such a long and climate damaging flight to attend such a meeting and I still haven´t solved the question.

It feels ambivalent that there is a group of young changemakers already active in their home countries, conscious about the environment, aware of climate change and its consequences, who nevertheless easily put up with something like flying to attend a two week long gathering in Bangkok. If an event is happening in South Asia, do we need participants from Europe to attend and in return accept flying?


I can only ask this question for myself as I guess each individual has to make their own choices and decisions, but I will personally follow this question very closely during the next weeks. Can you countervail the damage of flying with the positive impact this gathering of changemakers will have on each individual or the world? How can you measure impact and can you measure it at all? Can you argue the plane would have flown anyway?

Take Bill McKibben as an example (laureate of the Right Livelihood Award 2014) who decides to rather send video messages than actually flying to a conference! In a world with increasing possibilities of technology this is no longer a problem. Will he miss out on something or was his impact as intense as those of the lecturers who personally attend the Summer School?

I personally already see the possibilities and chances deriving out of such an intercultural group, how we learn from each other, take other views into account, different ways of living, seeing and dealing with problems. I cannot deny that. But is being aware of your impact, thinking about it and appreciating this unique experience enough? tbc