East Meets West – A Community Exchange Programme

We have in the Findhorn Foundation Community at the moment a vivacious young Thai woman, Jeeranun Laipoonswat, from Wongsanit Ashram, a buzzing community for activists and spiritual seekers one hour’s drive east of Bangkok.

The community at Wongsanit Ashram was the vision of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh and Thai activist Sulak Sivaraska, who wanted to encourage engaged spirituality in a community where social activists could work with mindfulness and in harmony with nature.

When 10 acres of barren land was donated in the 80s, the vision became reality and is now a lush setting with organic gardens and traditional houses for 30 residents and up to 50 guests who either do volunteer work or attend workshops on a variety of topics from meditation to mud house building.

The aim is to live a simple life respecting the five Buddhist precepts, while developing a social conscience and a spirituality that transcends religious boundaries. There is also a commitment to training people from Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos to become empowered leaders of sustainable community development.

Jeeranun, affectionately known as Jar, will be with us for six months as our first official exchange person from Wongsanit. In early December she took part in the Foundation’s Experience Week, is now living in the community as a guest (the LCG programme), and will participate in the four-week Ecovillage Training in late February.

Jar, who has lived at the ashram for two and a half years, is understandably finding a Scottish winter a novelty and a challenge. She misses Thai food (the recent Burns Supper with haggis, neeps and tatties was a real test) and her friends and family; speaking English all the time is very demanding. Also in Thailand men and women do not have physical contact and people do not make eye contact or share deep feelings in large groups so there are huge cultural adjustments to be made.

But Jar smiles her sweet smile and says, “It is all worth it in order to learn to appreciate many different points of view. If Thailand and Scotland, which are so opposite in many ways, can meet with understanding, then one world is a real possibility.”

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