SENS 2023 Participants Silently Observe the Sunset
Dear Generous Friends and Kind Supporters,
We are first of all grateful to all of you who have ever donated to this project through a one-time or recurring donation. This project provides scholarships to worthy and promising young adults in Asia so they can join our flagship three-month English and leadership program, the School of English for Engaged Social Service (SENS). Secondly, we want to express our gratitude to those of you who made large and generous financial contributions during our July Bonus Day campaign. Through the kind and timely giving of just 13 individuals, we raised enough funds in one day to pay for:
- One full scholarship to the SENS 2024 program covering all tuition, living expenses, and in-country travel costs for one participant, plus
- 40% of an additional scholarship, equivalent to paying for all the living and in-country travel costs for a second participant
This is a huge step forward towards our goal of funding 16 students and 5 SENS leaders-in-training in SENS 2024. Thank you so much!
I would like to emphasize for a moment the depth of what you are accomplishing through your donations to this project. It is not simply that you are making possible a profound and life-changing experience for young adults who would normally not be able to afford our highly individualized and personalized curriculum--one that works between the classroom and the field of Thai society. No. It’s much more than that.
You may have noticed that human society is at a very precarious point in our several-hundred-thousand-year history. Our economic and political systems have become so efficient at extracting “value” from natural and human resources that we are undermining not only the planetary goodness and stability we rely on to survive and flourish, but also the social bonds of human-to-human caring that are ultimately the only true security we have. Every day there is news of devastating floods, heat waves, the devastation brought by wars in different continents, and lists of new species whose lives have become untenable. Ordinary people in the richest of countries have to struggle to survive economically and face crises of addiction within overly anxious social and media environments. Meanwhile in Southeast Asia we do not have to travel far to find villagers living in forests because their villages have been bombed, their homes looted, and their churches, temples, and rice stocks torched by an illegitimate military regime.
We in INEB and SENS have surmised that we must, following Joanna Macy, take any action that will stop the current destruction of lives as quickly as we can. But we must also build the foundation for the caring and secure human society that we wish to realize, that will coexist with all living species. These two—the immediate actions and the long-term strategies—move together hand-in-hand. And the SENS program works tirelessly to do both. How? By helping our students to recognize the value of their own unique mind, accumulated knowledge, and personal trajectory, and their freedom to choose to live a life of integrity now. This is doable. It requires looking as fearlessly as we can (and as they can) at what is actually happening now. It requires healing from the social and existential wounds already inflicted. And it requires modeling (by making possible) a small community of learners who love each other and appreciate that we share a common human predicament, regardless of all our distinct and lovely (and unlovely) personal and national characteristics. It requires questioning the persistent traces of craving and consumerism that remain in all of us, even as it becomes easier to see how meaningless these momentary gratifications become as life itself is more profoundly at risk.
There are times in history when our political systems can seem as rigid as an iron cage. Yet every such iron cage is in fact built upon a beautiful garden of wild and domestic plants that, when nourished and flourishing together, can transform the cage into a beautiful and supportive trellis. Or lift the cage off entirely and put it to one side, making it irrelevant. This is what happened in the recent Thai election, when Thai voters unexpectedly gave a clear message that they no longer wanted to be controlled by a military and economic elite that is in bondage to money and power. Yes, the iron cage still manages to persist, but the movement from below, of awareness, of desire for humane social systems and clear and direct solutions to our social, ecological, and political problems—this is unmistakable.
This is what your donations are doing. They are watering those very diverse and beautiful plants—flowers, vegetables, and vines—that individually and together make up our contemporary world society. Will the sprouts of new life nourished by your donations take time to come to fruition? Yes, of course, if we are thinking of a full and thorough fruition that transforms our economic and politic systems. But they also come to fruition immediately in minds and voices who feel free to say what they see, who don’t hide their thoughts, and who lose their embarrassment about openly caring for others—whether those others appear in the form of plant, animal, or human. They come to fruition when a Vietnamese and Myanmar student jointly invite their friends and students to attend an online webinar of their own design about the climate crisis and what can be done. Two of our students did just that after returning home from SENS 2023. Others have made firm goals and followed through on them. Yet others from this group have been selected to participate in highly competitive teaching programs in their countries, or received small grants to undertake projects arising from their own imagination.
Shortly after the end of SENS 2023, in mid-April, one of our students from a neighboring country was falsely accused of providing direct support for armed groups resisting the daily onslaughts of the military that took power in a coup in her country. She barely escaped with her life, and is now in a tenuous position. She joins the thousands of refugees who cannot be officially labeled refugees because the relevant governments will not sign the necessary papers.
Partly in response to her life-and-death situation, and partly in response to a very active SENS 2023 cohort who made it clear they would like to not only stay in touch but to work together in an ongoing way, we have shifted to prioritizing our long-term support for the learning community we have brought into being. This means providing concrete emergency support for medical or refugee needs. It also means offering opportunities for our students to meet regularly, and to come together for further study. If you wish to know more, please visit our sister page on this site, “Nurturing Learning Communities in a Time of Crisis.” (See in the link below.)
Finally, we would like you to know about our new directions and plans. We feel it is time to offer a Training of Trainers (TOT) program in which our most committed alumni can receive the training necessary to carry on the SENS program in their own way and in their own communities. This has already begun to happen even without a TOT as support. Yet it now needs active support so that it can move forward energetically.
Between now and SENS 2024, we will be training this small group by asking them first to be our teaching assistants as we offer online and in-person training for certain teachers in the region who are working under extraordinarily difficult and politically risky circumstances. Then, our trainees will meet for five days for their own growth, mutual support, and development. Finally, those who are able to will join SENS 2024 as the core of the work team. Selected teachers who were trained by these very alumni, will also receive scholarships to study for three months in SENS 2024.
Your donations from now until April 2024 will be supporting this complex integrated series of programs that will give a new generation of leaders confidence in designing and leading their own transformative learning classrooms and programs.
Speaking of donations, our next fundraising campaign will take place September 18-22, 2023. And we would like to ask for your help, not only by donating if you can, but also by inviting others to do so. The September campaign, called “Little by Little,” is especially suited to bringing in large numbers of enthusiastic new donors, because only small-scale donations of $10-$50 USD (but all of them without exception) will be matched at the rate of 50%. A $10 donation will bring in $15, and a $50 donation will bring in $75. If we can bring in hundreds of such donations, we will be well placed to invite a full cohort of our strongest applicants. Finally, beginning a recurring donation at any point you feel ready, of merely $10 USD a month, will provide ongoing and reliable support for our work.
Thank you so much for reading and for thinking along with us. And thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your ongoing support.
With profound gratitude,
Designer and Director of the SENS Programs
Building Trust in Each Other at a Forest Monastery
A Much-Loved Workshop with Ouyporn Khuankaew
Respected Attendees at the SENS 2023 Graduation
Three Students from Vietnam and One from Myanmar
Students & Villager Pay Respects on the Alms Round