Summary of the conference
We Are Church has been sending a delegate to the Asian Youth Academy (AYA) and Asian Theology Forum (ATF) since 2013 (Didier van Houtte; Jean Pierre Schmitz; Martha Heizer and myself). It is organised by the Asian Lay Leaders (ALL) Forum which is managed by Paul Hwang. ALL invites young leaders (aged 25 – 35) from 12 – 15 different Asian countries to spend 10 days together learning about each others countries especially regarding Indigenous Peoples (IP), the environment, climate change, community building, cultures and faith development. In 2019 the meeting was in ChiangMai in Thailand, based in the CLUMP Centre in Doi Thong.
The program started with a Welcoming Ceremony lead by tribal chiefs. We were divided into 5 groups to visit and live in small remote villages of the Karen people. My group was based in Mae Aeb, a village of 150 people, 7 km off the main road along a bumpy twisting road. We tried planting rice, which was a wonderful experience to remove socks and shoes and squelch in the muddy water. We visited the weaving operations and had a long Question & Answer session with the village chief via interpreters and facilitators as the Karen people have their own language, which is very different to the Thai language; we had meals in our host families who looked after their guests first before eating themselves. We helped the village repair their access road with stone chippings, which we helped distribute to fill in holes and repair the road. Our village has now got many links with the outside world; 30 years ago they were totally agriculture based and self sufficient; today many of the young work in the city; and today the village has several pick up trucks, motor bikes, water & electricity supply, Satellite TV and mobile phone network coverage. They are mostly Catholic with a good number of Buddhists who cooperate well together.