Yang Mai Dai Nawn: A Seat at the Table


Zari Havercome, 130 YinD

This is a series entitled after the popular lyric in pop song “Choey Moey” by Youngohm’s , ยังไมไดนอน, meaning “can’t sleep yet.” This embodies a phrase that I use a lot: “things that keep me up at night;” I often have these thought-provoking ideas that can prevent me from sleeping because I have to explore them. Post university I now have these conversations, mostly by myself, and only really engaging in dialogue through a pursuit of texts, podcasts, songs, etc. Now I have decided to keep you up with me as I explore some themes of my service that lead me down that rabbit hole and need an extended conversation.

A Seat at the Table

In September 2016, singer-songwriter Solange Knowles released a studio album titled “A Seat at the Table.” This phrase, in my interpretation, alludes to the position of a member of a group or body that can make decisions affecting myself and/or others; not only to be present, but to be actively participating in those conversations. Throughout her press tour, Solange can be seen, discussing with outlets, that this project is her invitation to the world to “pull up a chair” and talk about her shared perspective on the complications and inequality of a modern America.

Let’s get into it…

This project, aside from being a great body of work for one of my favorite genres of music, has been on my mind heavily over the last 7 months at site. It touches on mental health with records like: “Cranes in the Sky,” “Borderline,” and “Mad,” resiliency with: “Rise,” and “F.U.B.U.,” and self acceptance and advocacy with: “Don’t Touch My Hair.” Her body of work includes the wisdom of her mother Ms. Tina and pioneer/mogul Master P in: “Interlude: Tina Taught Me,” “Interlude: For Us By Us,” and “Interlude: This Moment.” I feel empowered by this album, which reflects so much of my experience and what I want for underserved minorities in America.

“A Seat at the Table” specifically relates to my service as a YinD (Youth in Development) Volunteer because I, literally, have a seat at the table. I have a seat at EVERY table in my community. Upon this realization, I also broke down the reasons why this is my reality.

  • Being a YinD Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand means that my “starting point” is in the Mayor’s local government office; which earns me a lot of respect.
  • I am a native English language speaker and my sole purpose is to support the youth of the community to overcome the issues that they face and help them become community leaders; this is appreciated by the entire community.
  • Then, there is my powerful essence of charm and charisma that usually wins over any crowd.
  • Lastly, the Thai culture sets a very strong foundation as to why I am given so much respect, trust, and investment automatically

During important discussions about schools in my community I am invited to not only sit in, but to speak up and participate in the creation of budgets, programming, and structural development.

I was originally overwhelmed with this trust, as I do not have what I believe to be enough experience to make these decisions, despite Peace Corps verifying that I am. Then I remembered to take away my American “lens” and look at the context more relatively. In my experience cultural relativism, established by Franz Boas in 1887 and later coined by Alain Locke in 1924, is when I critically look at all parts of an experience in the context of another culture with their rules and not with the rules of my own culture.

So let’s do it:

  • I am a foreigner ( American) with the skills possessed that my community want their youth to have access to develop.
  • I am a kind and culturally respectful person that cares very much about the youth and performing in my role to the best of my ability.
  • I am 24 years old with 2 degrees, having worked in now 5 countries in the sectors of development and educations.
  • Lastly, all of these things would make the cost for my services extremely expensive and I am here for FREE; I do not ask for one baht from anyone in my community to do my job.

That puts me in a lane that ends up parallel to that of the Mayor, Chief Police Officers, Directors of school, and the village Doctor.

I most definitely am being inspired by this role. I spend my free time thinking about having “a seat at the table” when I get back to the States. What will my contribution be to push the needle forward and into a society that is compassionate and ethical to all. What legacy can I create that reflects the love and passion I have for underserved and misrepresented communities?

The reality is that I am not on a “power grab” nor am I intoxicated by the view of my place in this hierarchy, but I am in awe of the space that I am given in order to do good things for the youth of the community. I have ideas for fitness activities, English language trainings, critical thinking workshops, anti-drug seminars, and traffic safety courses that local leaders and wealthy people are willing to fund without hesitancy. Where do I find this at home? Who is at the table now? How do I get there? How do I earn that trust? What do I have to do? These are important questions to ask because America is not the same as my Thai village. It is not always the case that the most qualified or suited is elected or in charge of decision-making. Unfortunately factors like wealth, race, gender, relationships all too often impact the space for those seats. The work is in being at the right tables with diverse representations and then also knowing which ones you need not take up space in. It is a balancing act but our generation, standing upon the shoulders of those before us, have strengthened a foundation that can bring harsh realities to a place where we not only ACKNOWLEDGE the many truths but simultaneously create remedies needed to heal our society. Many thanks to the breakers of glass ceilings, builders of stepping stones, and openers of doors. We are nothing if not your legacies realized.

I know that my first stop is to take a look at who is on the roster as my representatives and until I find my path, I will make sure to vote and use my voice, that I DO have, and encourage others to do the same. I have to make sure that I support those that can do the work until I get there. We should support them until we can all get there. That seems like enough for now. I have the rest of service, and my life, to figure it out.

I think that’s a good place to pause. Until next time…

Good night,

Read previous articles and contributions by Zari.

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