Charity and Volunteerism in Southeast Asia
Time & LocationSession 9
Fri 09:00–10:30 Room 1.501
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- Domestic Volunteering in Vietnam Kerstin Schiele University of Bonn
Discussions on volunteering are not only omnipresent within the global north but also in a country in the global south like Vietnam. There are two main types of volunteering in Vietnam: international and domestic. The introduction of doi moi builds up the environment for intensive volunteering activities of both types although volunteering has long traditions even in societies with a strong socialist party like Vietnam. The sector of volunteering consists, for example, of mass organizations run by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), social and religious groups or private initiatives and self-organized projects to support people in need. Private initiatives and self-organized projects are often initialized by Vietnamese youth. There are various examples of domestic volunteering by youth in the media which illustrate the existence of a vivid public discourse on domestic volunteering. In my presentation, I will address my new research project on the discourse of domestic volunteering in Vietnam and how an analysis of the discourse helps to reveal the different actors involved and the inherent power structures. The analysis will lay open how citizens use the discourse of power to initiate and self-organize projects for people in need.
- Grassroots and International Charity Collaborations in Vietnam Sara Ann Swenson Syracuse University
Overseas Vietnamese and American war veterans play an active role among international humanitarian efforts in contemporary Vietnam. This paper explores how these international volunteers collaborate with grassroots charities at past war sites where volunteers from both countries have personal histories. Drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic research on charities in Vietnam, I analyze data from five humanitarian organizations which support impoverished children, people with disabilities, and Agent Orange victims in south and central Vietnam. Two groups are US-based, and three groups are local Vietnamese charities. Groups collaborate on infrastructural projects such as building schools, vocational training centers, and medical facilities in rural provinces. However, volunteers’ reasons for joining projects, and visions of what futures are created by these projects, differ drastically depending on their personal, religious, and national backgrounds. I apply Edward Soja’s concept of “Third Space” to analyze how different memories, religious cosmologies, and social imaginaries of Vietnam work in tandem to effectuate new material realities in this rapidly developing nation.
- Victim to Helper, Evangelized to Evangelizer: Christian Karen Refugees Reimagine Their Roles Terese Gagnon Syracuse University
Here I explore the numerous ways in which Christian Karen refugees from Myanmar living in Mae La refugee camp in Thailand defy narratives that represent them as victims within humanitarian regimes and as the “redeemed souls” of Christian evangelism. Camp residents do this in large part through (re)appropriating the language and spirit of aid and missionization and—through their actions and self-understanding—recasting themselves as the helpers rather than the needy. I investigate how those I spoke with envision themselves and their futures not based on assumptions of victimhood but rather through fulfilling social scripts of service: to their local community in the camp, to their ethnic-national Karen community, and to the abstract global community. I explore the second life of humanitarian and missionizing impulses, begun in the global North, that take on new character as they are interpreted and put into action by the very people who are initially cast as their objects. I question whether such an adoption of these ethos is substantively and theologically transformative to the core of the Geist themselves.
- “We Do Good with Our Hearts”: The Volunteer Politics of Ritual Labour for King and Nation in Present-Day Thailand Irene Stengs Meertens Instituut & Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Somewhere in spring 2017, a new royal volunteer organization was established under the auspices of King Vajiralongkorn, the “we do good with our hearts volunteers” (jit asa raw tham khwam di duai hua jai), or jit asa. Originally dedicated to work “for father” in the context of the cremation of King Bhumibol, the organization has grown tremendously, now voluntering in all sorts of work dedicated ‘for the good’ of the new king or the nation. Important events that gave the volunteers a prominent national visibility were the 66th birthday of the King Vajiralongkorn, and the rescue of the Thai youth football team (the Wild Boars) from the Thamluang Cave. So far, four million people are reported to have registered. The upcoming coronation (4-6 May 2019) will be the next occasion for the organization to present itself.
The jit asa evokes associations with the 1970s Village Scouts movement (see Bowie 1997). Both organizations are nationwide and adult (men and women) oriented, bearing likeness to Boy Scouts in performance and appearance; both reserve a central symbolical role for “gifts from the king” (phraratchathan) as part of their initiation rituals. Paraphrasing Bowie on the Village Scouts, the jit asa are engaged in apparently innocent street-and-canal cleaning projects, or guiding traffic. While the Village Scouts were an anti-communist and, in the end, violent movement and the jit asa is pro-monarchy without an explicit ideology, the paper suggests to take the politics behind the jit asa seriously, placing these in the context of the increasing militarization of the Thai monarchy.
As economies across Southeast Asia rapidly expand and change, social service needs are also growing. In response, local volunteerism is on the rise. Through this panel, presenters will compare international and grassroots charity programs in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand. Papers will include ethnographic research on nation-wide youth charity programs by the Communist Party of Vietnam, Catholic housing cooperatives in the Philippines, humanitarian organizations working with refugees in Thailand, and Buddhist “charity tours” to visit ethnic minority groups in Vietnam.
The panel will examine how local and grassroots volunteer initiatives challenge academic critiques of humanitarianism as flowing from the Global North to Global South. Presenters will also compare how charity groups respond to social service needs produced through unique local, national, and religous contexts. Finally, panelists will consider how charity and volunteerism are shaped – productively or destructively – by national visions of civic duty and ethnic status.