There is nothing particularly remarkable about Mae Sot. The Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge can be reached by following the AH1 for just a few kilometres west. A short bicycle ride, as trucks and lorries kick up dirt and dust, brings you to what is typical of any border town; markets full of electronics, home-wares and food. The bridge links two countries that couldn’t be more different, yet are seemingly forever linked by the presence in Thailand of over 500,000 refugees from Myanmar.
Durable solutions for refugees who have been living in camps for more than two decades is as seemingly out of reach, even as a political transition across the border opens the door to expanded operations from international aid, trade and diplomatic sectors. A question posed by Brookings last year asks, “whether the outpouring of foreign aid to Myanmar expected in the medium term (three to five years) will be more of a blessing than a curse”. It is a question that any student or professional in the humanitarian sector should seriously be considering.
What makes Mae Sot remarkable for me personally is WhyDev. I spent a few weeks in the first quarter of 2010 in the town, having returned from India on an internship with the Centre for Refugee Research. My partner was researching education and language policy in the refugee camps with the same organisation, and I was visiting. We were both in the middle of completing our Masters in development studies at the University of NSW. I spent much of my time in Mae Sot either eating Burmese tea leaf salad or drinking tea at a cafe with free WiFi.
I had experimented in unsuccessful travel blogging while moving through India in 2009; unsuccessful in the sense that only mum read my posts. I started to study and read the aid and development blogging scene, or blogosphere, while in Mae Sot. (People were still using the term ‘blogosphere’ back then). We are spoilt for choice in writers, voices and platforms today, but this was not so in 2010.
J’s, of Tales from the Hood, first post was only in April 2009, Jennifer Lentfer of How Matters in June 2010 and Duncan Green in 2008. There was a lack of young voices questioning, discussing and debating what we were being exposed to in development theory seminars or right-based approaches to programming. So, I registered the domain name, thewhyofdevelopment.com.
The rest is far from history. We had our Facebook moment. Mike Clay, friend of the site, suggested that we drop ‘the’ and shorten to ‘WhyDev’. (Thanks Mike!). I reached out to eight other Masters students at UNSW and friends to collaborate. We met at a cafe in the suburb of Glebe, Sydney. Four years, and 400 posts later, WhyDev is on the front lines of questioning everything we hold dear in global development.
One particular person stuck around after that meeting in Glebe. Weh Yeoh has been the other half of WhyDev since its inception, bringing new meaning to the concept of ‘bromance‘. He shares a spirit of critical inquiry, grounded in empathy and compassion. Together, with Allison, Daniel and Laurie, we are planning for the future of WhyDev. A future built on the foundations of an incredible community of engaged humanitarians, where the needs and strengths of those on the margins are prioritised. We are committed to getting development right.
This starts with Weh’s current work at CABDICO, a Cambodian NGO dedicated to supporting and empowering people with disabilities. Community development in action. He was recently featured in the Sydney Morning Herald, highlighting the economic and moral argument for speech therapy for 600,000 people in Cambodia. On the back of it, they are also running a crowdfunding campaign that you must support within the next three weeks.
This is the future of global development; in particular, how humanitarian and development professionals work, support and empower individuals and communities. It is about focusing on the equitable distribution of knowledge, resources and capital within global development; moving from saviours to savoir-faire, top-down to bottom-led, duplication to replication, global development to why development?
What to help us create and shape this future? Know your comms? Check out our ad for a comms whiz-kid.