The Sense of Place and the Spirit of Community
Blog Written By Natedao Taotawin
After spending three weeks in the US, I am impressed by the way Missoulians articulate the sense of place and the spirit of community. Before visiting the US, I learned that American society has long been developed towards modernization and capitalization, and as a result, it is believed that American society has lost a sense of belonging to a place and a commitment to community. However, what I have experienced in three weeks in Missoula has reformulated my understanding. Some questions come to my mind. How do Missoulians perceive the sense of place and in what way do they articulate the commitment of community? And, what are the consequences of the obligation to place and community?
To answer for the questions mentioned above, I visited many places in Missoula and discussed this with many people. I am appreciative to share my experience to you as following. In the afternoon of April 22th, I visited Women’s Opportunity and Resource Development, Inc (WORD), a non-profit organization in Missoula, organized from a group of university scholars who are interested in gender issues and have a willingness to work with grass-roots people. Naomi Thornton, the program director, told me about activities of WORD. WORD engages in various social welfare programs, such as providing small loans for women to begin their businesses, providing a training program for women in the workplace, giving a secure housing for low-income women and homeless people who cannot get a house, providing help for women who are young and single mothers, and providing a family support model. The programs initiated by WORD are very challenging and inspiring. These programs try to fulfill the needs of disadvantaged women in Missoula, thereby giving opportunities, creating networks, supplying small grants, and broadening support for women.
Moreover, WORD has a program to work with families in transition. It aims to strengthen and support families and to ensure that they have the knowledge, skills and resources to provide a home environment that allows their children to learn to their full potential. In this sense, WORD has constituted a new community which links the people who are concerned about the problems and demands of women and children.
In afternoon of April 24th, I visited another non-profit organization, the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) in Missoula. Amie Thurder, Director of NCBI Missoula, told me briefly about the missions of NCBI Missoula which aims to create a more just and inclusive society by developing leaders who work to end mistreatment, correct systematic inequalities and strengthen community. These missions are operated through variety of methods such as empowering people to be good about themselves, breaking all forms of racism, inequality and discrimination, and creating an understanding between people who have different backgrounds. NCBI basically works on training programs for many social groups such as the provisions of teaching methods, environment for interactive communication, two ways communication, focus group discussions, and training of trainers. In my point of view, NCBI engages in the issue of identity politics; it aims to create a new community to be concerned about problems of inequality and discrimination and to try to eliminate all forms of discrimination by internalizing interactive ways of communication.
In April 25th, I traveled to Fort Benton and visited the Timeless Seeds. May Hensley, a founder of small importer of heirloom rice from farmers cooperative in the Philippines, told me about a project engaged in training the ethnic-tribal farmers in the Philippines to do good agricultural practices. The company imports rice from the tribal farmers to package and sell in the US under the fair trade label. Mary said that she sells cultural products, not organic products. The motivation for linking small producers in the Phillippines and consumers in the US here is very impressive. Mary said, “I lived with Kalingka tribals when I was 22 years old. This experience changed my life. I want to work with them and give back to them.” In this sense, the linkage between producers and consumers is created as a way to create a new community based on the principle of social morality and ethnical consumption.
Moreover, I learned from David Oien, the Founder of Timeless Seeds, Inc., a small exporter of legumes and specialty gains to business in Asia and Europe. He showed us how added value is created and how the manufacturing company can fulfill market demands of the local growers. I was impressed by the strong intention of the small enterprise which has struggled to help local farmers to access niche market for organic grains and to increase their incomes.
All of these examples are evidence to prove that the American society has never lost a sense of belonging to a place and a commitment to community. Many active citizens also told me why they chose to live Missoula and how they try to help to improve their community to be a heaven for all.