Gender was a theme for me at first, but age has become equally important. From sitting and talking with the inspiring youth of Dakon Yom and paddling with the village elders, I gained a deeper perspective on the intense need for the involvement of every age group in their communities.
This is not the first time I have paddled a river with elders. Two years ago, after spending time with Native American community leaders in New Mexico and hearing about their struggles against toxic and nuclear waste dumping and water pollution, the group of young environmental activists I was with rafted the Rio Grande with the elders. What was different was that one of the men had a heart attack and died while on the trip. People in our group tried to look on the bright side and said that at least he died happy because being on this beloved river with youth from his town was a joyous experience. But all I could see was that an important pillar of the community had fallen. In hindsight, though, I almost want to say it was a good thing because those four or five youth from his town are now living that legacy with vigor.
It is an incredibly powerful thing to bring youth and elders and everyone in between together to explore nature and learn from one another. Learning from elders in my community was certainly something that meant a lot to me growing up and it still means a lot to me now. On the Yom, I learned from the Don Chai elders about resourcefulness, patience, peace, generosity, lending a hand, and knowing one's place on a deep level. Most of all, though, I learned a great deal about the power of listening and observing.