For the last 10 years, Kathryn L. Norsworthy, PhD, a counseling professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., has traveled to Thailand to run culture-centered capacity-building groups with her longtime Thai collaborator, Ouyporn Khuankaew, director of the International Women's Partnership for Peace and Justice.
The workshops aren't about teaching these women the "Western" way to cope; rather, they offer a place for women to explore what their cultural and indigenous wisdom, such as Buddhism, has to say about healing, stresses Norsworthy, a practicing Buddhist. The participants do most of the talking: She and Khuankaew encourage the women to recognize their strengths and resilience as well as to define the problems they face, including sexual assault, forced marriage (often as a result of a rape), sex trafficking, forced labor and lack of legal rights.
As the women talk, they often experience deep grief, but also feel empowered, Norsworthy says. "What they often say is, 'I feel release.'"
Norsworthy and Khuankaew then invite the women to take the next steps in developing action plans to take back to their home communities. But in working with a group of Shan women--an ethnic-minority group from Myanmar--they mapped out not so much a next step but a large leap: They supported a group called SWAN, the Shan Women's Action Network. Later, with Norsworthy's help, SWAN set up a sexual assault hot line, two safe houses for assault victims and a peer-counselor training program. What's more, along the Thai/Myanmar border, SWAN interviewed Shan women, documenting 173 cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence as a means of systematic subjugation by military troops in Myanmar. They released their data to the international media--and the buzz that followed contributed to, among other things, increased U.S. trade sanctions on Myanmar, says Norsworthy.
Her Thai network of contacts and reputation has grown and now Norsworthy's reach has spread throughout the country. Most recently, she has co-facilitated capacity-building workshops in Northern Thailand for community leaders and health professionals working with people with HIV/AIDS and is completing a training manual to enable local counselors to conduct their own training groups.
Turning from the local to the global, Norsworthy is also lending her expertise to peace-building efforts in Thailand's southern provinces, where violence persists between Buddhists and Muslims.
"This work is truly about learning from one another, and for me, as a U.S. psychologist, about staying humble in the face of my longstanding socialization into the mindset of 'West is best,'" says Norsworthy.