Amherst Club notes. May 24, 2011

Rachel Mustin presided while our president continues her visit to Great Britain. She reminded us that on today’s date in 1626, the Dutch purchased Manhattan from the Carnasie Indians. Since the tribe did not actually live there, the island was later repurchased from the Lenape Indians who did. Susie Lowenstein added that the Dutch later traded Manhattan for Surinam. Strange real estate transactions are nothing new!


Karin Wilburn introduced her mother, Marge Zavada, who was celebrating her 90th birthday.

Rachel brought her daughter, Sharon Hare, as her guest.

Tina hosted her husband Michael.

A new member, Frances South, has just been elected town moderator in Belchertown, increasing town moderators in the Amherst Club to two.

Bill Hart stood up to lead “Happy Birthday” singing to Marge Zavada, Jacquie Price and Carolyn Holstein. (The latter two did not reveal their ages.) There were no other announcements.

Phyllis Lehrer introduced Peter Swift, executive director of the Southeast Asia Development Program, which seeks to support grass roots efforts to empower communities in Cambodia that are threatened by government sales of land to foreign countries.  These companies, mostly Chinese and Vietnamese, threaten human rights nearly every day as they evict indigenous peoples in order to build hotels, cut down trees to plant rubber plantations, mine gold and other minerals.  Armed force prevents the local people access to the forests and streams on which they depend for their livelihoods. Although the government claims these companies offer employment to the citizens of Cambodia, it is only temporary and any jobs usually go to outsiders.

Working since 1999 to help the citizens protest their rights and defend their land, Peter and his dedicated Cambodian co-workers have taught citizens means for identifying peaceful strategies for organizing communities to file petitions to the government and to finding safe and effective ways to make it see that its citizens are not receiving permanent employment, nor bettering their lot.  One interesting aspect of this organizational training has proved the effectiveness of women, who are ignored by a government who doesn’t take them seriously. The women thus can work meaningfully behind the scenes without fear of detection, to keep protests non-violent and meaningful.  Efforts to date have proved slowly successful as various groups work together with assistance from grants from the McKnight Foundation, Friendship with Cambodia, and contributions from individuals to help to wield influence on the government. As scholarships are offered to young people to finish high school and college, hope is high that the government will change its policies so that a better educated citizenry can improve their opportunities.

Honore David