New beginnings burst into bloom in Yala Stories
For many, Yala is perceived as one of the three Deep South provinces long laced with terror. But for a lot of its youths and the new generation, it is a city where diverse cultures harmoniously coexist, and its rich cultural and natural heritage inspires the townspeople to thrive and venture into the future with pride and confidence.
These perspectives were expressed through various media and approaches in the three-day fete titled Yala Stories where youngsters from all over Yala were invited to share their views of their hometown and voice their needs and concerns for the future.
Organized by Yala City, Yala Chamber of Commerce, TKpark Yala, Yala Rajabhat University, the Faculty of Communication Sciences of Prince of Songkhla University, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre and the Institute of Thai Studies of Chulalongkorn University, the festival marked the beginning of Yala’s journey to become a “learning city” where people of all ages benefit from the province’s unique resources socially, intellectually and economically within the guidelines of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC).
For three days from 27-29 May, the iconic Metro Hotel in the old business district of central Yala town was transformed into a festival ground. All three storeys of the hotel were packed with stories of Yala seen and presented through the eyes of the young people, ranging from the province’s abundant biodiversity, mystical superstitions, crafts, and performing arts, its unique Thai-Muslim-Chinese multiculturality that gave birth to Yala’s distinctive flavors and flair for contemporary art, as well their views and reflections towards living with insurgency and how the new generations see their home in the foreseeable future.
Yala Stories’ evening programs included talks, seminars, cooking demonstrations of local dishes, walking tours, a dance performance, a mini-concert by a Thai-Melayu rap group, and a chef’s table dinner by local chefs. The area that once bustled with traveling merchants and regional trade became alive, but this time with young people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds coming together to build something great together.
Yala Stories was not really an event to attract tourists, but more of an extensive and comprehensive showcase for the locals themselves to realize their hometown’s potential and ability to grow sustainably. Youngsters flocked into the hotel’s guestrooms serving as exhibition space, chatting enthusiastically and taking pictures to share their peers’ voices and views on social media, while the older townspeople lent support in any way they could.
“For a long time, Yala was in survival mode, where we strived for peace and security for our home. About six years ago, when the violence gradually subsided, we entered rehabilitation mode. We started to rebuild and rebrand our home again,” said Pongsak Yingchoncharoen, Mayor of Yala.
“Yala is an abundant land. We have the best of various cultures. We have natural resources. We have the best quality soil and most delicious fruits. We have history and wisdom that everyone, ourselves included, can learn and benefit from. Yala Stories is a great start, led by our young people and supported by the community, towards a sustainable future and lifelong learning. I’m very glad that the new generations don’t look to abandon their hometown, and instead unite to shape our future together.”
By Veena Thoopkrajae with additional report by Manta Klangboonkrong
Photos by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre