December marked the end of the EarthRights School Mekong's seventh year and our students from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma and China will be returning home soon. Our 2012 students have joined the ranks of the ERS Alumni, and ERI will continue to provide them with support, advice and new opportunities long after they've left the school.
Alumni, staff and friends from all over the world joined graduation to congratulate the students. The celebration began with a candlelight ceremony, where students and ERSM staff reminisced about the year behind them and promised to remain close friends. Chana Maung, ERI's Asia office director, handed certificates to each of the students. Dinner featured food from all around the Mekong region, while a slideshow of the year's highlights played in the background. After dinner, 2010 alumnus Kanal performed a classical Cambodian dance.
This year the class traveled all over Thailand, visiting communities affected by destructive development and learning from their grassroots campaign strategies. Field trips included:
- The infamous Mae Moh lignite mine, which displaced several communities due to its release of toxic chemicals
- Map Ta Phut, a massive industrial estate on the Gulf of Thailand, which has caused cancer rates to soar and prompted the formation of many grassroots organizations
- Kaeng Suea Ten, a beautiful area of Northern Thailand covered in teak forests, where residents have been fighting and winning against the Thai government and World Bank's plans for a dam for over two decades
- A Karen village on the Salween River, on the remote border of Thailand and Myanmar. Thai/Karen student Mueda led the group, translated, and explained the persistent issue of stateless minorities in Thailand.
2012 also saw many alumni returning as guest presenters. Kyi Phyo and Zuo Tao returned to present their fieldwork from 2011 showing the issue of Chinese investment in Burma's Myitsone dam from the perspective of both countries, speaking about how they collaborated across the border to work towards peaceful solutions. Piseth, a Cambodian alumnus from 2009 and MLN member who works with the UN in Phnom Penh, taught a class on land and housing rights and how these issues have played out in Cambodia. Kanal, also from Cambodia, spoke to students about the use of art in grassroots campaigning.
We're always happy to see our ranks of alumni grow and we wish them all the best in the future! To learn more about our alumni, visit www.earthrightsalumni.org.