Students Embark on Social Justice Field Study

The EarthRights School Mekong students spent the last two weeks of August preparing for their field research. After a class on research methodology, students heard from two female alumni on women’s security issues while doing fieldwork in politically sensitive areas, based on their experiences.  Students chose a research topic that centered on on-going earth rights issues in their home country, and developed a comprehensive research proposal.

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Myanmar Activists Participate in Intensive Land Rights Training

A group of EarthRights School Myanmar alumni, from many regions in Myanmar including Kayah, Shan, and Rakhine States, as well as Bago and Mandalay Divisions, came together for a weeklong intensive Land Rights training this July. Each alumnus currently works with organizations in the region that address land and environmental rights.

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Spotlight on Earth Rights Defenders in Thailand

I am so lucky to have had opportunities to meet inspiring people who have dedicated their lives to public interest.  These people believe strongly in the capacities of the weak, and they work to protect earth rights. One of the most inspiring people is my senior colleague, Ms. Supaporn Malailoy or P’Noo.

P’Noo was one of the establishers of EnLAWTHAI foundation.  EnLAWTHAI was founded in 2001 with a mission to monitor and enhance positive environmental law as well as to strengthen industrial affected communities through providing legal training, promoting environmental campaigns, and being a representative in environmental lawsuits. As a general manager, P’Noo is still a key figure in the foundation.

P’Noo has given me invaluable inspiration and ambition.  I collaborated with her as a junior lawyer at the organization for three years. Even though she did not graduate from law school, she has tried her best to learn complicated legal issues through her work experiences. For me, P’Noo is a strong woman who sacrifices her life for communities all day and night. She never turns her phone off because she is worried that villagers might face some urgent situations and need her help. Her schedule is always full of meetings with local communities and networks. She told me that she always feels uncomfortable denying villagers’ requirements because when they ask her, they are in severe trouble, and hope that she can solve their problems.

P’Noo strongly believes that local people (almost all are farmers) play an essential role in protecting the environment. She does not want to block all development, but she thinks that local people know their area best.  Thus, they must have the right to decide how it is developed.

Even though I left the foundation a year ago, P’Noo’s devotion and determination still inspire me to . . .

Spotlight on Earth Rights Defenders in Vietnam

There are many earth rights defenders in Vietnam who support others in the face of human rights violations and environmental issues. Some of them work in government agencies and some work in non-governmental organizations (NGOs). However, high-level government officials do not care about their responsibility to protect their people from harm.  The people working in NGOs make the greatest impact.

My director, Ms. Lam Thi Thu Suu, has a genuine enthusiasm for earth rights.  Ms. Suu made me recognize that human rights and environmental protection are important to social development.

When I graduated from university in 2011 I did not care much about human rights and environmental issues.  The first time I met Ms. Suu was when she accepted me as a volunteer in her organization. At the time, it was just a job. Four months later, I found that I really liked my work. Ms. Suu lit a fire under me through her boundless enthusiasm on human rights and environmental protection. She goes to the communities and talks to the women for hours on women’s rights, even when she is tired. After she goes to the communities, she continues to work with stakeholders at home and with foreign countries to call for support for the communities. Sometimes she does not have time for her husband or her two children.

Ms. Suu’s effort has been recognized by many people and organizations. Now, many people support the communities where she works.

I will do my best to help the communities get their rights. I will also get more knowledge about the environment to protect my community and environment from the impacts of development. Although there are many difficulties to achieving great success, if I make a sustained effort, I will succeed. . . .

EarthRights School Mekong Students Start Year with Forum Theatre Workshop

EarthRights School Mekong alumni Mueda Nawanat listens as others reflect on an exercise during the Forum Theatre workshop

The start of the rainy season in Chiang Mai, Thailand, also marked the beginning of the year for EarthRights School Mekong’s class of 2014.  On a stormy evening of the first Friday in June, I arrived to the welcoming party.  The sounds of the storm let up just in time for the performances to begin.  EarthRights International staff, alumni, and friends gathered to watch song and dance performed by the new students as well as students of nearby NEED-Burma organization.  

ERI’s Mekong Alumni Coordinator Tom Kaewpradit officially welcomed the students into the EarthRights International family, acknowledging that they are the ninth class of the EarthRights School Mekong.  As nine is the lucky number in Thai culture, he assured us all this class would bring great luck not only to the school but back to their countries as well.

The students are a charismatic crew.  An outsider at the welcoming party would never guess the students met less than a week prior, as their jovial interactions with one another are like those of life-long friends.  They come together all the countries that border the Mekong River, including China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The bonds they create with each other over the next seven months will strengthen relationships between their communities throughout the region for decades to come.

ERI Mekong Alumni Coordinator Tom Kaewpradit catches EarthRights School Mekong alumni Saw Lay Ka Paw in one of several trust falls ERI Mekong Alumni Coordinator Tom Kaewpradit catches EarthRights School Mekong alumni Saw Lay Ka Paw in one of several trust falls

As the students reflected . . .

Courage and solidarity at the EarthRights School Myanmar

A woman pulled the sliding door open, and I drove inside. I parked my motorbike, left my shoes at the door and stepped into the classroom, where everyone was seated in a large circle. This would be my first time meeting the students, a young group who had arrived in Thailand two weeks prior and had just completed their seven day orientation. They came from six different Myanmar states to join the EarthRights School Myanmar, an intensive training in campaigning and advocacy for human rights and the environment, focused on the most urgent issues in their own communities.

I’d been hearing about this group all week, having arrived in Chiang Mai just four days earlier to start my new position as ERI’s Human Rights Storyteller. I’d spent the week in meetings, learning about ERI's programs from the legal, campaigns, and training teams. Each team had briefed me on their current projects supporting the human rights and environmental movements in Myanmar and the Mekong region.

Hour by hour, I’d learned about the devastating realities that communities in these areas are facing. Wading through pages upon pages of assorted notes, scribbled diagrams, memos and legal briefs, the message was clear: there is a lot of work to be done.

So I was excited to meet this group of students who were here to expand their role in this work. Having heard all week about the corrupt governments and massive corporations they will be up against, I was impressed by the enthusiasm and optimism that flowed through the room that night.

After Billy and Nyein Tun, from the school staff, welcomed their students and our fellow colleagues to the celebration, the evening commenced with music and dances performed by the students, drawing from their own traditions but emphasizing a sense of togetherness.

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2014 Welcome Party at the EarthRights School Myanmar

Every year, at the end of student orientation, our schools host a welcome party to allow the students and ERI staff to get to know each other in a fun and casual setting. This video shares sights and sounds from the 2014 welcome party for our EarthRights School Myanmar, including music and dance performances by the students.

Congratulations to the HEART School's Class of 2013!

On November 29th the Health and Earth Rights Training Course (HEART) celebrated its third graduation ceremony in Mae Sot, Thailand. This year's ceremony was held in the grand hall due to the large number of people attending. Over 100 people attended from the following organizations: Mae Tao Clinic, Backpack Health Worker Team, Student Youth Congress of Burma (SYCB), HEART Alumni, Child Development Center (CDC), and the medic training students.

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Lessons from the HEART School

In 2011, when we opened the HEART School in Mae Sot, Thailand, we planted trees outside the building. These small, delicate trees have the potential to grow into giants, capable of providing food, shade, and homes for both animals and insects.  They protect the delicate balance of the environment by preventing floods and soil erosion and producing life-giving oxygen.

The trees are like our HEART students, community activists with the potential to invoke positive change on the ground.  At the HEART School, we believe in the ability of people from the grassroots to transform communities.  The HEART School combines the grassroots activism of the Mae Tao Clinic with the human rights and environmental training of EarthRights International. This year, some students came as representatives of their local organizations; others were simply concerned individuals from communities affected by mining or pipelines. Some students came from communities all over Myanmar (Burma) with no health services or no electricity; others have seen their communities destroyed by development projects, and some students arrived ready and eager to learn with little more than the clothes on their back.  Despite the multiple hardships they have experienced, the students are already growing as community leaders and activists. They are always smiling, laughing, singing and ready to invite you to eat!

The HEART school runs for seven months. During this time, students study topics relevant to their communities; topics include mining, dams, oil, and their connections to health problems. Students also have evening English classes focusing on conversation, building confidence, and computer classes. ERI staff, local trainers, and a volunteer English teacher instruct the students. Recently, the HEART students returned from a one-month trip to Myanmar, where they gathered evidence for their reports focusing on health or environmental issues impacting their communities. The students are currently writing their . . .

Congratulations to the EarthRights School Myanmar Class of 2013!

Congratulations and best wishes to the EarthRights School Myanmar's class of 2013!  On October 4th, we celebrated the successful completion of a challenging seven-month training program.  The thirteen graduates are the newest members of our Alumni Program and have already participated in an alumni reunion in Myanmar. They will now be returning to their communities to apply their new knowledge and skills in campaigning and advocacy for human rights and the environment.

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