The EarthRights School Mekong held a graduation ceremony on December 21, 2011 to celebrate their sixth year students’ successful completion of the program. ERI staff, Mekong alumni, Burma School students, friends, and representatives from a number of partner organizations gathered at the beautiful outdoor venue. The festivities opened with a candle light ceremony, during which Mekong School students, alumni, and staff shared their thoughts and reflected on the past year together.

In addition to songs and speeches from our 2011 students, Cambodian alumni Kanal performed a classical Khmer dance and members of the Takorn Yom Youth Group from the Kaeng Seua Ten anti-dam campaign performed a song they composed to promote solidarity among the Mekong countries. 

The graduation ceremony was a celebration of seven months of rigorous classes and fieldwork, as well as of the close bonds of friendship they have formed with each other. During the course of the program the students took a series of classes on peacebuilding, earth rights, indigenous rights, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, alternative energy, climate justice, campaigning and general advocacy. They also traveled to various sites in Thailand to see the impacts of large-scale development projects such as the Pak Mun Dam and meet activists and communities defending their environments and livelihoods. 

The students also had the chance to apply the lessons learned together in the classroom during a two-month field research session, during which each student conducted original human rights and environmental research in his/her own country. By graduation day, each student had produced a written report and given a presentation on their topics, which included: the impacts of government ecological reconstruction projects on Tibetan nomads, Chinese investment in the Myitsone Dam project in Burma, the impacts of the Nam Thuen 2 Dam project in Laos, a legal analysis of the Lower Se San 2 Dam in Cambodia, and micro hydropower projects in Vietnam. 

In a group discussion on graduation day, students reflected on their time at the Mekong School and their hopes for the future.

“At the very beginning of the program, I was always challenged by different opinions of people by talking with people and reading different materials. Eventually, it helped me to understand others' perspectives and to strengthen my own understanding of development. Now I have become more critical and know the impacts of large scale projects.” - Chinese student

“I will transfer what I learned here including lessons, experiences, and knowledge to my community and colleagues. I am really important for my country now.” - Burmese student

“I hope the Mekong School can last forever to keep building a network of young activists to help each other to create a better society!” - Vietnamese student

The EarthRights School Mekong wishes the class of 2011 the best of luck as they continue to lead the way to a better future for the region. We would also like to express our deep thanks to all who make this unique program possible, including our funders, the ERI staff and management team, our guest teachers, volunteers and all who made our graduation ceremony a beautiful night.