EarthRights International's EarthRights School Mekong (ERSM), inaugurated in June 2006, is a unique training program for civil society advocates from the Mekong Region (China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam) who are working on environmental and human rights issues. The seven month-long training program focuses on the impacts of large-scale infrastructure projects, particularly hydropower dams, and how citizens are engaged in advocating for more equitable development in the Mekong region.
At the school, students investigate community complaints regarding negative impacts from Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, and privately funded projects. Through a series of field visits, students examine the threats posed by various projects, such as the series of hydropower dams currently planned and under construction along the mainstream of the Mekong and its tributaries, to migratory fish stocks, local livelihoods, and regional food security.
The training takes place in Chiang Mai, Thailand from June to December of each year, and includes a two-month practicum in which students return to their home countries to conduct field work. Finally, program graduates focus on ways in which they can join together as alumni to advocate for policy reform with the ultimate goal of promoting greater public participation and transparency in development planning in the Mekong region.
Alumni of ERSM are supported in undertaking their grassroots work through the activities of the Mekong Alumni Program. The alumni program seeks to maximize the impact of their work by providing ongoing structured opportunities for graduates to network, collaborate, exchange information and resources, and receive training and technical assistance.