The EarthRights School Mekong (ERSM) students have recently returned from their two-month field research session, where they conducted research on the impacts and implications of various development projects throughout the region. Student research topics included Burma's recently postponed Myitsone Dam, the Dawei Deep Sea Port and Industrial Zone, mini hydropower dam projects in Vietnam, a grassland restoration project in Tibet, bauxite mining in Laos, biomass and nuclear power plant projects in Thailand, and large dam projects in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In many cases, our students are the only people conducting research and interviewing local people in these areas. The field session gave students the chance to apply what they learned during their first three months of the ERSM program.
“I was able to apply the skills I learned at the school to my field work, using research methods and human rights-based strategies to work with the community.” - Burmese student
“I analyzed the violation of the national and international laws by using what we have learned at ERSM. Also, many other writing and technical skills that I learned here were used.” - Chinese student
Upon their return, each student presented on his/her findings to their fellow students, the EarthRights staff, and guests from other NGOs and training schools around Chiang Mai:
“I think it's very good for students to share their findings with each other. Every student did a good job.” - Chinese student
After their presentations, the students began taking classes in advocacy and campaigning in preparation to return to their home countries as more effective activists and community leaders. As part of this session, the ERSM students and staff traveled to a Karen community forest outside of Chiang Mai to meet with Phrue Odochao, a long-time activist in the community forest movement here in Thailand. He shared the many strategies he and his community have used to protect their livelihoods, which depend on the ability to use forest products and grow rice. Phrue also discussed his peaceful walk from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to raise awareness about Thailand's Community Forest Bill, traditional Karen culture and beliefs and his community's forest management techniques. The students also met with the local youth group to exchange ideas about campaigning and community organizing. When they returned to Chiang Mai, the students reflected on their experiences in Phrue's village:
“What I've learned from Phrue is about desire of identity, making people feel proud of their culture and livelihood is also a good way to do a campaign.” - Lao student
“I learned about peaceful strategies to fight against government policy, the way a community could manage to protest through their traditional ways.” - Burmese student
“The community is very strong and understand their rights, so they can fight to protect the resources.” - Vietnamese student
In only a few weeks, our students will graduate from the program. Upon their returns to their home countries, they will be equipped with many new campaigning and advocacy skills and join a growing network of ERSM alumni.