– a view from within in a hyper-connected world – is a personal account of Tara Buakamsri.
Tara Buakamsri is one of Greenpeace Southeast Asia‘s founding members and has been actively working for organization as a campaigner since December 1998. In 2011 Tara started a new role as Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s Campaign Director and in August 2014 Tara became “Country Director” for Greenpeace Southeast Asia in Thailand.
After graduation from King Mongkut Institute of Technology Latkrabang (BSc. Applied Physics) and then Chiang Mai University (MSc. Geography), Tara volunteered and worked for several civil societies, non-governmental sectors, advocacy groups and academic institutes.
Born(1967) in the small peaceful town of Aranyaprathet, Sakaeo Province – well known as “Aran” (means “wilderness” or “forest” in Hindi) – the eastern Thai border adjacent to Poipet, Ou Chrov district of Banteay Meanchey Province, Cambodia. “Aranyaprathet” is situated along “Thai Corridor” – an area between Chaopraya and Tonle Sap river basin and has been placed as a strategic sensitivity when it comes to geo-political conflict between Thailand and Cambodia at all time. Aranprayathet has also been one of the busiest border crossing and being on a major trade route between two Kingdoms. The border today sees much activity touristwise as it is on the road between Bangkok and Siem Reap, the town nearest Angkor Wat.
Civil War in Cambodia (1970-1975) and its aftermath changed the face of the border town like “Aranyaprathet” and for Tara, it’s human tragedy. Influenced by series of the massive forced migration caused by civil war – at least five major movements of refugees from Cambodia (1975 with those fleeing the Khmer Rouge when they took power, 1979 by those fleeing starvation and the advancing Vietnamese army, 1984/85 Vietnamese offensive along the Thai border, the 1997 coup by Hun Sen and 1998 by the remnants of the Khmer Rouge), Tara witnesses “suffering(Dukkha)” of those who lived their life miserably in some of the refugee camps along the border. It had driven his curiosity to search for “right understanding” and personal commitment to make the world a better place.
During 1980s period Tara fully engaged in “activism” by volunteering with various activist groups both inside and outside university including one of the leading and most well-known student movements in Thailand- the Committee for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation from 16 University Campuses (คณะกรรมการอนุรักษ์ทรัพยากรธรรมชาติและสภาพแวดล้อม 16 สถาบัน – คอทส). The landmark campaign against Nam Chon Dam that proposed to be built inside Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, had been one of the success histories. Thung Yai Naresuan combine with Huai Kha Kaeng Wildlife Santuary forms the largest protected area in mainland South-East Asia, covering in total 622,200 ha. and were declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1991.
Tara was inspired by works of volunteers from Adaptive Technology Group (then become Energy Ashram : Appropriate Technology Association today) whom they utilize “local wisdom” and “scientific knowledge” to sustainable development in the rural area. This included low-cost/locally made ground water pumping equipment design for drought-stricken area.
Tara went to eastern seacoast of Thailand after finished studying at King Mongkut Institute of Technology, Latkrabang in 1998 and lived with locals in the fishing community of Rayong province to understand more about “right livelihood”. At eastern seacoast of Thailand, Tara learned that the big storm awaiting to make irreversible impacts in this beautiful and pristine eastern seacoast in the name of “Industrial Development”. Today sees the seacost of Rayong province “pollution heaven” – as a result of “development at all costs” from oil and gas and petrochemicals giants.
By participating in youth training and community development work, Tara had a chance to conduct participatory field research on the impact of mass tourism, aquaculture and industrial development to small-scale fisherfloks and coastal ecosystem funded by Asian Cultural Forum on Development(ACFOD), as well as learned more expertise in building and organizing the movement on the ground.
One of field research works include “Japan Official Development Assistance(ODA) and the Fate of Eastern Seacoast Communities” where Tara lived in the last remaining small fishing village of Leam Chabang, Chonburi (which is now a major deep seaport) and writing the story of people who fought for their ancestor land generation by generation. With kind support from Japanese friends, the book was then printed in Japanese by Iwanami Shoten Publishing and sold in Japan in 1994.
Tara left the eastern seacost and joined Village Foundation and Rural Development Foundation as a Media Officer in 1992. He began extensively “traveling Thailand” to document and publish stories about “local wisdom” in relation to sustainable utilization of natural resources, community rights, community-based businesses, saving group, cultural diversity and self-reliance local economy.
In the summer of 1993 Tara moved to Chiang Rai and worked with the Hill Area and Community Development Foundation. His work was to help mobilizing resources to develop highland sustainable agriculture model and land-use pattern of hilltribes communities. In collaboration with professor from Department of Geography from Chiang Mai University, Tara also learned to apply geographical knowledge and mapping as a key tools to debunk the myth of “slash and burn” agricultural practices on the highland.
Tara spent several years living in Chiang Mai province where he got Master of Science (Geography, 1994-1997) from Chiang Mai University. His Dissertation – “Spatial Mobility and Health Risks among Factory Workers in the Northern Region Industrial Estate, Thailand” – was the result of in-depth observation on electronics female workers and their fight for occupational health protection. Tara wrote a book “Lamphun under Industrailization’s Shadow : The Story of Social Change and Environment Health Impact after Two Decade of the Northern Region Industrial Estate”, printed in Bangkok by the Committee of Toxics Chemicals (1997) which is today Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand(EARTH).
Between 1997 and 1998 Tara worked for Wildlife Fund of Thailand (WFT) under the Royal Patronageof H.M. the Queen. Under Policy and Advocacy Unit, Tara worked on mobilization of local communities to defend their rights violated by ill-advised large-scale development , in particular hydro power project. Tara undertook investigation on “the Environmental Changes of Mae Yom River’s Floodplain” to address the role of wetland to mitigate flooding and prolonged drought, instead of constructing big dam upstream. This also included the study on “Conflict Resolution and People Participation on Large Dam Construction Scheme” which was funded by Thailand Research Fund and to be proposed to the Ad-Hoc Committee under a Resolution of the Council of Ministers (1997).
Another piece of works together with colleagues at Wildlife Fund of Thailand was “the Critical Analysis On The Ecological And Social Impact of Yadana Gas Pipeline Project (ผลกระทบทางนิเวศวิทยาและสังคม โครงการท่อส่งก๊าซธรรมชาติจากแหล่งยาดานา สหภาพพม่า), part of the involvement in the non-violent conflict resolution of controversial issue around the Project.
Tara worked with colleagues to mobilize communities at Chiang Khong district, Chiang Rai province to investigate and conduct action plan for conservation of “Mekong Giant Catfish”. In the Southern Thailand, Tara actively took part to formulate the Action Plan on Biodiversity Conservation for Kantuli Swamp Forest, Surat Thani Province (แผนปฏิบัติการการอนุรักษ์ความหลากหลายทางชีวภาพในพื้นที่วิกฤตพรุคันธุลี อำเภอท่าชนะจังหวัดสุราษฎร์ธานี) – which is now one of National Ramsar Site in the country. Action plan submitted to Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning for further implementation.
Being an activist, for Tara, is about being a responsible and empowered citizen. It is about overcoming the passivity, self-doubt and resignation that hold much of the population captive to elitist power structures. Activism has the capacity not only to produce change in the world around us but also to be deeply transforming for us personally and spiritually. In many ways becoming an activist is like the completion of the process of moving from childhood to full adulthood. Instead of remaining passive and relying on the government to act as a paternal figure in their lives, activists take full personal responsibility for their place in the world and learn to accept and channel the personal political power within them. It is not surprising that it is a rocky path and that there are a number of pitfalls along the way. The risks are no reason to avoid the journey; it is an important journey for our overall collective evolution.