A Conversation With Society

The Beginning

My story began in the vibrant town of Aranyaprathet, located in the Sakaeo Province of Thailand, famously known as “Aran” – meaning “wilderness” or “forest” in Hindi. Situated on the eastern border of Thailand, this town is adjacent to the Ou Chrov district of Banteay Meanchey Province in Cambodia, and it sits in the heart of the “Thai Corridor” – a region known for its strategic sensitivity in terms of geopolitical conflict between Thailand and Cambodia.

Aranyaprathet is a town with a fascinating mix of cultures and a long history of trade between the two Kingdoms. It is home to one of the busiest border crossings, making it a hub of activity and commerce. This crossing is a gateway for countless travelers, tourists, and businessmen, all looking to explore the exotic lands beyond.

As a major tourist route, the border crossing between Aranyaprathet and Cambodia has become a magnet for adventure-seekers and thrill-seekers, looking to experience the cultural and natural beauty of the region.

Border towns like Aranyaprathet have undergone a dramatic and heart-wrenching transformation as a result of the Cambodian civil war that ravaged the country between 1970 and 1975, and its aftermath. I, like many others who have witnessed the impact of this brutal conflict, saw firsthand the human tragedy that unfolded.

The civil war resulted in several major movements of refugees from Cambodia, and Aranyaprathet was at the center of it all. In 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took power, many Cambodians fled across the border into Thailand, seeking safety and refuge. The situation worsened in 1979 when starvation and the advancing Vietnamese army forced even more people to flee. The Vietnamese offensive along the Thai border in 1984/85, Hun Sen’s 1997 coup, and the 1998 resurgence of the Khmer Rouge remnants further fueled the refugee crisis.

For those who were forced to live in the border camps, life was nothing short of appalling. I witnessed their suffering, their pain, and their struggles, and it left an indelible mark on his soul. But instead of being overwhelmed by the tragedy that surrounded him, I was inspired to take action. He knew he had to do something to improve the world, or at least the world he lived in.

My life in Aranyaprathet and the surrounding region drove me to take action and make a difference in the lives of those who were suffering. I set out to make a positive impact, using my skills, knowledge, and resources to help those in need.

My college years were marked by a deep sense of activism and a fierce dedication to making a difference in the world. I threw myself into the work of various activist groups, including one of Thailand’s most well-known student movements, the Committee for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.

One of the most notable victories came during student movement on the campaign to stop the Nam Chon Dam from being built in the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, together with Huai Kha Kaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, is the largest protected area on mainland Southeast Asia, covering a vast area of 622,200 hectares. The proposed dam would have had a devastating impact on the delicate ecosystem of the sanctuary, destroying critical habitats and putting countless species at risk of extinction.

My fellow activists knew that we had to act fast and decisively to stop this catastrophic project from moving forward. We organized protests, lobbied government officials, and raised public awareness of the issue, using every tool at our disposal to make our voices heard.

In the end, thanks to the dedicated all fellow activists, the campaign to stop the Nam Chon Dam was successful. The sanctuary was saved, and the critical habitats and species that called it home were protected for future generations.

My interest in community development was sparked when he came across the Adaptive Technology Group, a volunteer organization that would later be renamed the Energy Ashram: Appropriate Technology Association. The group’s mission was to promote rural development by combining “local wisdom” and “scientific knowledge,” and I was immediately inspired by their work.

One project in particular caught my attention – the development of low-cost, locally-produced ground water pumping equipment for drought-stricken areas. This innovative approach to solving a critical problem spoke to my practical and measured approach to problem-solving.

Through my volunteer with the Energy Ashram, I gained invaluable experience in the practical application of technology to solve pressing social and environmental challenges. I learned how to work with local communities, leveraging their unique insights and knowledge to create sustainable solutions that could be easily implemented and maintained over the long term.

I was inspired to learn more about “right livelihood” after graduating from King Mongkut Institute of Technology in Latkrabang, and he decided to move to the fishing community in Rayong province. Upon arriving, I was struck by the beauty of the eastern seacoast and the thriving marine life.

However, I soon discovered that large oil and gas and petrochemical corporations were planning to launch massive industrial development projects that would threaten the region’s pristine environment. I was appalled by the thought of the damage that could be done to the natural beauty of the region and the lives of the local people who depended on it.

Feeling a deep sense of responsibility, I joined forces with local fishermen and environmental activists to try and protect the area. Together, they organized peaceful protests and rallies to raise awareness about the dangers of industrial development and to push for more sustainable alternatives.

Despite facing strong opposition from the corporations, local activists remained committed to their cause. They continued to work tirelessly to protect the natural resources and beauty of the eastern seacoast, always putting the needs of the community and the environment first.

Through their work, I learned the importance of humility and the role that individuals can play in making a difference. I remains proud of the progress they’ve made, but also aware that there is still much work to be done to ensure a sustainable future for the region as a whole.

My participation in the Asian Cultural Forum on Development (ACFOD) funded participatory field research was a significant turning point in my activism. This opportunity allowed me to gain extensive knowledge about the impact of mass tourism, aquaculture, and industrial development on small-scale fisherfolks and coastal ecosystems. I was able to participate in research on the ground and build a movement to promote sustainable development practices in the region. This experience helped me develop expertise in organising and mobilising communities to take action towards sustainable natural resource exploitation and the protection of local ecosystems.

As the last small fishing village in Leam Chabang, Chonburi was transformed into a major deep seaport, I bore witness to the struggle of its people fighting to preserve their ancestral land and protect it from the expansion of the port and industrial eviction. Through my efforts, their stories were documented and shared, and thanks to the generosity of Japanese friends, the book was published in Japanese in 1994 by Iwanami Shoten Publishing, preserving the legacy of the people and their fight for future generations to come.

I left the eastern seacoast in 1992 and join the Village Foundation’s Rural Development Institute as a media officer. With a passion for showcasing the value of “local wisdom,” I traveled extensively across Thailand to document and publish stories that shed light on best practices for sustainable natural resource exploitation, community rights, community-based businesses, savings groups, cultural diversity, and self-reliance in the local economy.

I then turned up in Chiang Rai in the summer of 1993 to work for the Hill Area and Community Development Foundation. My role was to help rally resources for the development of a highland sustainable agriculture model and ethnic community land-use patterns. In collaboration with a professor from Chiang Mai University’s Department of Geography, I also learned how to use geographical knowledge and mapping as key tools to debunk the myth of “slash and burn” farming practices on the highland.

I lived in Chiang Mai province for several years, where I earned a Master of Science in Geography (1994-1997) from Chiang Mai University. My dissertation, “Spatial Mobility and Health Risks among Factory Workers in the Northern Region Industrial Estate, Thailand” was the result of extensive research on female electronics workers and their struggle for occupational health and human rights. I wrote a book titled “Lamphun under Industrailization’s Shadow : The Story of Social Change and Environment Health Impact after Two Decade of the Northern Region Industrial Estate” that was published in Bangkok by the Committee of Toxics Chemicals (1997), which is now known as Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand (EARTH).

I worked for the Wildlife Fund of Thailand (WFT) under the Royal Patronage of H.M. the Queen between 1997 and 1998 with the Policy and Advocacy Unit to mobilise local communities to defend their rights as a result of ill-advised large-scale development, specifically the hydropower project. I conducted research on “the Environmental Changes of the Mae Yom River’s Floodplain” to address the role of wetland in mitigating flooding and prolonged drought rather than building a large dam upstream. This also included a study on “Conflict Resolution and People Participation in Large Dam Construction Scheme,” which was funded by Thailand Research Fund and was to be proposed to the Ad-Hoc Committee under a Council of Ministers Resolution (1997).

Another piece of work done with colleagues at the Wildlife Fund of Thailand was “the Critical Analysis On The Ecological And Social Impact of Yadana Gas Pipeline Project (ผลกระทบทางนิเวศวิทยาและสังคม โครงการท่อส่งก๊าซธรรมชาติจากแหล่งยาดานา สหภาพพม่า),” as part of the involvement in the non-violent conflict resolution of controversial issues surrounding the project.

I collaborated with colleagues at the Wildlife Fund of Thailand to mobilise communities in Chiang Khong district, Chiang Rai province, to investigate and implement a conservation plan for the “Mekong Giant Catfish.” I actively participated in the development of the Action Plan for Biodiversity Conservation for Kantuli Swamp Forest, Surat Thani Province, which is now one of the country’s National Ramsar Sites. For further implementation, an action plan has been submitted to the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning.

I am a founding member of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and has been a campaigner for the organisation since December 1998. I took on a new role in 2011 as Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s Campaign Director, and in August 2014 as Greenpeace Thailand’s Country Director.

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