Noah* is a student at the EarthRights School, studying human and environmental rights, campaigning, community organizing and legal advocacy. This is the second of two student reflections we have published from a recent EarthRights School field visit to the Salween River. Read the first here.
The Salween is one of the three biggest rivers in Southeast Asia. Up until now, the Salween is still a free flowing river but it’s also at risk because there are many dam projects proposed to be built along this river. The Salween River also partly forms the border between Thailand and Myanmar. Tha Ta Fang is a small village on the Salween River on the Thai side. This village is one of more than 30 villages that will be threatened if they build the Hatgyi Dam on Salween River. As a student at the Earth Rights School, I got a chance to visit Tha Ta Fang to learn about community organizing of villagers there.
In four days staying in the village, I met and talked with a 13 year-old teenager name Chi La So. Chi La So just graduated from primary school in Tha Ta Fang village and he is going to Chiang Mai city next year to study middle school. In Thailand, only children who have Thai citizenship can go to study in middle school and Chi La So is one of only a few lucky children in Tha Ta Fang village who have Thai ID cards. He said he is excited to go to the city to keep studying, but he also feels afraid because he really loves the environment in his village.
At school, Chi La So learned about environmental protection through outdoor activities: planting trees in the forest and vegetables on the river bank, going fishing in the Salween River and a small stream in his village, and collecting trash in the community. He really loves to go fishing with his friends in the Salween River. Sometimes he can catch really big fishes. Just four days before I met him, he caught an eight-kilogram fish and he was really happy.
Tha Ta Fang village is just a small and poor village, and people here still face many difficulties in life. However, Chi La So feels proud to live in his village because the environment there is so rich and he feels healthy staying there. He went to visit the city before but he loves staying in his village more than living in a city.
Chi La So heard from his parents and villagers about the proposed Hatgyi dam and how it could affect his village. He’s afraid that there would be no more fish for people in his village. His village would be flooded and have to move to another place to live and Tha Ta Fang would disappear.
“I’m scared of the dam. I don’t want to change anything. I love the Salween River and I love the forest,” he said.
Chi La So really hopes that there will be no dams built along the Salween River so he can still go fishing with his friends and so his village can preserve their culture and way of living. He hopes his village will develop more but still be friendly with the environment.
“If the environment is destroyed, humans will be extinct,” he said.
I really hope that the hope of Chi La So will come true. Because I saw how strong people in Tha Ta Fang are to fight for their life, to fight for their love and culture. I believe that Chi La So – his name in Karen also means “A drop of water” – he will be always willing to stand with his villagers to keep the Salween River forever free flowing.
* Name has been changed.