Yesterday I shared my experiences from the first day of our recent Donor Inspiration Tour in Thailand. Below, my reflections continue, covering the last three days of the trip.
While driving back to Chiang Mai from Mae Sot, on the Thai/Burma border, we stopped at Mae Moh Village to learn about villagers’ struggle against a nearby coal-burning power plant. Financed by the Asian Development Bank and completed in 1997 by Electric Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), the Mae Moh power plant displaced over 30,000 people, and its sulfur-dioxide emissions led to thousands of severe respiratory infections. We saw first-hand the result of EGAT’S failed involuntary resettlement policy, and talked with local villagers who had lost not only their homes, but also their friends to health-related effects of the plant’s pollution. The villagers remain locked in legal battles and are still awaiting the majority of the $142,000 promised to them by the Thai Provincial Court.
The following morning, after a restful night in Chiang Mai’s Chedi Hotel, we visited the EarthRights School Mekong, where we met the recently arrived class of 2011, played icebreaker games and then gathered in small groups to hear the students’ stories and struggles. After the previous day’s poignant visit to Mae Moh, our group found solace in the ERSM classrooms, where impassioned and dedicated young leaders build skills to further the fight against such environmental and human rights abuses.
In the afternoon we met with the local staff at ERI’s office, and received presentations on ERI’s Mekong Legal programs, Mekong Alumni Program, and Burma Campaigns. The presentations helped place ERI’s work in the context of the ever-growing network of earth rights defenders throughout Southeast Asia.
We concluded the day with another wonderful dinner, this time at the local Whole Earth Restaurant. The following day was a “day of rest;” some of us visited the Mae Sa elephant camp while others pampered themselves at the local Oasis Spa, before reconvening for a wonderful gathering of local ERI supporters at the brand new Good Morning Chiang Mai Café.
The trip wrapped up, on day four, with visits to the EarthRights School Burma and EarthRights’ soon-to-be purchased property, which will eventually house our office and both of our schools. Our Board of Directors, in town for a board meeting, joined the tour of the property, envisioning how wonderful it will finally be to have all of ERI “under the same roof” – especially a custom-made, environmentally friendly roof.
After joining ERI’s local staff for a big dinner at a local riverfront restaurant, everyone returned to the Chedi Hotel for the customary lighting of Sky Lanterns, or khom loi as they are referred to in Northern Thailand. Ka Hsaw Wa, ERI’s Executive Director, explained that the lightning of the lanterns symbolizes good luck, and that the stronger the wishes of those lighting the lantern, the faster and higher it will float. It was only fitting that our lantern flew high into the night sky, symbolizing a long and bright future for EarthRights and everyone in the greater EarthRights family.
It was with the lighting of the lanterns that the long journey ended, and I couldn’t help but think how grateful I was for having such a wonderful group of people join us for the pilot tour, and how excited I am for the future of ERI’s work in the region.