The EarthRights School Mekong (ERSM) brings together students from China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam to learn about the impacts of large-scale infrastructure and commercial development projects in the Mekong region and local struggles to address the negative effects of such projects. Before the 2010 ERSM students celebrated their graduation, they took a final field trip, where they visited three communities that have fought against destructive commercial development projects.

The students visited Klong Dan and Ma Ta Phut and learned about the two communities’ successful efforts to obtain investigations into project impacts. In Klong Dan, local residents fought the construction of an industrial waste water treatment plant that had commenced without local participation or environmental, social and economic impact assessments. The residents collected information and wrote a letter that prompted the Asian Development Bank to conduct its first-ever site inspection and, later, to halt funding for the project. Similarly, residents near the Ma Ta Phut industrial zone temporarily halted 76 projects in the zone after a Thai court ruled in their favor and found that developers had failed to undertake required health and environmental assessments.

As the community movement they want to safe their livelihood and environment. . . . The local people and the authority had different idealism and the local people dared to refuse the authority power as they mentioned the constitution and some protection environmental laws to support their rights. – Thai student

Students also visited Bornok-Hin Krud, located on the east coast of Thailand, where local people have been fighting the Thai government’s plan to build a coal-fired power plant. In 2004, Charoen Watakson, a core leader of the villagers’ protest, was murdered. The ERSM students visited his memorial and learned about the villagers’ ongoing struggle.

ERSM students visit a memorial to activist Charoen Watakson

I am mostly interested in Hin Krud community case because this community fights alone without support from outside organization and other agencies. Their strategy is attracting to media to interest and observe their situation. . . .. This field trip is very crucial learning about community’s activity and strategies and possibility for applying to Cambodian marginalized community and indigenous people community in Cambodia. – Cambodian student

The ERSM of 2010 has graduated; and the Mekong Alumni Program will support the students as they put their lessons into practice. In addition, the school is currently preparing for the 2011-2012 school year, which will start in June.