They are human beings. They should have freedom to enjoy their lives.

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Tha Ta Fang village is one of the villages located along the Salween River in Thailand. The tenth class of EarthRights School Mekong students had a field trip to Tha Ta Fang village. After spending many hours traveling from Chiang Mai across several easy and difficult roads, finally we arrived at Tha Ta Fang village. Tha Ta Fang is the home to members of the Karen ethnic minority. The river bank is surrounded by nature. I felt I was home in Tha Ta Fang.

The villagers prepared host families where we could cook by ourselves and try the local food. I like eating natural food like wild vegetables, mushrooms, fish, and local food. I eat local food every time I work with rural communities in my hometown. I expected to have the same here in Tha Ta Fang village. Our first food for dinner that our host family served us was wild mushrooms, which is my favorite.

It’s not only my favorite food but it also reminded me of about 10 years ago in Cambodia. My mother and I tried to find this kind of mushroom under a very heavy rain in the forest. We got lots of mushrooms. We sold our mushrooms at the local market. My mother told me about the mushrooms, “I ate these mushroom when I was young during the Pol Pat Regime. It was the most delicious mushroom that I knew. I went to the forest with your grandfather to find them almost every day. They were easy to find at that time but now it’s so difficult.” She added that she didn’t know how long we could eat these mushrooms because of the destruction of our forests. I didn’t expect that I could have these mushrooms here. I really like them. I ate mushrooms everyday at Tha Ta Fang village. Actually I could not eat this kind of mushroom for many years. I could not find them in my hometown anymore because the forest that has these mushrooms was destroyed by a land concession company. I’m so lucky to be here to have my favorite mushrooms again.

In Cambodia we called this mushroom Psith Ka Ngok, which means peacock mushroom. In Thai it is called “Het Khai Hang,” which means geese mushroom, but here in Karen it is called Keu Ta Lou. Ta Lou means mountain, so it’s mountain mushroom. Based on the findings of the villager’s local knowledge research report, the scientific name for this mushroom is amanita calyptroderma.

Villagers in Tha Ta Fang are relying on natural resources of their living. They live here with their culture and traditions. They use natural resources for food, income, and medicine. They have local knowledge on how to use natural resources. Natural resources is their “natural market.” They can find everything here. They don’t need to pay money to buy from this natural market. They are rich with the diversity of natural resources around them.

But villagers’ lives in Tha Ta Fang  are not peaceful at all. They are disturbed by a large scale hydropower Hatgyi Dam which will be built downstream, not so far from of their village. If the dam is built, they will lose everything: their land, their house, their culture, their traditions, and their natural resources. I asked my host family many questions. One of the questions was related to their village. “What will you do if you try to stop the dam but the dam still appears?” He replied, “We don’t know. Our only choice is to move away”. It means that villagers here will lose their natural resources, culture and traditions that cannot be compensated for by money.
I am so sorry to hear about the future of Tha Ta Fang village. They are human beings. They should have freedom to enjoy their lives. They should have freedom to enjoy their culture and traditions. What happened to their government? I hope the Thai government will listen and understand their struggles and give them the best solution for their lives and their young generation. And I do hope that I can come back to Tha Ta Fang village and enjoy natural food again in the future.

Blog by Sai, a current Cambodian at EarthRights School Mekong. 

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