By Sotheara Pharn (Youth from Cambodia)
I am so grateful for an opportunity to participate in a 3-day training workshop named “the Mekong Youth Environment Symposium” that was conducted in Chiang Mai, Thailand from 21st to 27th September 2017. The youth participants were from the Mekong countries, namely, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. During the training workshop, I learned more about the environmental issues, youth and children issues. The workshop activities were divided into three parts as detailed below.
Part 1: Live and learn about our environmental rights:
This training was very inspiring for young people in the Mekong region. We learned from each other’s stories from different countries. We shared information, current situations, and some challenges we are experiencing in our families, our communities, and in our countries, due to many environmental changes. Many development projects have caused many problems and destroyed the livelihoods of local communities along the river.
The first day of the workshop led us to share much of our stories and issues that we have encountered in home countries. We found that the way we can fight for our rights is to connect ourselves and to communicate to different stakeholders who are the responsible bodies. For example, Mekong governments, UN, ASEAN, World Bank, and other project developers. We must voice out our concerns for a better development. It means that every development project should consider different stakeholders, and specifically local people, youths, and children. The project must be inclusive from the ground-up, and not a top-down project.
Part 2: Training of trainer on the ECRs curriculum:
This is the first time to learn and practice the curriculum of Ecological Child Rights (hereafter ECR). the ECRs is concerned with the relation of living organisms to one another, and the physical, mental and spiritual surroundings relevant to the rights of children stated in the 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). “Children” refers to all people below the age of 18. They are entitled to all fundamental human rights. These rights, which persist through the physical and mental development of a child, must be promoted and protected. They also include key aspects in lives such as their surrounding environment, cultures, belief practices, dreams, and ambitions.
It was a great opportunity to learn to be a trainer of ECRs curriculum. For us to go back to my community and make use of the knowledge and skills I gained from the workshop to organize and to facilitate an ECRs workshop in our home countries. This curriculum was developed by youth environmental activists in the Mekong countries. I have developed some skills as because the curriculum is based on a participatory approach; it was a very active training.
This kind of training is suitable for applying in the local community, especially to young children and youths. We all also got a chance to rehearse as we were trainers in using some of the games and activities from the ECRs curriculum with other participants, in order to gain some feedback and comments. So that, we can improve our training skills in the future. It is really inspiring to learn by doing in this Mekong Youth Environment workshop.
Part 3: Field trip to learn the environment campaign in Thailand:
The trip to Ban Haeng village in Lampang province was a great trip for learning about the development project that violates human rights and an environmental campaign. Our youth group learned many things from the local people and the development project in their community. The homes of people who learned from the nearby villagers who live with the Mae Moh Coal Power Plant for the past decades.
Though it was not the first time I visited this Mae Moh village, the villagers were still fighting for their justice. I visited Mae Moh Coal Power Plant for the first time when I was studying at the Mekong School in Chiang Mai province a few years ago. It is the case that local people have been facing many problems in relation to health, environment, natural resources.
The Ban Haeng village is the target area for the proposed project of a coal mining and to build a coal power plant. The Ban Haeng villagers are very strong and organized to come together for their community in against the coal company. Because they found that their community and their rights were violated by the company and the provincial government.
They have formed the group and they are working very actively to advocate that the company must not develop any project in their community without any consultation and a consent from the local people. They are also working in advocating some people who accept and agree that the project can be built. This clearly shows that in any development project, we, the local people, will always face this challenge but we shall not be divided our solidarity of the community to the ‘accept’ and ‘against’ groups.
I was also inspired when villagers have their clear strategy to fight with project developer and government for justice, and communicate to other villagers who hold different points of view. Villagers may not be fully convinced that their strategy will be successful but they will not give up. Their hope is to keep fighting with injustice projects like this. They will keep networking with other communities to support their case and will do many activities for their campaign.