By Kanokphorn Chanphloi

April 19th, 2019

Why must protect the Salween River? We asked the youth group representatives. One youth responded with an ambitious eye and a strong voice that “Salween is our life, it is our breath. We once escaped from conflict and war to live here, and now we still have to face with the situation of dam proposing on Salween River that may be another conflict in the future if those dams were built. No matter what would happen, we are ready to get up and fight with it.”

Long tail boat carrying donated items Cruise along the Salween River to Eu-Wae-Klo refugee camp or Eu-Wae-Tha, Karen State. Photo by Kanokphorn

I am bachelor’s degree students who have come to learn about human rights volunteer roles. 8 months ago, Go back to the beginning until now. Many feelings occur, including excitement, challenge, fun, disappointment, fatigue. I see my own changes, people around me and society cause faith and confidence in what is doing. Being a volunteer in Foundation for Environmental and natural Resources, I have learned about the environmental issues that I intended. And Journey makes me find new learning and experiences has recharged myself which this trip is also.

On March 11, 2019 , I had the opportunity to travel to the Eu-Wae-Klo refugee camp[1] to join the Child rights and Environmental camp that was organized on 12-13 march 2019 to provide the space for youths  from Salween communities to show their power in protecting Salween River in the  “Let’s Protect Salween” event on 14 March 2019, the International Day of Action for Rivers.  In addition, we have also collected clothing, necessities, medicines, rice and dried food that we received from the opening of the donation to the Karen brothers and sisters in the Eu-Wae-Klo camp as well.

Number of children in the camp help us carry donations to the village which has a distance of about 1.5 km.
Photo by Kanokphorn

In Thailand, there are 9 refugee camps  along the Thai-Burmese border,  2 camps for Karenni people and 7 camps for Karen people along  Salween waterfront area in Karen State, opposites Mae Sariang district. There are 2 official refugee camps, namely the E-Tu-Tha camp and the Eu-Wae-Klo camp. For this time,  we did  activities in  Eu-Wae-Klo camp. Villagers in the camp of Eu-Wae-Klo immigrated from Tongku District in late 2005, which is not far from the new capital Naypyidaw of Myanmar In the time that Burmese government proclaimed the this new capital city,  it was a major cause of the for Karen people in that district to flee to Thai-Burmese border because many of Karen villagers were eliminated and that time was a very violent battle in northern Karen State.[2]

Distribution of clothes to the Karen brothers at the school’s front yard in the Eu-Wae Klo camp. Photo by Kanokphorn

The Child Rights and Environmental Camp was organized by the Mekong Youth Assembly, Salween Youth Network and Foundation for Environmental and Natural Resources. Participants were Karen youths in the Eu-Wae-Klo camp, E-Tu-Tha refugee camp in Karen State and youths from Salween community in Thai side.

The purpose of the youth camp is to create the space for children and youth to learn and understand their rights to participate in protecting the environment, so that children and youth are aware of the importance of the Salween River and protect it. This is very important because through this camp, children and youths from both sides can join hands and do action together to protect their Salween River.

Child rights and environmental camp in Eu-Wae-Klo camp from 12-13 March 2019.
Photo by Kanokphorn

The atmosphere in the camp is simply well. Karen language is used as the primary language of communication during this youth camp, so that all participants can fully understand the content and be able to express and participate smoothly and powerfully in order to get their critical and analytical ideas to put in the action for two-day camp before the “Let’s Protect Salween” event.

A Role playing session was setting up for youths to understand the situation in their own community If there would be dam purposing happened in the future.
Photo by Kanokphorn





Salween in the world River never die

For people for life               I like Salween

I love Salween                    Protect Salween”

‘Salween in The World’ is the song that  youths were joined the camp  practiced together throughout the day in order to show on the day of the “Let’s protect Salween” event. The song is in both Karen and English languages. The music of harmony hope has risen throughout the village and still loud all over my memory.

One youth is explaining the negative impacts if Salween dam is built in the debate session.
Photo by Kanokphorn

One of highlight activity was the ‘youth-led debate’. “Do you agree or disagree to build dams on Salween River?”, it the topic of the debate between youths that had been divided into two groups: one group agrees with the idea to build the dam on Salween River and another group totally opposes with the idea to build dam on Salween River.

At the result, what are actually the debate process of youth groups reflected? The first thing, I could see capacity of the potential leadership of those youth groups. Both have the courage to express their opinions and face with different situations [of views]. For example, the group that opposed the construction of the dam saw that Salween river is like the linkage to connect people along Salween River to be together. They also explained that Salween river is the river of life that provides water and food for people, so that they have to protect it. For the  group that supported the dam construction considers that the dam is important to the development of the country, so that youths must be part of participation process so that they could raise issues or their voices about what direct of development they want to see.

This activity allowed children and youths shared their thoughts which no one judged they were right or wrong, but this activity created a space for them to listen different points of view and how to look at the issue deeply as this could always happen in the community where there are different views of dam and how to look at the issues deeply about what are actually positive and negative impacts that needs to think and consider carefully for the impacts not just for present, but for the future too.

Another important thing that I saw is the group of people who came to listen to the debate are children, young people to middle age and as well as elderly. Which reflects that they all are concerned about the construction of dams that may affect their communities and ways of life in the future that might be changed.

The atmosphere of playing games in the morning before starting a youth camp to create relaxation for youth groups, participants.
Photo by Kanokphorn

Why must protect the Salween River? We asked the youth group representatives. One youth responded with an ambitious eye and a strong voice that “Salween is our life, it is our breath. We once escaped from conflict and war to live here, and now we still have to face with the situation of dam proposing on Salween River that may be another conflict in the future if those dams were built. No matter what would happen, we are ready to get up and fight with it.”

“NO Salween Dam” raft floating on the Salween River after everyone released the raft and sang together.
Photo by Kanokphorn

On the day of the event, “Let’s Protect Salween that was organized on 14th March 2019 for International Day of Action for Rivers” made me see that young people have potentials to protect environment in their communities, they have confidences and believes in what they have done. Everyone was engrossed to show the strength and the power on that action day. They both were walking, holding a sign “Salween is Our Lives” and singing from village to Salween River, and they all together read the statement that created by them emphasized that they do not want dams on Salween River. At the end of the event, all people showed their voices “No Dam” and together released the bamboo raft  with the message “No Salween Dam” flowing to Salween River.

The group of children and youth are standing holding signs: “No Dam”, “Salween is our lives” beside Salween River.
Photo by Kanokphorn

Finally, it cannot be denied that how youth group play important role to protect Salween River. I believe that youths or the new generation is considered an important force to change society better. They have the potential of thinking, self-belief. However, it is necessary to create spaces and open opportunities in order for them [youths] to play a greater role in expressing opinions and lead to the creation of good changes by themselves.

Through my this story journey, I hope that it will be broadcast like a mouthpiece to Let those youth voices go out and communicate to the outside people to be aware of the situation that they are facing. Now, I can only tell the story of the impression that came out. To hope that it will create awareness for the outside people or stakeholders with the development of large projects as much as possible for them to see the hidden environmental and social costs that would be lost if the dam is built on the Salween River in the future.

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About the Author

Kanokphorn Janploi graduated from Faculty of Law, ChiangMai University, Thailand. After graduated, she has joined the volunteer program at Thai Volunteer Service, and it will be one-year program for her to learn about social works. From the program, she is a volunteer at the Foundation for Environment and Natural Resources (FENR) where will bring her to learn about transboundary environmental impacts as well as  mega development projects that cause huge transboundary impacts to local people and  environment which it is also her interest to explore more.