At the end of 2015 we launched the Mekong School, or officially, the Mekong School: Institute of Local Knowledge. This arose from the Chiang Khong Conservation Group and the network which works to protect the Mekong River and local culture. The Mekong School was established to share knowledge, news, and situations about the Mekong River to the public amidst the rapid changes to the Mekong River and local people. For information to be presented to the public or locals, it must be timely and up-to-date. Therefore, the Mekong School online platform project will gather knowledge and share it with the public. To help protect and solve Mekong River problems together, and to create mutual understanding we would like to invite those who are interested in the story of the Mekong River and local developments to follow and exchange at www.mekongschool.org.
The Mekong School online platform matters. It will be part of how people see and how we connect people around the world through the story of rivers. Because in the world today, when talking about nature and the environment, we cannot divide these areas. They have no borders. Therefore, nature and the environment belong to the people of the whole world. Rivers belong to all the people of the world. The Mekong School online platform has to be connected to this, to become a channel, and to create various platforms to communicate, to make this understood together. Through this platform other river people will understand the Mekong River, and Mekong River people will understand other rivers in different countries. Therefore it will allow people to see that the world is inseparable. It’s the same thing to connect people. This is what we want to do.
It is important to create a common understanding that the natural environment is without borders. The whole world owns it. And the people of the world must help each other to maintain it.
As an example, while the Mekong River is an international river it still has its sovereignty. Things like these must be voiced. What are the problems with the Mekong River? We must let people around the world know, let other river basin people know. These matters must be resolved together through the voices of the whole world. It will no longer be just the voices of the Mekong River. It might be the sound of the other watershed people who come together in solidarity. This is what we want to happen.
Therefore, if we are to expand upon our basic principles of “respect for nature and faith in human equality”, “Nature” is appropriately broad. Nature in a sense, for me, is the breath of the world. A human breathes, that’s all. But, when given in more detail, nature is like breathing. It is the breath of the world. The world is alive. All things have a breath. If nature is destroyed the air is not clean, people can’t breathe. Living things are also affected. If there is good nature they will have good breath. The world will be good. Nature provides food for humans and gives medicine to humans for people to live in peace. Nature is the greatest. If the breath of life is dirty, people can’t live and the world will continue to be destroyed.
This is what drives the work of the Mekong School of Chiang Khong Conservation Group. We assume that the drive will go in such a way as to look to fix the root of the problem. And to look forward, to focus on keeping up with the situation that is unfolding before us. Therefore, there are two things to drive us: to fight and to create.
“Fight” is a campaign. To build an understanding of what is going to happen, and that it would be toxic to the locality and the Mekong River. Then people must stand up to protect themselves. This is what has to be done for the issue to be resolved. And what is indispensable in the fight for the movement of the people’s sector or villagers is to “create”.
Creation is essential to support fighting for the strength to have more networks. The important thing that must be created together with the campaign is to build a body of knowledge for the villagers. The local people understand the stories or problems that arise and they look at solving problems. There are academic principles as well. In addition, the campaign has to create an area to drive it into concrete action. For example, if we campaign about blasting the rapids there must be areas of villagers who stand up and take action. For a sustainability network, we have to mix these things to create momentum in terms of the policy.
So this reminds me of the matter of the Mekong People’s Council. This is the aim of building there and creating a body of knowledge. This wasn’t built only by Mekong School or Chiang Khong Conservation Group. It has the participation of the villagers. Because the creation of knowledge through tools is research, the results are not only in the work output. It has reached the potential development of the researchers (villagers). Villagers have also been developed in both the way of thinking about data storage and various scientific methods.
Our current focus is the Mekong School. One can see that developing people, and developing youth is a very big thing. We have seen in our 20-year struggle that some youth still lack connection with nature. It is far away from their way of life. They may lack an understanding of nature and the environment and how important it is to their life, and how it is connected to their life. We also have to drive this because it is important for them in the future. For example, we created the Mekong Youth Program, the voice of Chiang Khong youth, and various projects. We believe that we can create a new generation, to come together, to help fight for this cause.
In addition we must not forget that we have to build a connection. In the past there has always been a way of life between generations, and therefore a body of knowledge. Various research projects will link youths, the middle generation, and the elders.
And we must disseminate it. We worked with this on-site learning process of the Mekong River locally in the previous 7-8 years. But the knowledge from the research that we have gained has not reached the general public or international level. But the world of the future has already come so far. The Mekong School may not be the only place for on-site learning. Things that we do have to be shared on an online platform and sent out to the people of this world to know. In the story of the Mekong River and situations occurring with nature and the environment, we know that the river was heavily impacted – especially by the dams. We must let everyone know what happened and how to help fix it. I want everyone to help each other. Paying attention to the global environment is everyone’s concern.
This program intends to create participation. We think that working together is important. It’s a matter of faith in human equality. We assume everyone is equal. Everyone can think. But whichever way we go out into the world, we will talk. We have to listen to reasons and have information. We believe that the rights of the people must be equal.
There are dams in every river. All the rivers have been destroyed. A dam or a large project destroys the river. Therefore, these problems will be problems for the whole world. But solving problems doesn’t connect the whole world. The river connects people from all over the world to be one world.
We also want you to know that the Mekong River is like this, because other rivers are like this too. We can show that all rivers are connected. All people are with the rivers. But nowadays we can’t see each other.
We can’t see that fishermen and dam builders are equal. Why, for example, fishermen, why are they equal to dam builders? I have had to explain what happened. How does the dam affect the fishers? We’re not just saying that we have faith in human equality. We can show it. We can make them believe by explaining why. Let the fishermen believe that they have the right to talk and make calls to the dam builders. We cannot give equality to the villagers. But we can make people understand equality and get there themselves.
Chairman of Chiang Khong Conservation Group
Director of The Mekong School: Institute of Local Knowledge