IWC students experience community development issues first-hand in Thailand
The six full- and six part-time students stayed in the rural community of Baan Kho Tai village in the Phibun Mungsahan District of Ubon Ratchathani Province in the northeast (Isan) region of Thailand. The village, located along the Mun River near the confluence with the Mekong main stream, is one of the affected communities from the Pak Mun Dam, the most controversial dam in Thailand’s history and in the Mekong region.
The students lived with local families, cooked and ate together and took part in their daily lives. They mixed with the head of the village, senior leaders, leaders of ceremonies (such as Chum, the mediator between humans and spirits), local wisdom leaders, the abbot, teachers, local health officers and community health volunteers, as well as the men, women and children of the village, and learned about household farming activities such as harvesting cassava and fishing. The students also learned from local NGOs and EGAT (Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand) about the Pak Mun Dam’s management.
"The intensive week in Thailand was amazing. The experience I had immersing myself into the village was moving and changed my perceptions on how to improve the livelihoods of people in rural areas." - Kimberly Worsham
"My favourite experience was learning the Isan language with the help of my Mae and translator, which was both fun and gave us a lot of laughs as I learned the pronunciation. I also had a blast visiting the primary school and singing songs with the young students there; they were so sweet and excited to include us in their activities! With my host family I talked about all kinds of things throughout the week, and we ended up connecting with each other well and they now feel like my own family. The food was phenomenal! It's not every day that you are given five different dishes to eat at once that are organic, homemade and that delicious. I hope to return to the village and visit in the future, since it's now my home-away-from-home," said participant Kimberly Worsham.
Using learning methods such as participatory rural appraisal, field observation, interviews and group discussions, the students explored the main issues of community development, impacts of the Pak Mun Dam on local livelihoods, water resource management, water supplies and usage, hygiene, and the cultural meanings of the Mun river.
They also met with Pak Mun’s community-based organisation, lecturers, including a fishery expert, from Ubon Ratchathani University, NGOs working on social movement around the Pak Mun Dam, the sub-district administrative organisation Or Bor Tor and the EGAT.
"I would say that the trip was an unforgettable experience. It was both heart-warming and humbling because – while our host families were struggling to make ends meet – they went out of their way to ensure that all our needs were met, always with a big smile. It's people like them that motivate me to work harder to bring about positive changes." - Denise Cheah
They walked around the village to map locations of key socio-economic and resource institutes, interviewed senior villagers and young generations, and created historical timelines and seasonal calendars to understand the transformation of rural communities and water management in the context of modernisation and Thailand’s political economy.
The trip also involved participation in group field work around topics including inter-generational perspectives on the dam, fish sanctuary management, adapting livelihoods to floods and droughts, and family hygiene. On the last day, the villagers performed sukwan, the essence of life ceremony, to bless the students with good luck, health and cheerful spirits.
For more information about the field trip or about IWC's Master of Integrated Water Management:
Published 12 December 2015.
Photos: courtesy of Dr Kanokwan Manoram and Kimberly Worsham.