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Community, livelihoods, development and water in Thailand

Students in the Master of Integrated Water Management (MIWM) WASH and Development stream have recently returned from a 10-day field trip in Thailand where the 'Community, Livelihoods, Development and Water' module is delivered.
Community, livelihoods, development and water in Thailand

Students on the banks of the Pak Mun Dam, Thailand (Photo credit: Fabian Alfvegren)

The field trip was led by Dr Kanowkan Manoram from Ubon University with the assistance of IWC Education Director Dr Brian McIntosh. During the trip students stayed with local families in the rural community of Ban Hua Don Kon Sai, Ubon Ratchathani Province in Thailand’s northeast (Isan) region. The village, located along the Mun River near the confluence with the Mekong main stream, is one of the communities affected by the Pak Mun Dam, the most controversial dam in Thailand’s history and in the Mekong region.

Students lived with local families, cooked and ate together and took part in their daily lives. They also met with the head of the village, local government managers and staff, spiritual leaders (such as Chum, the mediator between humans and spirits, and the Buddhist temple Abbot), primary school teachers, local health officers and community health volunteers, as well as the men, women and children of the village. This gave students the opportunity to develop a broad appreciation of the lives and livelihoods of the people who live in the community from how water and sanitation is managed at a household level, through to water usage for domestic chores, farming activities (such as growing rice, cassava, chillies) and fishing, through to community level water usage at schools and temples. Students also spent time with local NGOs protesting against the Pak Mun dam and EGAT (Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand - the dam owner) to learn about the impacts, operation and future of the dam. 

Student experience

“The Thailand intensive was such a special experience,” said 2017 MIWM candidate and field trip participant Kathryn Silvester.

“We were immersed into village life: living and eating with our host families, learning about their culture, religion, history, future aspirations and, of course, water management,” Kathryn said.

“The community were so generous and welcoming of us, which meant we were able to learn so much from them but it also made it sad to say goodbye.

“I was in awe at my fellow students: - their questions, insights and thoughtful approach to sensitive issues challenged my way of thinking. I learnt a great deal from sharing this experience with them and also made some pretty amazing friends,” she said.

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.

“For me the most fascinating part of our trip was the hospitality and passion of the local community, welcoming our group and how they continue to fight to protect their livelihoods,” said 2017 MIWM candidate and field trip participant Julia Bauer.

“Getting hands on experience and learning tools for community engagement while also getting an opportunity to use them in a secure learning environment with an inspiring professor and amazing classmates is so much better than just learning about it in a lecture,” Julia said.

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.

More information

For more information about the field trip or about IWC's Master of Integrated Water Management:


Below photos courtesy of Chawirakan Nomai:
 
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