IWC students experience community development issues first-hand in Thailand village
The students stayed in the rural community of Kan Puay village in the Sirinthorn 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 mainstream, is one of the affected communities from the Pak Mun Dam, the most controversial dam in Thailand’s development and the Mekong region.
The students lived with local families, cooking and eating together and taking 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.
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 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 Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT).
They walked around the village to map locations of key socio-economic and resource institutes, interviewing senior villagers and creating 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.
They participated in group field work in topics such as the relationship between livelihood, development and domestic water sources, mapping the water-related cultural practices, drinking water quality perceptions, and perception and practice of hygiene and hand washing of children.
On the last day, the villagers performed sukwan, the essence of life ceremony, to bless the students with good luck, health and cheerful spirits.
"I have just returned from the Community, livelihoods, development and water field trip to Ban Khan Puay, Thailand," said Peter Sharry, IWC Masters student. "The excitement in anticipation of this journey was fully justified. It was a fantastic experience to live and learn from another culture.
"I have improved my understanding of and 'feel' for the issues faced by the community in a way that can only be achieved by living the reality on a daily basis. Approaching this with an open mind and heart lead to a very personal, educational and personally rewarding experience.
"The support provided to us by the IWC and University of Ubon Ratchathani staff and especially the translators was great. The host families were warm, gracious, curious and very happy to answer all our questions. The student group all learned from each other as well. And…the village food is AWESOME!!
"We have made many new friends in a small village half way around the world. How great is that! Thanks to everyone involved for a wonderful experience."
Community, livelihoods, development and water (summer semester in Thailand)
This module is part of the IWC Master of Integrated Water Management program's International Development specialisation stream. It is led by Ubon University’s Dr Kanokwan Manoram and delivered as a ten-day field trip in Thailand.
For more information about the field trip or about IWC's Master of Integrated Water Management, contact:
* Photos courtesy of Peter Sharry and Assistant Prof Dr. Kanokwan Manorom