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Sasin Chalermlarp: 10 lessons

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Well-known environmental activist Sasin Chalermlarp tells our Life section about his recently-completed 388km walk to protest against the Mae Wong Dam and what he learned from the experience. 

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On the way to Bangkok. KORRADOL YAMSATTHAM

A walk to remember

Sasin Chalermlarp. APICHIT JINAKUL

10 lessons learnt by Sasin Chalermlarp on his 388km march to protest against the Mae Wong Dam

Thirteen days – 388km. The anti-dam protest march by conservationist Sasin Chalermlarp ended on Sunday in Bangkok to rousing cheers as his long walk has stirred up a debate on the government's plan to build the Mae Wong Dam, one of the 21 dams planned under the 350 billion baht flood management project.

Starting in Mae Rewa Wildlife Sanctuary in Nakhon Sawan on Sept 10 and ending at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in Pathumwan on Sunday, the marathon march, says Sasin, was an attempt to make society pay attention to what protesters believe to be environmental dangers of the planned dams – especially the credibility of the EHIA (Environmental and Health Impact Assessment) report, which they said lacked key information about ecological systems and the possible impact on locals.

Each day while on the march, Sasin, the secretary-general of Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, other conservationists and experts on ecology and water management, held public forums and met with local people, where they all shared information and comments. The march built up momentum in its final stretch, when Sasin entered Bangkok on Saturday and was joined by a few thousand supporters.

Meanwhile, pro-dam villagers and government have come out to insist on the necessity of the dams in the flood prevention scheme.

This unusual form of protest is rare, and while there are supporters and opponents to his view and method, Sasin has put the dam in the spotlight. Just before he ended his march, Sasin chatted with Life about 10 things he learnt while walking 388km down the road.

An activist wearing a tiger mask campaigns against the Mae Wong dam project. Thousands of dam opponents gathered at the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre at Pathumwan intersection last Saturday as the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation’s march against the dam came to an end. THITI WANNAMONTHA

LESSON 1:

On the chance of victory against the dam

I think our chance of success is 50:50. I learnt that it is not only a fight between two sides, but also involves a lot of stakeholders and many processes. We need to deal and work with many groups. Success or defeat does not solely depend on us.

LESSON 2:

On the efficiency of his method

This march is much better [than other forms of protest] because it is non-violent and can prove our sincerity and determination. Walking 388km in 13 days can kill you.

The walk can show your stage of readiness. First, you have to be physically ready. Second, your heart and dedication must be strong enough. And third, your friends and your supporting network must be ready and can be counted upon. I think we've had an excellent coordination team.

LESSON 3:

On the people he met along the way

Do not be judgemental. People, especially local villagers, know much more than you think they do. I learnt that our walk was able to stoke their curiosity and enabled them to express and share their ideas.

LESSON 4:

On media coverage of the march

Nothing surprised me. National television stations hardly gave us any coverage, while alternative media and newspapers continue reporting about us. We already made predictions on media coverage – and the mainstream media does not surprise us at all.

LESSON 5:

On dealing with the government and its reaction

I learnt nothing new from our government, even though the latest response was that the minister of natural resources sent his representatives to have a discussion with us.

I saw it as a promising sign. Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadee [who insisted on building the dam], did not respond to us directly [despite Plodprasop's mention of the conservationists]. He was talking to dam supporters and obviously he tried to please them. I wonder if there's any truth in his statements.

LESSON 6:

On the scene – the provincial roads and the urban setting – along the route.

Men have made the scenes along the road rather harsh and not conducive for any living creature. Humans build and create ugly structures. We need to create more natural scenes and expand forest areas.

A concrete jungle is not the place for humans to walk. Try walking 388km in 13 days and you will understand.

Another group of protesters set off from Rajamangala University of Technology Suvarnabhumi in Ayutthaya to the World Wildlife Fund’s Nature and Agriculture Education Centre in Pathum Thani to protest against the government’s plan to build a new dam in Mae Wong National Park in Nakhon Sawan. APICHIT JINAKUL


LESSON 7:

On sleeping and eating along the road

The state's power is everywhere. There were a few schools and temples in the pro-dam area that refused to provide us shelter.

Luckily, we have a lot of friends and supporters who fed and housed us, and supported us along the way.

LESSON 8:

On the success (or not) of communicating the message to the people – whether they're interested in the march and not what it tried to convey

Exhausted. KORRADOL YAMSATTHAM

At least, I believe society now knows that the term EHIA exists in Thailand, despite not completely understanding what it is. I think we scored in whipping up collective curiosity about the EHIA and Mae Wong Dam. We succeeded in pushing society to ask questions.

LESSON 9:

On what he hates the most about what happened along the march

News reporters who do not do their homework! Some news reporters still ask me questions like: 'What is the impact of the dam?'

Me and a number of people have been talking about the impact of dams and the Mae Wong Dam project for years. And then there were news reporters who asked how painful my feet are or what am I going to do next!

LESSON 10:

On what he plans to do next

Get plenty of sleep. I am exhausted!

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