How binding local and global advocacy can protect our human rights and environment
by Tom Weerachat, Program Coordinator, IAP
I think I started working in development, as it related to the environment, over ten years ago when I was in high school. I come from the countryside of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand where the nature and the environment are very rich and diverse. I studied in Chaing Mai which is quite a big city and lots of changes were taking place when I was there. I observed many problems related to the environment and joined the environment conservation club. I was part of a local campaign to stop a destructive development project.
I still remember. They wanted to build a cable car through the unique and sensitive ecosystem of Doi Chiang Dao. It is a very sacred mountain - very beautiful and rich in biodiversity. The project was proposed by the central government to increase tourism in Doi Chiang Dao. It was a very centralized idea that was imposed onto the local area. There was no consultation so people organized and campaigned against it.
That was my starting point. We were successful because we were able to share information about this project very early on. It was not just the activists. Everybody joined us - academics, writers, students, teachers, vendors, everybody joined the campaign. It is powerful when diverse people join hands to do something together. One thing I witnessed was how the cultural background of people, their beliefs and local values such as the belief in spirits and local traditions really binds people together and brings solidarity. I think that’s very important for all campaigns.
Then in university, I got to know the Mekong School students, who came from many countries in the Mekong region. I learned many things about the neighboring countries, the situation of the Mekong River, the dam problems, the mining and the many destructive projects. I learned how communities worked together to protect their rights and stop the projects. After that, I was the Alumni Coordinator for the Mekong School. It was an interesting experience, working with activists and community members in six countries. I felt very privileged.
Working with the International Accountability Project
I first heard about IAP when I started working with Earth Rights International because IAP and ERI are very close partners. I always heard about the collaborations between the Mekong School students and alumni and IAP. It was in 2013 that I got a chance to know more about IAP, when I helped distribute the Community Action Guide on the Asian Development Bank. We received support from IAP to do a workshop in Yangon and everybody was so excited to see the guide! We had participants from six countries. We studied the guide and took turns to facilitate and be participants. It was quite fun but also a very useful tool.
I see myself positioned in between local communities. As you know, in this era there is not a very big division between the local, global and regional. They all merge together. What’s happening in the local context is also part of global trends. But I see my job as trying to build and strengthen the connections between this ‘local’, ‘global’ and ‘regional’. There are many groups and people doing amazing things but how can we work together? If we work on the same issues, we can share ideas, philosophies, resources and it would improve our work. I enjoy talking to people, sharing strategies, receiving suggestions and sharing insights. I think its very important because we live in a challenging world and we just have to work quickly and together. That is my vision for this position.
At the moment, I am trying to build partnerships with local groups in specific countries, starting with the Mekong region, particularly in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. One project that I am really excited about is the Early Warning System (EWS) which I just got to know about this year. I talked to people about the EWS and they are so excited! They want to learn more about this, they want to be a part of this and they want to contribute. I am very happy and excited to talk to people about the EWS. In the next few months, I am also excited to develop new modules for the Community Action Guides that will not just be the Asian Development Bank but will be broader and involve the global context. When I talk to people about this idea, they are very interested and they want to see or even participate to share their expertise.
I think we all have the same goal; to uphold human rights and especially with a focus on development. We believe in the capacity and expertise of people to design and implement their own plans for development.
Tom Weerachat is a native of Chiang Mai, Thailand where he currently works as IAP’s program staff. Tom is a community trainer, a teacher, a traveler, and a Mekong activist. Tom previously worked with EarthRights International Mekong Program as the Mekong Alumni Campaign Coordinator. Tom has served on the Youth Advisory Panel of the United National Population Fund Thailand and was selected as the Thai youth representative at the ASEAN +3 Youth Environment Forum. Tom is also a volunteer of the Mekong Youth Assembly promoting and strengthening environmental youth networks in Mekong countries. Tom received his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Chiang Mai University.