What it means to have real development

By Thien Hoang

I have been passionate about the environment & human rights for many years. It has taken me to where I am now and what I am currently doing.

I graduated with an engineering diploma, with a focus on hydrology and hydropower plants. Back then, I used to think dams were a powerful yet effective way to make farmer’s lives better. I soon realized, however, this was not necessarily true and that local people may suffer from the development of a hydropower project.

My turning point was in 2011, when I participated in a seven month training with the EarthRights School (formerly known as the Mekong School). The training brought together students from many places in the Mekong Region to live under the same roof and learn from each other’s perspectives. Even though our backgrounds were very different, we shared similar experiences of development where human rights were violated or an ecosystem destroyed when a project was implemented without the informed consent of local communities. This experience greatly widened my understanding of development and human rights.

Before joining IAP, I worked for Earth Rights International as a Community Advocacy Liaison in Vietnam. I was responsible for building community awareness through legal tools such as environmental projection guidelines or environmental impact assessments. Prior to that, I worked as an intern for an organization in Vietnam that would consult on projects funded by the Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency and the World Bank. I would often find out about proposed projects even before local communities. My position forced me to consider many difficult questions “Why are communities not the first to decide?” “Are there ways for communities to learn about projects in advance and make their voices heard?” Since then, I have been thinking more and more about the role of public participation, raising public awareness about development projects and what it means to have real development in a community.

My passion for the environment & human rights keeps growing through the years. The more I work in the development sector, the stronger the bonds I have with civil society groups and communities. I am excited about my current position at IAP, where I get to work at a grassroots level with local communities who are advocating for development that truly benefits their lives. Through my work, I get to meet new partners and learn about new trends in how development is being financed. I now see the big picture in how development projects are connected and how communities can organize advocacy to fight back against harmful development.

Thien Hoang is a Community Organizer at the International Accountability Project. She is based between Chiang Mai, Thailand and Hochiminh City, Vietnam

International Accountability Project works to defend the rights, land and livelihoods of people threatened by destructive development projects.

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