23 November 2009

Power of the Human Spirit

As I entered the Rasi Sali protest village, I was immediately reminded of images I had seen of refugee camps from across the globe. By basic definition, the refugee camps that dot the planet are a consequence of forced migration and an improvised cohesion of people into some semblance of a society. People without a home unify to create a community. However, the people that form the protest village at Rasi Sali know the exact location of their home, and are fighting for their right to return to their land. Unlike the refugees of Burma or Sudan, these people are in a different situation- they hold power. Their tents, make-shift homes and markets are erected in direct defiance to the government. The people of Rasi Sali are fighting back.

From the outside, the protest village at Rasi Sali appears to be a disorganized, cluttered series of tents and markets. Yet, upon entering through the main road, it becomes clear that this community is a microcosm of human activity with a unique economy, culture and leadership system. Vendors selling treats and scarves dot the perimeter, and a community sala acts as the hub for meetings, strategy sessions, media and cultural activities. This is a community with a mission, and the structure of the village reinforces the fact that these people are committed to their goals and ambitions.

Rasi Sali protest village was constructed to oppose the operation of a hydropower dam on the Mun River in Northeast Thailand and to demand compensation for the loss of livelihood, land, homes and work that resulted from the flooding of the Mun River when the gates of the dam closed. Before the construction of the dam, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) failed to complete the research necessary to ensure that the effects of the dam would be negligible and manageable. Neither an environmental impact assessment (EIA) nor a social impact assessment (SIA) was completed. In 1993, when construction was finished and the gates of the dam were closed, the area around the dam flooded. Once the land was inundated, the housing, income, food and livelihood of the people were destroyed. Since the operation of the dam began, the people of Rasi Sali have struggled for the restoration of their essential human rights.

Despite their losses and uncertain future, the people of Rasi Sali have maintained an unwavering optimism and hope, as evidenced by their vibrant protest village. Although the resistance of the Rasi Sali people has lasted for many years, their ambition has not dimmed. Energy, enthusiasm and solidarity define their community. Within the society, the people maintain their culture, values and traditions. During our visit, we had the opportunity to attend a wedding between two villagers who had met and fell in love at the protest town. We were welcomed into the homes of families who live nearby and work to support the efforts of the protest community. The ability of the Rasi Sali people to warmly open their homes to strangers and to find love under such dire circumstances is a testament to their positive outlook. Their moral strength pays tribute to the power of the human spirit to persevere through injustice and to maintain unwavering confidence in the basic rights of all individuals. With the unyielding force of hope, optimism and confidence, the protest village of Rasi Sali has shifted from victim to activist in the fight to return to their homeland.

Kate Voss
Georgetown University

1 comment:

Cecilia Marquez said...

I think this is a really interesting perspective and something that is really resonating with some of the activism in Mexico. One community in San Salvador Atenco faced a similar problem when the Mexican government tried to displace the entire community in an attempt to build an airport on their land.

The members of that community formed a blockade and managed to successfully keep the government out despite multiple attempts by police and military forces. They did this in the face of serious violence and human rights violations.

Many of the members of that community were imprisoned and are still in jail today. Then later the government tried again to remove them from their land to build a Wal-Mart, oh globalization.

Yeah so it's interesting how marginal communities, especially rural communities, are viewed as very moveable by the government.

Great post!