12 June 2011

Buddha on a Mountain

Huay Muang is a community in Thailand fighting against a copper mine being built on a mountain which many villager’s livelihoods depend on. It is also an important cultural component of their village. This mine would potentially contaminate their drinking water, destroy the environment and wildlife that is engrained in their culture, and ruin the farms of hundreds of villagers. I was able to visit this community and tour its beautiful landscape, help my host mom on her farm, as well as eat and talk with the villagers.

One of my most memorable moments there was one easy going night after dinner. My host mom told me and a fellow student to get on the back of her and my little sisters motorcyes. We went off-roading past banana trees and then through her rubber tree farm. We then got to a dirt path which led to her farm next to a small mountain. We picked herbs while the sun was setting and then headed back home. Driving through the beautiful green mountains at dusk with nothing but nature surrounding me was surreal. The nature entranced me and I felt so connected to this place I had only been in for two days. I cannot imagine the connection the villagers have with this land which they have working on their whole lives.

During my time there I was also able to learn about this community’s strong connection to their religion, Buddhism. I helped build a Buddha statue on the mountain that the proposed mine would be built on. The statue was not built for the purpose of stopping the copper mine but rather it was a serendipitous event. A monk living in a different province said he was contacted by a spirit, to build a Buddha statue on the mountain next to Huay Muang. So the monk traveled to this community in order to build this statue. The motivation and dedication of the villagers and monks, working morning to night to build this statue was inspiring. The entire community coming together to make something that would benefit everyone was a beautiful things.

The energy and attitudes of these people were contagious and overwhelming. It was amazing to see this statue built from the ground up with people who believed in the purpose and were strongly connected to this statue. This statue was so much more than rocks and concrete, it was a symbol that represented their culture and solidarity of the community and nature together. It was made for the love of Buddhism, love for the mountain, and love for the community.

The villagers told me this statue could act as a protest. So if the mining company came to destroy this mountain with the Buddha statue, they would be destroying Buddhism. Even though I only spent a few days in this community, I was already connected and it would break my heart to see a copper mine put in. How could anyone who has spent more than a day in this community contribute to building a copper mine which could ruin the environment and destroy the way of life these villagers have had for so many years? I thought about this more and came to the conclusion that this mine will not be built by people who have lived with these villagers, participated in their cultural ceremonies, and hear their stories. To the people deciding to build the copper mine or not it is nearly a dot on a map with potential to make large profits. And the share holders probably have no idea what their money is going towards, but just want their dividends every month. What does it mean that the main investors and people in charge have the power to make such large impacts on places they have never been to and people they have never met?

Anna Craver
Northeastern University

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