23 April 2012

The Motivation Behind the Rasi Salai Fight

Since 1994, when the Rasi Salai dam project was built, communities from Rasi Sali District, Srisaket province have been constantly fighting the government and the dam companies from destroying their way of life. For generations, the way of life of communities living in Rasi Salai depended upon Mekong River. Also the culture of Isaan people emerged from the ecosystem, which they depended on for generations. Villagers had the freedom to catch fish from the river, grow crops on the wetlands when there was flooding, and let their livestock graze on the land. But after the dam was build and the gates were closed to provide irrigation to Rasi Salai the wetlands the families depended on became flooded and the river stopped.

Even seventeen years after the dam was build and the gates were closed many villagers have kept fighting to in reclaim their way of life and culture of life. Instead of leaving the land and finding work elsewhere many villagers have found alternatives in keeping their way of life and traditions that have been affected by the dam.

The community’s main motivation for keeping that spirit alive for years is, passing along the way of life they once knew to their kids. Many villagers say this is important because if they don’t pass the way of life that their ancestors passed down to them than the culture of Isaan will be diminished.

Even though they way of life has been disrupted, villagers in Rasi Salai are trying to fight and preserve what they have currently have. Now how are the communities fighting to keep their Isaan and the way of life going? For one, by the help from CIEE and NGO’s the Rasi Salai learning center was build. Aside from teaching the villagers the effects that the dam has had on the communities the community run learning center serves as a space to teach the community and visitors alternative agriculture irrigation techniques. The learning center has also provided information to youth to help preserve local wisdom and demonstrate the value of cultural traditions in Rasi Salai and other communities such as Hua Na. In demonstrating cultural tradition on of the leaders helps youth by teaching them how to create crafts like pots, sticky rice holders and mates.

On of the Mae’, Mae Si who works at the learning center said she learned these techniques from her mother and now it’s her duty to pass it along to her daughter and other youth. She said this is important because they won’t have to purchase the pots and handy crafts from the store because they will know how to make it. In addition, after the dam affected Rasi Salai, many of them have been finding alternatives to agriculture techniques. For example, Mae Si has moved her agriculture to higher ground so when the raining season comes her crops weren’t get destroyed. By doing this Mae Si and other communities are currently trying to create a green market for the community. Mae Si believes that many of her neighbors are capable of growing food for the community but currently she and others from the learning center are in the process of building a green market for the community.

Mae Si said one of the main reason she has been growing her crops and wanting to create the green market is because of her kids and the next generation. She believes that if something like the green market or learning center is left for the next generation than the way of life of Rasi Salai will keep going.

Fatuma Youb

University of Minnesota


Kyle O. said...

Great post! It really covered all the details needed to paint a good picture of the Rasi Sali community and their struggles.

Fátima A. Avellán said...

Youth organizing and out-reach is definitely one of my favorite topics, super happy you wrote about this and its importance and relevance to Isaan. First, after having the exchange with the NGO P’Mieu (also the one and only female NGO we’ve exchanged with) it was tight knowing that communities in the US aren’t the only ones who are focused on organizing and reaching out to youths, especially through media. I remember working at a community-based organization (CBO) in Boyle Heights (East Los Angeles) last semester and having a conversation with a community leader who stated, “I want to see more youths from around here attending these meetings. Plus, we need them to teach us older folk about the internet and other resources.” Basically, youth involvement will not only be beneficial to maintain the community’s culture, history and movement sustainability, but also strengthen movements by the knowledge youth (with the privilege of internet access and literacy) can share about social media and the internet. Plus, this nurtures a sense of community and bridges the gap between the youth and those of elder generations, not only in small villages in Thailand but also in every place organizing for their communities needs, all of which gives community organizing a stronger impact.

brennkelly said...

I loved that in this post you touched upon the handing down of organization. In Meh Si's case she was not originally a part of this movement rather her mother was and now she is involved and plans on doing the same with her daughter. Visiting villages it's so common to see that missing generation that goes off to work in Bangkok so it's refreshing to read and hear about the youth being incorporated into the organizations in communities.

Coral Keegan said...

I liked how you talked specifically about Mae Si and her handicraft initiative. In my mind, she is such an integral member of the Rasi Salai community because of her drive to reinstate self-sufficiency. In addition, her determination to educating the next generation is extremely important in Rasi's strength as a community, continuing into the future.

I feel that the Green Market will also be a good step towards regaining some of the self-sufficiency that Rasi Salai lost when the Rasi dam was built. However, as Thailand continues to develop I do not think that complete self-sufficiency will be possible for many communities. Rasi may lead as an example of a community that is able to have some self-sufficiency while still taking part in the general economy.

Anonymous said...

It is very interesting to me how the communities of rasi salai have adapted to life with the dam. To me, it seems as if they are moving on from being destroyed by the dam, to focusing their efforts on more constructive efforts—helping huana fight their dam, and working on a green market. In adapting, however, many of the villagers now use the water from the dam to irrigate their fields, which my Mae in Rasi Salai saw as a great benefit to having the dam. She explained to me how she saw the construction of the dam as both good and bad—good in that there was water accessible even in the dry season, thus increasing their rice production, and bad in that they cannot collect food from the wetland any more, and they cannot have any animals. I feel it is a sign of strength of a community to be able to continue preserving what they can of their culture, even though so much of it was destroyed by development. I love that Mae Si continues making her traditional crafts, as that is something that cannot be taken away by the construction of the dam, and destruction of their village.