On a chilly January morning, wearing just a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, 19-year-old Naing Naing Win rode his family’s old Honda 125cc motorbike along a dusty, sandy road. His destination was Mayin Gyi village, about half an hour from his village of Thit Toe Tauk, Tanintharyi Region, Myanmar. As a youth living near a planned massive industrial zone, he knew that the days of riding his old bike along dusty, undeveloped roads might be limited.
Naing Naing Win is a second year student from Dawei University majoring in English. Like other youths in the area, he has both worries and hopes about what the Dawei Special Economic Zone (DSEZ) will bring to his community. But he’s eager to be part of the process. He made that chilly morning motorcycle ride to attend a Community Research Training in Mayin Gyi, which he saw as a potential step toward engaging the company and government to make sure the project benefits local communities.
Introduction during the Community Research Training (Photo credit: MPE, 2016)
The DSEZ involves a huge array of development projects covering an area the size of Hanoi. It’s led by project developer, Italian-Thai Development Co., Ltd (ITD). The DSEZ plan includes industrial estates, petrochemical complexes, coal-fired power plants, a dam, rail and highway links to Thailand, and accompanying residential and commercial zones.
Spirit in Education Movement has been working on Dawei issues for several years. This video captures the perspectives of some community members near the development project. (Video: SEM 2014)
The trip for the training was not Naing Naing Win’s first time visiting Mayin Gyi, but he was more excited this time. For him, this trip was like a kid’s new adventure out of the village, with a chance to interact with community youths – to learn how to make change together. Naing Naing Win was invited by his friends and the Abbot from the Mayin Gyi village’s monastery to join the Community Research Training organized by two organizations: Spirit in Education Movement (SEM) and Dawei Development Association (DDA). SEM is a Thailand-based NGO whereas DDA is a local NGO that was formed by a group of local youths with the purpose of responding to problems faced by local communities when the DSEZ was launched in 2008.
Naing Naing Win (green shirt) – sharing what he has learned from the training to other participants (Photo credit: MPE, 2016)
The Community Research Training brought together Myin Gyi youth – including Naing Naing Win’s youth group Green Generation – as one of a series of activities undertaken in partnership with Mekong Partnership for the Environment (MPE). MPE is a USAID-funded project led by Pact which aims to strengthen civil society and community participation in regional development projects. MPE is supporting work on the DSEZ, which it views as a valuable learning site. SEM works to strengthen and support Dawei civil society through enhancing their ability to constructively engage in dialogues with government, business and other key stakeholders.
Scenes from a previous Spirit in Education Movement training on community research. (Video: SEM 2016)
Since the launch of Dawei SEZ, 19 villages in the Dawei SEZ area – with approximately 3,700 houses, 4,700 households, and 30,000 people – have been affected by the project. Naing Naing Win’s village is no exception. His family needs to be resettled in a new satellite village planned by project developer ITD, but currently they are still living in their village. On the first day of the workshop, all participants were excited and active when they introduced themselves during the first session. They wanted to join the training because they want to have better environment, livelihoods, safe food sources, and a more tolerant and peaceful community.
As for Naing Naing Win, he said some tensions have arisen since “the company (ITD) divided the community into two groups – those who have agreed and received compensation; and those who did not agree, as they want to stay and don’t want to resettle.” For Naing Naing Win, he really wants the community to be as peaceful as before.
Group work (Photo credit: MPE, 2016)
Naing Naing Win mentioned that as a current student, he cannot fully commit to community concerns. But after his graduation, he will continue with community work more fully. Around six months ago, together with some of his friends, they formed Green Generation. He got the idea to form a group to work on community issues when he and his friends attended a Reporter’s Training course in Dawei Township organized by a local media organization, Dawei Watch. Ko Thant Zin from DDA has also encouraged them, and has provided support in forming the group. Apart from the reporter’s training, Naing Naing Win also attended a Capacity Development (CD) course run by Dawei Watch which mostly focused on development related issues. The facilitators of the CD training were CSOs from Yangon, DDA, and Dawei Watch Media group, which subsequently extended his network.
The facilitator summarizes inputs from participants on what they learned from the training and next steps (Photo credit: MPE, 2016)
Currently, Green Generation is comprised of 20 to 30 male youths from the affected villages. Most of them are university students with only a few who finished or dropped out of school. No female youths are involved yet as most of them are occupied with their housework and helping their family to earn a living. All members come from the Nabule area with three to five members from each village. The members often meet at the Mayin Gyi Monastery, which is also where SEM organized their Community Research Training. Most of the members work or help their parents during their free time. This has proven to be a challenge for them to organize meetings and do community work together.
A village map by the participants (Photo credit: MPE, 2016)
Naing Naing Win says that the members still need to build up their capacity in order to implement effective community work. Besides, the current members are trying to persuade female youths to get involved in their community work. He believes that if group shows strong commitment in working for their community, the girls will be eager to join. And perhaps the group can even get support from elderly people. This would mean a better participatory approach.
This event – SEM’s Community Research Training in Mayin Gyi – aimed to provide communities with perspectives, knowledge and skills to be able to facilitate community research on local resources and development impacts – research that integrates local wisdom. SEM expects that Naing Naing Win and other participants will begin this process of research back in their hometowns after the training, and build an understanding of the potential of their local resources. The training also connected with previous Local Wisdom research projects, helping to build connections across communities based on common issues. These skills and connections can then be helpful in dialogues with local government.
Naing Naing Win shared their group research to the women from the Mayin Gyi village (Photo credit: MPE, 2016)
“The training is helpful for me,” Naing Naing Win said on the last day of the event. “It enabled us to organize the youth with common goals to work together for the community. The training has helped them to know their community from first–hand research experiences. Most of the time, we never care or have concerns with our community. And this has also helped us to learn about our community in a systematic way”.
The participants in front of Mayin Gyi Monastery (Photo credit: MPE, 2016)
Naing Naing Win felt that they need to be able to conduct detailed research about their community to help them achieve their goals more effectively. And as a result of attending the Community Research Training, this 19-year-old from a small village named Thit Toe Tauk came together with other community members to share his environmental knowledge, and to continue working on environmental conservation.
But most of all, Naing Naing Win leaves with skills that will help him communicate and negotiate with the company or government in a constructive manner. For Naing Naing Win, future motorcycle journeys may be along a less dusty, more developed road. And on arrival, rather than attending a training as a youth, he may be using his skills to talk with government or developers. All of which is to reach his one goal: sustainable development for his beloved community.
Lead image: Participants at a recent SEM community research training.