In July of 2015, representatives from WARECOD led a Thaibaan research group from Viet Nam on a study tour of Southern Laos to visit other village research groups. Here are some impressions from the individuals who were part of the trip.
At 5:00 am on 6 July 2015, five Thaibaan researchers from the Mekong Delta of Vietnam and 2 project officers of the Center for Water Resources Conservation and Development (WARECOD) got on a bus leaving Da Nang (Vietnam). The group arrived at Pakse (Champasak province, Laos PDR) after 14 hours and was welcomed by Ms Michiitta Taosuvan of PADETC, a non-profit educational association in Laos. That was how our 3-day trip to visit and exchange lesson learned between Thaibaan groups in Laos and Vietnam started.
After three days, what I was most impressed with was the way Thaibaan has been implemented in close collaboration between villagers, educational units and specialized departments (such as the Water Treatment Department and the Environmental Protection Department). They conducted research together and the Ministry of Education filtered research results carefully before including them into textbooks, which will be used at local schools. This is how the current generation works together to pass their valuable and practical knowledge to their own children and grandchildren. In other words, the research they did shows positive and negative impacts of human activity on the environment, which helps educate people that environmental protection is a responsibility that we, current and future generations, all share. Also as part of the research, fading folk songs or traditional dances are performed to awaken the passion in villagers and to inspire the young generation. These traditions can also bring additional income for local villagers by recording albums or selling handicraft products to improve their livelihoods. The whole ceaseless research process is a series of lessons that should never be ignored.
Another thing I was impressed with was a fishing tool called the lys that I had a chance to witness at the wild and majestic Khone Phapheng waterfalls near the border with Cambodia. According to the villagers in Thakhor village, this special fishing trap dates back to 1963. Made of long trunks (mostly from bamboo) tied together like a long chair, lys are inclined at 60 degrees above the water’s surface. They are constructed along the falls and were fixed in place by the rocks. Each year between February and August, one ly can bring about 30 million kip in income for local people by catching fish, with some variation due to water level. You cannot find the ly outside Siphandon in Laos.
Megafirst, the investor of dams on Mekong mainstream, blamed lys for the large amount of wood it takes to build them and the large number of big fish it would catch. Megafirst was conducting a research on migratory fish on the Mekong and claimed that lys would affect the research results, but local people thought the company just wanted them to quit using lys. The company wanted to prevent fishers from using lys. If so, what will be the future for these fishers and their children, given the fact that lys generate most of their income? Will the compensation from the company be able to offset the fishers’ loss, and what is the solution for the long-term? These questions are waiting for answers.
My next impression was the clean environment with green trees everywhere. If you visit a family in Khinark or Thakhor, you will love their wooden big house, decorations, and household items which are artistically made.
The last thing to mention is the food which was not familiar at all to me. The food tastes slightly spicy, but shows the hospitality of people of this land and cozy atmosphere they create to welcome strangers. The perfect harmonization between people and nature can be felt in the way friendly Laotians process and enjoy food.
I do hope that the things I have learned from this trip and from the Laotian fellows will be saved, shared and applied to later research that we are going to do in Vietnam. Once again, I feel like I was able to come back to the good old days when people and nature existed in harmony. I feel more respect and love for nature and think more about our current environmental issues. I hope that there will be more sharing among the local groups so that we can all be aware of the environmental issues and work together to protect the environment, the atmosphere and the our most precious resource – valuable water.
Nguyen Thi To Nguyen is a member of local knowledge research in Mekong Delta of Vietnam. Translated by Duong Thu Hang of WARECOD. This study tour was funded by Oxfam Australia in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems.