Environmental Education and Education for Socio-Economic Development
Hans van Willenswaard:
Vitalizing Spiritual Values in Education for Environment and Development in Thailand
|Inter-religious Prayer and Meditation meetings have time and again played a role in the protest against at the Pak Moon Dam. The protest movement around this dam resulted in the founding of the Assembly of the Poor. The Pak Moon dam can be understood as a symbol of the negative impacts of globalisation for local communities. And the Assembly of the Poor a strong symbol of local protest and emancipation by the creation of positive alternatives. According to Sulak Sivaraksa, member of the Steering Committee of PESC, “Global transformation” implies the conversion of globalisation into a positive force.|
The Assembly of the Poor, now an umbrella grouping of six networks of organised villagers and factory workers, has raised some 200 points of issue, which mainly concern impact from dam projects, forest and land conflicts, unhealthy working conditions-related sickness, and the rights of urban slum dwellers. Just before his Thai Rak Thai (meaning “Thais love Thais”) Party-led government assumed power, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited with protesting villagers in front of the Government House, where members of the Assembly of the Poor had been camping since the previous Democrat Party-led administration. The premier gave his word and, on 17 April 2001, the cabinet created a mechanism to tackle the problems. Much of the momentum was lost. The only visible result was the May decision of having the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) open the sluice gates of the Pak Mun Dam for four months so as to carry out a study of the rehabilitation process of the Mun River.
The decision of the government of Thailand to open the Pak Moon dam was celebrated with a ceremony at the border of the river. Citizens of the protest-village performed a dancing procession and brought seedlings to the riverbank. The planting ceremony was followed by a Buddhist puja - including indigenous elements - and by the recitation of a declaration formulated by the “Assembly of the Poor”. On the other side, Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand ran a publicity campaign about the alleged benefits of the dam. The Egat advertisements say that since there would be no fish anyway even when the dam’s gates are opened, it’s better to close the gates for electricity generation. To the dismay of the Assembly of the Poor, the dam was closed again in October 2001 and the farmers started a “Long Walk on Bangkok”. The Government reacted with a commitment to keep the dam one year open for further research. The Long Walk will continue until the dam will be opened unconditionally.
Buddhism, Culture and Reconciliation
At an international conference in July 2001 organized by World Association of Christian Communicators Sulak Sivaraksa was invited as one of the few non-Christian keynote speakers. He spoke about Culture and Reconciliation and referred to the Religions for Peace Peace Education Standing Commission. “What we need is a strengthened interaction between spirituality and activism, with organic agriculture as the foundation of a ‘Culture of Peace’.” In his perspective, it is highly appropriate and indeed crucial that those Buddhists who are concerned with the welfare of humanity ~ spiritual, political, environmental and social ~ should join together to try and utilise the wisdom of the Buddha in a socially relevant way; by initiating alternatives to the mainstream.
“Ariyavinaya” (“Noble Discipline”) does not simply mean a new set of detailed codes of conduct and prescriptions (like the Vinaya ~ an important section of the Buddhist scriptures ~ is); nor is it just a matter for the monastics and other clergy, or only for Buddhists. The first step of such a concerted effort is to bring together the entire global Buddhist community, which comprises an immense diversity of people and traditions. This inner-buddhist dialogue is also an important first step towards the eventual goal of establishing and furthering dialogue and unity among all of the world’s wisdom traditions. “The protest movements against the WTO and other summit meetings are not enough for global transformation. We need a new, strong, inter-religious engagement for organic agriculture and endogenous development. We need massive support for organic farmers who start their morning, early, by paying respect to Mother Earth.”
The Ariyavinaya Project is interrelated with a great variety of activities and should not be understood as an isolated project. Essential elements of protest ~ when it includes a spiritual dimension ~ are constructive action and cultural integrity. So, the WACC-conference mentioned also saw the pilot-marketing of hand woven and naturally dyed products made by the women- groups of the “Assembly of the Poor”. The project “Women’s Interaction towards a sufficiency economy”, run by Suan Nguen Mee Ma Co., Ltd. with women’s groups of the “Assembly of the Poor” was launched during the conference. The company was set up from the NGO-network inspired by ‘Ajarn Sulak’ in order to address the socio-economic challenges many communities are facing.
According to its mission statement, Garden of Fruition aims to be a Sustainable Community Venture: “Setting up the company named Suan Nguen Mee Ma or Garden of Fruition is a logical step in order to engage in a longer term perspective with local and village communities threatened by loss of livelihood. We aim to share economic interdependence with the underprivileged and to develop a continuous commitment to a lifestyle of self-reliance, sustainability and social responsibility”.
Women are motivated to use pure cotton and natural dye, while training and demonstration generates creativity and interest to re-apply traditional weaving partners. Shareholders are partially non governmental organisations business friends and the management. Direct participation of producer groups is anticipated.
One of the ways the Ariyavinaya idea is national and international networking. At the national level in Thailand consultations between some essential players at the ‘Green Market’ started monthly consultations in order to strengthen their socio-economic significance. One of the pilots will be to introduce organic food at school-catering. To be understood as a learning process including the spiritual dimension of environmental consciousness and socio-economic justice.
Sulak Sivaraksa founded Social Venture Network Asia – Thailand, affiliated with SVN USA and SVN Europe. In November 2001 the 3d Annuala Conference was organised including an excursion to the Kud Chum organic farmers’ co-operative (which received the SVN Award) and the Pak Moon protest village near Ubon. The position of small “green” businesses and medium scale enterprises vis a vis the aggressive strategies of multi-national companies was discussed, in particular regarding the growing seed monopolies ruling the agriculture sector.