Kriengsak Klomsakul is setting up a network of youth groups in schools and communities along Thailand's Petch River and is organizing them to be guardians of their environment and their cultural heritage.
The New Idea
Kriengsak Klomsakul presents the health of the Petch River as a common cause to diverse groups who live and work along the river. He leverages a growing awareness of environmental issues in Thailand and contributes his insights that ordinary citizens must take responsibility for their environment and that the necessary legal frameworks for environmental protection will depend upon changed public attitudes. Kriengsak's selection of the Petch as an organizing focus both stimulates people to clean it up and generates a sense of interdependency among the communities in the region which all depend upon the river and would otherwise remain unaware of their cumulative impact upon it. He is drawing on volunteers of all ages and from all interested sectors of society to participate actively in securing the continued welfare of the river, and he has made children and youth a particular target in his work educating them to the river's importance and showing them what they can do to care for it. He is building a lasting constituency of environmentally conscious groups to be a vanguard of the environmental protection movement in the region.
The Thai environmental movement has grown markedly in the last decade. In part, this has been due to the physical degradation that has accompanied the country's rapid economic development has been hard to ignore. It is probably the single largest social sector movement in terms of the number of organizations. The field has been characterized by a plethora of groups most of whom are local; there are a few national-level organizations, but they are the exception. Though consciousness has been raised to a certain extent and there have been a number of efforts of short-term duration to generate support for particular issues of environmental concern, a lack of cohesion has limited the achievement of significant, long-lasting results. The environmental field in Thailand needs strong activists who understand how to build and sustain coalitions in forging environmental policy. These people must have a vision for initiating interest and activism at the local level, but carry the efforts to a broader impact.
The Petch River is centrally located in the Petchaburi province, an area with a population approaching half a million people. As it is the only river in the province, the local people use the river for drinking, bathing and washing; and it is absolutely essential to the livelihood of all the communities of the region, which include fishermen, farmers and tribal hill communities. The quality of the water has tremendous consequences for them. The river flows through several highly industrialized zones (in one such area there are nearly 600 factories), and, in recent years, several factors have contributed to a decline in its quality, including pollutants in the atmosphere, the proximity of large cities and rapid industrialization. Additionally, there is a lack of big-picture consciousness of how individual behavior can have a significant environmental impact. Though many of the country's movements have begun to raise awareness about environmental consequences, often the idea still has not hit home with people on an individual basis. One of the main sources of pollution in the Petch River is for example, the large number of community marketplaces that are set up regularly along its banks, where the practice has long been simply to dump waste from the market place into the river.
Kriengsak's strategy to build a lasting community-based environmental movement begins with his focus on the physical feature of the Petch, and in 1993 he founded an organizational base named "Love the Petch River." Since many communities and industries are located along the river, Kriengsak uses its central role in the local economy to foster cooperation and an exchange of ideas among groups that would otherwise not have a great deal of interaction. Fishermen and local hill communities, for example, both depend on the river but in very different ways, and they possess different forms of intimate knowledge about the river and its conditions. Kriengsak has presented the problem to them in such a way that each group realizes the need to help wherever it can. As a result, each takes an active role in monitoring the quality of the water.
A second level of Kriengsak's strategy is the formation of multifaceted community-organizing programs that draw on the strengths of different age and interest groups. The province has a tradition of puppetry, and Kriengsak, who studied the art under a Petchaburi master puppeteer, has created an educational puppet show for very young children; named the "Grandma and Grandpa Group," it is fun for the youngsters and keeps their attention while conveying messages of environmental awareness. The shows also incorporate cultural and historical aspects into the program in order to give kids an understanding of their regional heritage. The intention is to have these children grow up with a strong desire to maintain the environmental health of their homeland. One of Kriengsak's long-term goals is to develop a school curriculum that emphasizes teaching the history and culture of the region in combination with the environment. For older students, at the secondary school level, he is organizing environmental watch-dog groups. These are teams of youth groups formed in order to identify the causes of pollution and to encourage the active participation of people in the community in preserving the river. The activities include field work with public health officers to learn how to conserve and clean the river, monitor water quality and discuss the initial causes of the environmental problems and pollution in the area.
A third dimension of Kriengsak's strategy is to spread the effects of the local campaign more broadly, and all of the elements of his work are geared to the creation of a strong, citizen-based environmental movement in the region. Kriengsak eventually plans to link with nongovernmental organizations in neighboring areas and across the country to develop necessary environmental regulations and have them passed into law; and he is presently working with local municipal authorities to change the laws applicable to cleaning up the markets along the river.
Kriengsak is also using various other methods to reach out to the public. On a very practical level, he is encouraging people for the first time to use bicycles and other environmentally-friendly forms of transportation. He has founded a magazine to publicize both the environmental problems that exist and the efforts made to address them. He is also developing an environmental questionnaire to send out to the communities along the river and hopes to involve them through this means. Ultimately, Kriengsak wants to be able to change the mentality of his society.
Kriengsak was born in August, 1969 and considers himself a teacher in the environmental field. While still at university, he showed himself to be the type of person who cannot close his eyes to a problem. He was the leader of a student group committed to preventing drug addiction and he started an environmental program for his own children. In deciding how best to reach the young audience, he chose to tap into the popularity of a well-known children's storybook character, "Dinosain." He coordinated with the editors of the book to include stories where the main character would have environmentally related adventures in order to get the environmental message out to kids.
Although he is relatively young, he has shown a strong commitment to his work. He wants to professionalize the field of environmentalism and consolidate the efforts that are already being made. His dedication and the importance of his cause have also attracted the attention of provincial authorities such as the Governor of Petchaburi and the Tourism Authority of Thailand who have asked him to organize the province's annual festival that promotes the activities and cultural aspects of the region. Recently, Kriengsak was officially recognized for the work he has done by the National Council for Child and Youth Development as one of Thailand's up-and-coming young leaders. He is a dedicated and determined individual who is eager to make an impact on society with his ideas.