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MONDAY, December 05, 2022
Mon villagers fight power project

Mon villagers fight power project

SUNDAY, June 04, 2017

Along the coastline near Ye township in Myanmar’s Mon State, people in Andin, along with other six villages in Pharlain, have long pursued a traditional self- sufficient way of life, based on farming and fishery since the community was first established over a hundred years ago.

But three years ago, a group of strangers arrived at Andin, wandering around residents’ betel nut trees and rice fields that stretched to the beach, where fish are usually taken from the sea and dried. They then told locals their fertile village would become the site if a new coal-fired power plant.

“What I knew all my life is prayers and how to teach and lead people here to live a modest self-sufficient way of life,” the venerable abbot Soi La said at Andin Monastery. “But after that encounter, I began studying about environmental issues seriously, impacts of a coal-fired power plant, values of our community of Andin, and of our neighbours in Pharlain. The more I have learned about these, the more intense I have felt about my Mon origin and identity.”

Following the first encounter, there were ground surveys and negotiations to buy plots of land from residents. In the meantime, people in Pharlain began to ask questions about the project and started studying it despite few details being available.

Volunteers in the villages started to learn the values of their communities, recording and writing the details in a report. ‘The Abundance of Pharlain’s Natural Resources and Communities’ report is the result of their effort. It is supported by the abbot, Soi La.

This has not only solidified local people’s knowledge to counter the company behind the coal plant, but also linked them together to dig out their past history and precious values of their roots.

On April 25 this year, three years after they were visited by the strangers, residents in Pharlain district decided to launch the report in Mon language.

Thiri Oo, 25, head of the team that produced the report, said villagers had learnt about the plight of people in Map Ta Put in Thailand and realised how hazardous industrial development was. With the report, they have come to see how valuable their communities were.

“It’s not as clear as this moment,” said Thiri Oo. “The Mon-language report means a lot to the communities as it has added meaning to our efforts to protect our identity and values while fighting against investors from outside. We have realised that we are dependent on the gardens, not electricity.”

Montree Chantawong, campaign director of Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA), who offered advice on production of the report, said this was one of the first cases in Myanmar in which locals were standing up to fight a giant company through the compilation of local knowledge.

As they compiled the knowledge in their communities themselves, their sense of appreciation of their own values and ownership of these values has been boosted, Montree said.

“I just hope that the fight by Pharlain and Andin villagers will be heard to other communities further away, so that their spirit can be boosted the same way as Pharlain’s to fight against investors who cross borders to exploit their resources without listening to locals’ needs,” he said.