The next morning there were more people singing and dancing, including children from the village. Many were dressed in their very colourful traditional costumes.
We went off to the side of the on-going festivities to interview two village leaders, Mr Ja Hair and Ja Nae Nae, one of the female elders in the village. They both talked about how the weather is hotter now, the need to plant trees and protect water, the value of traditional housing which is cooler, and the importance of educating the children.
Later on we traveled to Pakha Sukjai, an Akha village and also where the Hill Area Development Foundation has facilities. We spent time walking around the village and then had a spontaneous interview with Ah Nor Jeu Beng Eh Khu, the oldest person (89 years) in the village. He talked about the interconnections in life, that sometime soon he will be going to live in the forest with his ancestors, that everything lives and dies.
We then filmed people coming back to the village from their days work and watched a quite spectacular sunset. That night we joined Ah Jew Beng Eh Khu, a village volunteer for HADF in Pakha Sukjai village, sitting on a large mat in his family house and sharing a very nice meal.
We traveled from Chiang Rai back into the hill area of the north. The plan for the day was to visit two Lisu villages. At Ban That village we spoke with the village leader. He would like to see more support from the government to encourage people to do the right things on the land. Without this support people do what they can to make a living. Lack of citizenship rights is still a major issue for many hill tribe people. In the past, as shifting cultivators, they didn’t know political boundaries. Many came as refugees from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) about 30 years ago, where there is still conflict between the minority groups and the government.
From Ban That we traveled to Ban Pang Sa village to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Here we found people doing their traditional dancing.
The village musicians were playing the Seubeu, a traditional string instrument, and the Falous, a traditional wind instrument, as they led the dancers around the circle.
As much as I believe we got some great footage earlier in the week, for me there was a real beginning yesterday. We drove out to a small village of about 100 people. They are from the Karen minority group and live in and protect the forest. We walked into the forest to where they were working with neighbouring villagers, clearing leaves to create a fire break. We filmed some awesome stuff there. After lunch we went for a walk along the stream by the village with the village leader, Mr Preeca Siri, and his two daughters aged 16 and 17, Dao-Jai Siri and Tuenjai Siri. We eventually came to a quiet place in the forest where we set up the camera on the tripod and interviewed them. It was incredibly powerful to hear the voice of Mr Siri and his daughter Dao-Jai from within the forest they live in. These people are so in touch with the earth and aware of what’s happening in the world with climate change and other issues. They talked about how we all need to be living closer to nature. It is their hope that they can provide a good model and example for city people, people in Thailand and around the world, to learn from. This was very powerful stuff. For me this was a real beginning to this journey. I feel very determined to find a way for as many people as possible to hear the voices of these forest people and of others that we will be meeting.
We had a challenging first 4 days in Thailand. After a day in Bangkok we had a 6-hour train journey to Chumphon in southern Thailand, a day or so there and then a 7-hour train journey back to Bangkok.
On arrival we were taken straight to a village to see a diverse tree cropping organic farm. There is a fascinating case study of community development and resilience here, with interaction between Chumphon Cabana, local farmers and others aimed at creating a truly sustainable future that cares for both land and people.
The rest of our time was spent time at Chumphon Cabana talking to Khun Varasorn about his work and vision and visiting a local organic rice farmer.
At Chumphon Cabana resort they “walk the talk”, by developing a positive working and learning environment for their staff and farmers who come there for workshops. It is also their hope that tourists who come to visit will gain from this. Their educational approach is hands on with a Play and Learn (PLEARN) garden and facilities for educating farmers. As I learned later this facility is part of the AgriNature Foundation network.
We’ve heard about climate change from scientists, politicians, environmentalists, celebrities. What about the true grassroots people, the farmers of the world?
In my work with New Zealand farmers I have targeted people who were forward thinking and making positive moves towards a sustainable future, farmers who are providing leadership for the future. It became increasingly clear to me that there is a collective wisdom among these people that we all need to be hearing and acting on.
This became the motivation for investing in a professional digital video camera and embarking on a 5 month journey to film grassroots perspectives on climate change. My primary focus was to document positive actions that local people are taking.