My Trips in Laos

by Asean Youth Movement

From P’ Ae (a Thai youth leader based in Chiang Mai)

I am writing here a story of my trips in Laos during September and October 2009 for my work and studies. It such a long time since 2007 that I visited Laos due to I finished my job there, but my work will never finished. I went back there time to time after 2007 but this trip is the most meaningful for me as I have seen lots of changes, both people and environment.

In the end of September I went to Vientiane to meet up with Lao Youth Network (LYN) on preparation for ASEAN Youth Forum in coming October. I had been worked with them since 2004 so it was very exiting for me to see them again. They are volunteers from different youth groups that work on several issues such as human trafficking, HIV/AIDS, environmental education, youth capacity building etc. Many of them become key human resources for local organizations and International Non-Government Organizations (INGOs) in Laos. They still continue their volunteer works without supporting from the government. They also have been networking with us at regional and international levels since several years.

There were about 15 youth from different groups during the meeting on 27 September 2009 at Lao Youth Against Aids Project (LYAP). Half of them were key young leaders that have been working with the network since last few years. I was so impressed to see their commitment to work for their people. We talked informally like sisters and brothers that didn’t meet up for long time. Then overview about ASEAN and the forums were presented to them before the interviewing process in the afternoon. Finally two of them were selected and other three are key leaders from the network. One of them has attended the ASEAN Youth Forum in February 2009. All together six youth will attend the forums in Thailand during October. They agreed to have a workshop for preparation on 10th October 2009 to brainstorm about recommendations from Lao youth to present during the youth forum together with other countries.

After that I was able to visit the LYAP office. I found many progresses of their work and volunteers. One of the young volunteer, Tar, she just graduated from the dentist faculty and she decided to work on for people living with HIV/AIDS and her friends. The volunteers are from marginalized groups such as drugs addicted youth, people living with HIV/AIDS, gays as well as students. They said only 3 of them in the office that have bachelor degree while they have about thousand of volunteers working through out the country. At least 30 active youth are working in Vientiane and they work together equally in a big family without discriminations.

I still remember that Tar talked to me few years ago that the volunteers she worked with would disappeared after the projects finished. She worried that how could she build up volunteers who have highly commitment to work for people more that just their part-time jobs. She started with about 1000 baht with her volunteers group which there were about 4-5 people left at that time. They did some fund raising activities and finally they were able to set up a handicraft shop made by women and families affected by HIV/AIDS. Today she is very happy to work with her volunteers and she makes a joke that they will never left even they are asked to quit.

I am so happy that she will join the ASEAN Youth Forum in this October.

Then I went back to Laos again in the beginning of October for my studies. I went to Bokeo province to follow up about the situations along the border at Golden Triangle Area where the three neighboring countries meet with Mekong river, Laos, Burma and Thailand. The huge Chinese casino complex project is located right there in the middle of area in Lao side of Ton phueng district. It is an investment of Chinese business sector that has concession for 99 years in the area of 20 square kilometers or about 3000 hectares. The project is comprised of entertainment services such as golf course, hotels, casino and including infrastructure and development projects such as roads, airport, school, hospital, farming etc. About 10,000 Chinese people will be living in the area for their business. The complex has opened formally since the beginning of September but many of the projects ate under constructions. They expect to have about 10,000 people visit the complex per day in the near future.

I went around the complex and had seen lots of rapid changes. Several local communities will be resettled since many of them have already lost their land with a very low compensation. Roads were constructed across their lands and communities with the promises of better development. Now they are not even able to use their forest due to it has been belonged to the Chinese companies already. Mountains were exploded to use for build up roads and buildings as well as sand and stone from the Mekong river. Most of workers of the construction site are cheap labor from Burma. Due to the work is too hard for 12 hours a day with a very low wage so the local Lao people do not want to work in the construction sites and for the skilled labor are all Chinese or Thai. Some young Lao and Thai people are able to work in the casino for the gambling games and also some Chinese and Burmese girls are working for special services of prostitution in the casino as well as some that are working in the local karaoke bars along the street to serve demands of the Chinese workers and local people. Many luxury cars of Chinese people flows from Chinese- Lao border in Boten through the R3A, the infrastructure under the mega project of Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) with the support of Asian Development Bank (ADB) to support economic cooperation among the counties from China down to Malaysia. The local Lao bus diver said that before he could get lots of Chinese passengers but now they have their own buses from the border so he gets nothing. I can not imagine if 10,000 of Chinese people moved to the area what would be happening here.

Is this development or new colonization?

The next day is Okphasa festival after the three months during rainy season that the monks will stay at the temple to study Buddhism. There would be big ceremonies both Thai and Lao side along the Mekong river. I joint alms round ceremony in a temple along the river in Huay Sai. Thousand of local people came to the temple. Lao girls and women came with the traditional skirts beautifully. Sticky rice, sweetmeat and notes were offered to the monks. They also prepared for boat race in the afternoon and candle boats ceremony in the evening. While in Thai side people were exited with naka fireball to promote tourism by natural phenomenon. Just came to watch the fireball, get drunk and forget about what is happening with the Mekong river, our mother of life.

Up on the stream of the river, many of dams are building in China and many already finished and controlling the fluctuation of water for navigation. Floods happen more often and water is very low in the dry season Local people have been complaining for changes in the river that effect to the fish and ecosystem as well as their way of life. I wonder that how can people cerebrate their traditions and safe their cultures along the river in the near future if the Mekong is getting dry up like this.

I used to go to the village in Lao side that far from Pak Moon dam in Thai side about 60 kilometers. The village chief said that about 200 people were working in Thailand after the fish decline and they had to find jobs in town or cross border to Thailand.

However, this is only a case of one village effected from a dam that we can see clearly how cross socio-economic and environmental impacts among our neighboring countries are happening through development projects. However, how many local communities along the Mekong river will get affected from those big dams in China and how much social impacts will happen within each country as well as across the nations.

While the young people are leaning and growing up slowly but the rapid changes around them come across countries with globalization and capitalism. What we can do to encounter with this crisis, not only in our own countries but we have to think bigger and link with other friends in different countries as we are all now connected. And this is not one country’s problems anymore.

No matter how big the problem is and how much effort we have to make, I still believe with my faith and commitment that youth will be the answer for our common future.

6 October 2009

Chiang Mai, Thailand