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This article was originally published on Thailand NOW
Founded in 1955 by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama the Ninth of Thailand, the Ananda Mahidol Foundation has supported and sponsored exceptional young students of Thailand to pursue graduate studies abroad in eight fields of studies. These fields include Medicine, Science, Engineering, Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, Agriculture, Dentistry, and Veterinary Medicine – all quintessential to the sustainable development of Thailand. For nearly seven decades, the graduates of this Foundation have served various roles and positions in Thai society and altogether advanced the production of knowledge for Thailand.
Dr. Rattana Lao, a trained Educator and a recipient of the Foundation from Social Sciences, interviewed Dr. Jain Charnnarong, an experienced Mechanical Engineering and the president of the Ananda Mahidol Alumni Club, about the Foundation, the late King’s Philosophy and what it means to Thailand’s future.
The origin of the Foundation began as the late King wanted to honor the memory of His elder brother and His Majesty was advised to do something about education. Due to the dire need of the nation, the first scholarships were given to two medical students: Professor Charas Suwanwela and Professor Prawase Wasi. Since, nearly 400 students from eight fields have been awarded the scholarship. Each scholarship recipient excels in their own fields and dedicates their lives to the betterment of the society. Today, it is important for us as a Foundation to reflect on our role in the society and think critically about how we can work together in unity. We need to think what the country needs and focus on it.
Environmental issue is the main problem. Two years ago, I was asked by Professor Charan Mahatummaratana, the then Chairman of the Ananda Mahidol Alumni Club, about the PM2.5 issue in Thailand. There are two main reasons for the dust problem: burning of fossil fuel and openburning wildfire. As long as Bangkok still depends on personal transportation via cars, there is not much we can do about fossil fuel. We have to wait for the transformation of the society toward more public transportation and the use of alternative sources of energy.
Wildfire is another problem. It is caused by ignorance and carelessness of the people. Sometimes, farmers wanted to burn post-harvest materials in their lands for a rai or two, but it spread into the forest escalating to 100,000 rai of wildfire. Some wildfires last continually for months and the villagers suffer from air pollution.
It began at Bann Kor, in Li, Lumphun – in the north of Thailand, where our Foundation’s work as a sandbox. A few of us went to the village to research in order to understand the plight of Kor. There were engineers, scientists, and botanists. The botanists helped enlighten the team about the intricate relationship between different species in the forest, especially between plants and mycorrhiza. The main question is how we can live in harmony with the forest, how can humans mitigate the intrusion to the forest and limit environmental degradation.
The root cause of forest invasion is poverty. Villagers need to eat. They need to survive. During the summertime, most villagers are unemployed and they depend on the forest for their living. They might want to burn a rai or two but the fire escalated to 100,000 rai due to carelessness. This is the cause of the wildfire.
Going into Bann Kor reminded all of us about the late King’s Philosophy on sustainable development. There needs to be better water management, soil, and access to the market.
Our study on Bann Kor shows that there is sufficient water in the forest: both on the surface and underground but there lacks water management system. The state needs to invest for the villagers to have sustainable water infrastructure. His Majesty the late King of Thailand talked a lot about sustainable water management. Throughout His Majesty’s life, he did many projects related to water – more than 1,000 projects altogether. Water is the first step of life, for plants and for humans. Without water, there is no food security nor life.
Soil is also important. It is about agriculture. Then comes access to the market. If any village can maintain the balance between water, soil, and access to market, while preserving the nature, there is hope for sustainable development.
Knowledge production and learning matter significantly to the development equation. We must educate the new cadre of youth in the village to know how to live with the forest in harmony. In the beginning of the project, we asked the youth what kind of plants grow in their forest, they couldn’t answer it. It is a fallacy that people who live with the forest do not understand the forest.
They could not see the relationship between different living things in the forest. They lack basic knowledge and understanding about the forest. We have to change that. We have to reeducate them. We have to show them the intersectionality between wildfire, environmental degradation, and poverty. It’s essential to integrate thisknowledge into the school system so students are made aware of the impact of their action. If we can do that, we can hope to begin a journey to address the issue of climate change.
It all begins with young people.
This article was originally published on Thailand NOW