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Preserving the Mae Ping Basin

Journalists from several types of media were invited to create awareness and develop interest to preserve the Mae Ping River Basin.

A brief outline of the 2 day agenda. The first stop will be Baan Hmong Nong Hoy to observe problems and successes of agrticulture development. The next stop will be Baan Muang Khawng. The media group will stay over night at Rim Doi Resort. The next morning a visit award winning village of Baan Mae Maae. The press will return to the city on a boat to better observe the encroachment problems along the Mae Ping river leading to the city municipality.

When I first visited Baan Nong Hoy over 20 years ago, it was a rugged ride up the mountain in a van. It was where I first learned the Christian missionaries gave rice to the tribals for attending church each Sunday. The missionaries have greatly assisted the tribals in many ways with elementary education, the more promising students received scholarships to study in colleges abroad and missionaries assisted with fresh water distribution also. In the Baan Nong Hoy village there were donkeys walking through the paths as well as numerous wandering black pigs of all sizes. The small burrows brought to my mind the long walk of the tribals through the mountainous region from Burma into Thailand. All the houses were only just basic lodging.

On this visit Baan Nong Hoy was not recognizable to me. Driving up to the village, the roadsides were blackened ash from recent dry season fires burning the growth. Closer to the village the hills were planted in rows of cash crop gardens. Very few trees remained. The majority of housing were sturdy cement buildings. From the viewpoint we saw the tragedy of every city in the world that is a stockpile of trash and litter covering a nearby hilltop. City folks certainly cannot blame the tribals for wanting to improve their lot over the years. In the city elected officials cannot find a solution to garbage build up either.

We must be grateful they follow the leadership of society to plant vegetables and rice instead of poppies.

The group drove to a scenic spot at the beginning of the Mae Ping River. It's at Km 78 in Chiang Dao district and turn off toward Wat Ampawan. As we got out of the vans at Baan Muang Khawng, we were invited to lunch of steamed rice, minced meat with basil and squash soup. Somtam and Yum Naem could be ordered as well. Plenty of oranges for dessert. We sat on mats at the river edge where mother nature has strewn large rocks and boulders. The music of the fast rapids mingled with the songs of the birds. There was a manmade water wheel nearly one story high turning around. We could see about 30 students in uniforms walking around the boulders water up to their knees, laughing and having a good time.

Under the huge old trees, foldable chairs had been set up for the audience of the outdoor broadcasting that was to be taped. The discussion panel consisted of Sherif (Nai Ampur), Village Chief (Paw Luang), Dr. Wasan and Subdistrict Council President (Aw Bor Taw). The topic was "Fuen Foo (Preserving) Loom (Basin) Naam Ping (River Ping)", of the 2,790 square kilometers of Chiang Dao, 30% is flat land the rest is mountains. Generally, the flat land is 400 msl. The population is kohn muang (Thaifolks), and hilltribes are 20% of the 800,000 population. The occupation is rice farming, royal project management, and the newest agricultural project to be implemented are rubber tree plantations.

The village chief informed there are 28 villages and 7 tambons (subdistrict) along the river. The generation of youngsters has been educated to love the environment and protect the water and forest. The reason for looking after the forest benefits the entire community.

The Sherif said one remaining pressing problem is how to lessen the use of chemicals among the villagers. The water must remain clean especially here at the beginning of the Mae Ping River.

Dr. Wasan reviewed that he and his CMU students had started volunteering in this community 12 years ago. They monitored this area especially in dry season when the water became shallow and nao, sia. Many fish died or were "mao" fish. Every kind of person is a member of Dr. Wasan's organization each one loves, worries and works to recover the Mae Ping and its tributaries. Each volunteer was happy to come to this village. Each villager was welcoming and encouraging. They worked together to clean the rapids. Exchange information with each other. Throughout the years observers from Bangkok and worldwide have come to observe the fruits of the clean sparkling river and protected forest at the edges of the river. The villagers do not use cement or concrete to create small walls but use bamboo and wood. This way fish can jump over and they swim up and down the river to mate. The riverbanks are covered with plenty of wild plants. Many local villagers help each other to improve, educate and keep the area in good condition for their children to inherit.

Cooperation of the entire community is important. Dr. Wassan said, "One pair of eyes is not enough to preserve this treasure". The villagers made rules and devised punishments. They divided the prime forest from usable forest. They plant herbs, medicinal plants and also new trees.

Dr. Wasan said there is a living treasure to study, ie insects, plants, and birds. The youth can make a study center. Whenever holiday visitors come to the village this information is available. The month of March is known for "World Water Day" appropriately near the Songkran Thai holidays. His group will visit schools to see the environment curriculum. Each villager has to ensure not to throw waste into the river.

At the end of the program. A student commented at a standing microphone with thanks to all the professors for coming to their village to show them the way to clean environment. Also, the student proudly invited his peers listening to the program to come to visit the river in his village.

After the taping, everyone was invited to view the posters in the environment mini museum. The press boarded two boats to view the pollution that was created by a dam, Fye Wang Hai, newly constructed by the government. Even though the villagers had protested against the dam being built construction had gone ahead. Now the villagers wanted to the press to see the repercussions.

A third group of press however were able to walk along the shores of the river to see the wonderful preserved state of the forest. A wall of vines had grown up very high. This is important according to Dr. Pakping to stop dust, or chemicals in the air from reaching the river. She was so pleased to see the vine wall because that is one of the objectives of the volunteers to get this growing.

The walk brought back pleasant childhood memories to many when seeing the natural 'toys' such as seeds that were used for bamboo pipe blowing. Plants with big leaves they gathered to feed pigs (but humans should be careful not to touch with bare skin because causes itchiness.) Lovely lavender flowers known as Botan Dok Naam Tarn because of the sweet nectar that draws the birds of the forest to feed on. A huge wild tree with twisted trunk and branches had red flowers growing near the ground. This is a natural phenomena when the tree replanted itself. The vines could be cut as a type of Tarzan transport from the river bank into the center of the river. On a huge madeua tree covered with red fruit a very rare white button orchid was growing on a branch high over head.

Dr. Pakping demonstrated how children used a type of root to gently scrape away dirt to find a 'kiad', a frog that is eaten by village people. There was a growth of ob or grass with long roots planed near the water to hold the ground. It's believed to be a medicinal herb, when mixed with honey, elders organized a ceremony around Songkran for the 'slow' children to eat.

Another type of seed was used by children for "fireworks" in bamboo poles. We found discarded seeds of sabaa - resembling the size and shape of human kneecaps. We passed a bush of dok Mae Ping a wonderful sweet smelling small white flowering bush.

The group left for Rim Doi Resort located at the intersection (Sam Yaeg) toward Wiang Hae owned by Jaa Muan. On the same road is the Lisu Bible Institute. We had a buffet dinner of Thai food and then a seminar and discussion period about environment issues.

The next morning was cool, we could see our breath on the air. As the golden sun was rising, the mist on top of the lake reflected the golden color. While we were in the refreshing coolness, I thought of the increasing warmth back in the city.o

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