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Pisit Chansanoh, A Raindrop on the Coast

By Burmese Writer
     Lay Theary, National Radio of Cambodia

"A raindrop may be small, but useful to nature and mankind," so said Pisit Chansanoh, himself a raindrop.

"A raindrop is the symbol of coolness and peace, "  he added softly. " It means happiness to the people."
Pisit is a raindrop indeed, but not an ordinary, anonymous one. He is the founder and leader of Yadfon – The " Raindrop "  Association, a non-governmental organisation based in Trang province of southern Thailand. And, like a raindrop, he is modest, quiet, and unassuming.
Short in stature, with faded clothes, sparse greyish hair and whitish beard stubble, he looks much more like a simple village elder than an intellectual working in international circles. He speaks softly and slowly but always precisely, revealing a thinking mind.
Yadfon, his child, was born in 1985. Its main objective is to promote sustainable development and community self-reliance. Pisit, 51, has been at the helm throughout its life. A graduate of Khon Kaen University in 1969, majoring in agriculture and animal husbandry, he has dedicated his life to the under-privileged.
After college, he first went to Chainat province, near Ayuthaya to work with rice farmers. But he could not stay there long. The political crisis that occurred in the 1970s forced him to move to Chiangmai. He worked for more than 15 years with NGOs in northern and northeastern parts of Thailand, and after that he moved with his wife to Trang, her hometown.

Trang province was, at that time, beset by many problems.

There were many problems in Trang province, the biggest of six provinces along the Andaman coast of Thailand with a population of 550,000. Most of the people were rice growers, rubber plantation workers, and fishermen.
The owners of rice fields and rubber plantations were richer than the fishing folk. And they took the lead in political and social affairs of the community.  Pisit chose to work with the fishermen.
 He organised and founded Yadfon, and began to work with the fishing people, mostly Muslims, who lived around Sikao Gulf.  At that time, the villagers had difficulty getting fresh water.
 Pisit took this problem as an opportunity to establish close relationships and understanding with the people. The initial program of digging wells for fresh water was successful.
With the increased enthusiasm of the people, Yadfon began tackling other problems.
The fishing folk had been living along the coastline for centuries. But conditions in the outside world were changing. Intruders – buccaneering entrepreneurs, such as charcoal producers, shrimp farmers, blue water fishermen, and tourism promoters, flocked to the pristine area.
 Many would destroy the ecosystem within which the coastline fishing folk survive.
 A delicate ecosystem was composed of mangroves, sea-grass, and coral reefs.
 How fragile is the ecosystem? Pisit explained: “The coastal ecosystem is composed of three important living resources: mangrove forests, sea-grass beds, and coral reefs.

"These three things form a complex, interdependent and delicately balanced ecosystem.
"Mangrove forests scattered along more than 900 kilometers of the Andaman coast are home to 74 flora (plant) and 386 fauna (animal) species.
"Sea-grass growing in calm, shallow waters provides habitat to the endangered dugongs and young sea turtles.
"Coral reefs are the regular haunts of countless numbers of sea creatures, including shrimp and crab.
Together, these natural areas form a complex ecosystem where many commercially valuable species spawn and grow. The health of this ecosystem directly affects the economic well-being of coastal fishing communities."
Pisit described the scenarios of ecosystem
Mangroves are the roots of the sea.

Destruction in the area in detail:

"The harvest of mangrove for charcoal by concessionaires and the use of mangrove areas by shrimp farmers have resulted in depletion of mangrove forests. Mangroves are the roots of the sea,"  he said, quoting a Trang fisherman’s well-chosen metaphor. "If there are no mangrove forests, the sea will have no meaning. It is like a tree without roots."
At the same time, sea-grass beds and coral reefs are being destroyed by pollution from shrimp farms, industrial plants, and illegal and damaging fishing methods, including drag nets, push nets, and the use of explosives and poisons.
The people of the coastline countered this situation with " local wisdom."
Local wisdom! What’s that?

" It means they tried in their own ways." Pisit explained. " First, they used coconut diplomacy. They gave coconuts as gifts to the trawler crews who swept up all the fish near their coastline – that is, within the 3-kilometer of exclusion  zone prohibited to the trawlers. The gifts were symbols of their heartfelt desire to engage in constructive dialogue."
But that didn’t prevent the trawlers from poaching. So, the villagers had to seek help from local authorities and the police. But law enforcement was not strong enough to protect the poor folk from the powerful and sometimes reckless trawler interests.
The last resort – a time of confrontation
There was no way left except confrontation. The local people were courageous. They relied on themselves. Boatloads of coastal villagers went out to the open sea to show the big trawlers that they were resolved to defend their rights. And, united, they won.
You will never hear Pisit talk about his leading role in these action, or Yadfon’s educational programs.
He comments: " We are not teaching the villagers. They know marine animals and marine ecology much better than we do. What we have to do is to help them organise their knowledge so that they may see their problems clearly and make wise decisions. We only try to help them help themselves."
The success story of the "empowered" Trang people has spread near and far. Yadfon has become an internationally known NGO on rural development. At present, it is a member of NGO-CORD (NGO Coordinating Committee for Rural Development), with various connections throughout Thailand and abroad.
Pisit attends international conferences and seminars to discuss his experiences and express his opinions about rural development.
The raindrop form Trang has made a big splash.

Copyright 2009 IMMF.