By Thita Orn-in:
WLE forum 2015 opening ceremony
The Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from 21-23 October 2015 was an opportunity for the fellows of the Salween, Mekong and Red River Fellowship programs who attended to share their work, to network, and to learn from others. The Forum itself attracted over 300 participants from institutions of diverse backgrounds and from countries all around the Mekong Region and beyond ranging from civil society organizations and universities, to research institutes and government agencies.
The forum’s main objective was to bring together researchers, practitioners and policy makers to exchange their work and ideas, and to debate key issues related to food, water and energy in the region. To this end, over forty sessions were held over the three days of the event. The Salween fellowship program, together with our sister programs in the Mekong and Red river basins, hosted two sessions during the Forum.
The Fellows introduce their work
The first session was titled “Launching the 2015 Regional WLE Fellowship Program in the Mekong, Salween and Red River Basins.” The session opened with a brief overview of the fellowship program (download the PPT here ). It then provided a space for the other forum participants to learn about the fellowship programs by having the fellows themselves from each river basin individually introduced their research projects, their related work and their aspirations.
Four Myanmar fellows of the Salween fellowship program; Dr. Cherry Aung, Dr. Khin Sandar Aye; Dr. Mar Mar Aye; and Saw John Bright
A number of participants from the other WLE projects were interested in the fellows’ research, and could see possibilities to collaborate including how the research produced could be shared. This was a positive outcome as it was an aspiration of the wider WLE Mekong Region Program that the individual fellowship projects would integrate with and contribute towards the other WLE projects, and thus deliver a better outcome for the WLE Mekong Program as a whole.
Saw John Bright: Researching on the value of the Salween River from the perspective of different groups, in particular Karen ethnic groups.
A number of the Salween fellows’ research topics focus around themes related to plans for large dam construction on the Nu-Thanlwin-Salween River and effects on livelihoods, agriculture, gender, and governance. Some topics draw physical science aspects into their analysis of local livelihoods, whilst others use principally social science approaches.
Dr. Mar Mar Aye introducing her research
The session provided an open space for fellows to introduce their research to the audience in small groups. For example, one of the Salween fellows, Dr.Mar Mar Aye, a lecturer from the Botany Department of Lashio University, described her study as an ethnobotanical study on the Thanlwin-River local plants. She explained that since ethnic group villages live far from access of modern medicine, they often rely on medicinal plants and these plants are thus valuable to the communities. Yet, so far there hasn’t yet been any documentation of the local values of these medicinal plants, and she hopes that her research could help address this knowledge gap.
Another one of the Salween fellows, Ms. Arun Shining, who is co-founder of the NGO Weaving Bonds Across Borders, explained that she has chosen to collect her data using an innovative research method. She plans to use a video-camera as a way to gather the thoughts of families and children who may be affected by dam construction in Shan State, Myanmar.
Also, Dr.Huang Yaping, a lecturer from the Faculty of Law at Hohai University is focusing her study on to women of the Lisu ethnic group in Yunnan Province, China who have been affected by a dam project. She is looking specifically at their migration patterns, changes in their livelihoods and evaluating the effectiveness of dam impact mitigation programs so as to improve decision-making in the future.
Salween research fellow took turn introducing their projects
Many forum participants complimented that the session was unlike academic-styled presentations that they have attended in the past. Rather, it was designed in such a way that people from different backgrounds could be on the same page and therefore interact, engage and challenge one another openly and constructively.
Fellows reflect on lessons learned at the forum
Fellows from the Salween, Mekong and Red report back from group discussions reflecting on lessons learned from participating in the forum
On Friday 23rd October, 2015, the Salween, Red and Mekong fellowship programs organized a second session titled “Debating Water Governance in Southeast Asia: The perspective of the 2015 WLE fellow.” This session opened the floor for fellows of the Salween, Mekong and Red River basin to share and reflect on their WLE forum experience. The session was structured first as paired discussions, followed by a plenary discussion facilitated by Dr. Kanokwan Manorom. The participants then broke in to table groups to focus on emergent themes that they had identified as consistently raised during the WLE forum, namely: water governance; public participation; and working towards interdisciplinary approaches. From my observation, it seemed that incorporating inclusiveness as a concept was a cross cutting theme across all three topics. The session was wrapped up by a reflection back from each table group, followed by a more informal plenary discussion for fellows to discuss their plans moving forward and challenges faced before they start their field data collection for their research.
Fellows help close the WLE Forum during final plenary
Dr.Bian Yongmin and John Bright give a reflection on WLE forum closing session
During the closing ceremony of the WLE Forum, representatives from the Salween, Red and Mekong fellowship programs were invited to give their personal reflections and analysis of key themes addressed by the conference. On behalf of the Salween Fellowship, Saw John Bright, Kyaw Thu Han and Dr. Bian Yongmin joined the stage leaving a memorable impression for everyone. They stressed points towards decision-making processes about large water infrastructure projects, in particular hydro-power dams, which they said should be more inclusive to ensure equality and sustainability for all. They also raised the issue of addressing gender equity, recognizing marginalized groups, and the need to address the challenges of trans-boundary governance.
Research fellow present their reflections to the final plenary of the WLE Forum
Now that the WLE forum is concluded, the Salween Fellows will be busy with their field research as they are well-equipped with their clear research design and ideas for research methodologies and approaches derived from the forum and our previous workshops. Early in 2016, the fellows will also be inviting their mentors to their field sites to benefit from the mentors experience. The next workshop when the fellows meet again will be in Bangkok, when the Center for Social Development Studies, Chulalongkorn University will host a “Write Shop” to help the fellows organize and analyze their data and refine it into a conference paper. This is an important step, as when it comes to the WLE forum in 2016 the fellows will present their research findings and we will produce a conference proceedings that compiles their research papers. In the meantime, the fellows will soon be writing about their field experience in the form of a blog which will be published on the CSDS and Mekong Citizen Website in January 2016.