6 June 2024

Residents from six villages near a gold mine in Thailand’s Loei province came together for a tree-planting event earlier this week, in an effort to restore life to a mountain ravaged by gold mining. A community-based group called Khon Rak Ban Kerd (People Who Love Their Hometown), along with international students from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, school children and teachers from Ban Huai Phuk School and the head of the Khao Luang Sub-district Administration Organisation collaborated to revive the once-thriving ecosystem on the mountain and heal the scars left by mining.

The “Reforesting the Mountain for Sustainable Life” project aims to restore the nature and the environment of the community and raise awareness about the importance of environmental conservation. Nature lovers were brought together at the abandoned gold mine in Phu Sam Pha Bon and surrounding area. They planted more than 5,000 indigenous tree species and collected an additional 10,000 seeds of local tree species gathered by the villagers.

Photo by Roengrit Kongmuang

“I feel like the long-awaited day has finally come,” said Ranong Kongsaen, a 61-year-old member of Khon Rak Ban Kerd group. She emphasised that this activity has been eagerly anticipated by the villagers, who experienced judicial harassment in their lawsuit against the mine and were involved in more than 27 court cases. Their demands were the closure of the mine and the restoration of the environment in the area. In the five years since the court ruled in their favour, no environmental restoration efforts have been initiated.

“I’m happy that this day has arrived,” said Ranong. “Today, we have come together with hope, persuading our brothers and sisters in the community to join us in planting trees. We invited everyone to participate in this exciting endeavor. We shared the hope that these trees will grow and, within 4-5 years, this area will be transformed into a lush forest. We envision a future where there is shade with birds and wildlife thriving here, without having to wait for government action.”

Photo by Roengrit Kongmuang

Dr. Larissa Gaias, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, expressed her pride in the solidarity of people from within and outside the community.

“When the community sees a bare mountain that has been contaminated for far too long, this tree planting becomes an act of replenishing hope on a mountain which was impacted by mining. It’s not just about planting trees, it’s about planting new hope together,” said Dr. Gaias.

She added that, besides the environmental restoration and community building activity, it was wonderful to see various members of the community participating, including local villagers, teachers, students, university professors and local administrative organisation representatives. The tree-planting event marked the bonding of the community, after the destruction caused by mining.

Nuchpravi Surin, a 12-year-old resident of Ban Na Nong Bong, said that her parents and neighbours had been fighting against the mine for as long as she could remember. She recalled that life on this mountain had vanished. Today, her parents invited her and her school mates to join them in planting trees.

Photo by Roengrit Kongmuang

“I had so much fun because the American students came here too. I shot a slingshot, scattered mahogany and wild mango seeds. Together with my friends, we planted dozens of seedlings. I joined because our mountain was ruined by others, but we must bring back our mountain. I think planting trees will help us restore our mountain,” said Nuchpravi.

Photo by Roengrit Kongmuang