Fellow Since 1993
Nature Tour Guide
This profile was prepared when Chantasit Boonyasaranai was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1993.
Chantasit Boonyasaranai is building environmental knowledge and commitment to conservation among Thailand's youth by providing them with opportunities for hands-on experience. University students help high school students who in turn help elementary students; and, together, they are working to influence both school and parks policies.
The New Idea
Thai youth have few opportunities to witness firsthand the environmental problems of their country or to be involved as active participants in the solutions. Chantasit Boonyasaranai is providing youth with the opportunity to actively study and interact with nature and to develop a sense of responsibility taking care of their environment. He has established a number of nature study clubs, trekking groups and camps for youth. Through these activities, he is developing leadership and environmental awareness, as well as training in practical problem-solving skills.Chantasit views environmental problems in a holistic manner. Western and Japanese influences have encouraged Thai society to become materialistic and have helped to create greater industrialization and overbuilding on land that is needed for crops or natural resources. Perhaps more important, this influence has eroded Thailand's cultural affinity with the natural environment, especially for the younger generations. Chantasit believes that if young students are educated to appreciate their country's resources and to participate actively in preserving them through volunteerism, they will also affirm and wish to preserve their own distinctive Thai cultural identity as a people more closely tied to and respectful of nature. For Chantasit, then, the key is the link between the conservation of nature and environment. "In conservation management," he says, "we cannot separate man from his environment." Thus, the Project also stresses culture, tradition and arts in the local community, so that when people walk into the forest to study nature, they also touch the lives of local people and understand the value of their life-style as part of their identity.
There is a dearth of environmental consciousness in Thailand. The deterioration of national parkland and the lack of protection for wildlife are two visible aspects of the problem. Park management is woefully ineffective due to personnel shortages and inexperience. Formal and informal mechanisms to stimulate local community participation and cooperation in conservation of the national park eco-system barely exist. While the schools and the media provide some information on the environmental situation, this area of study for young people has barely begun. Chantasit comments, "With critical unsolved environmental problems and new Western and Japanese cultural influences, Thailand is headed for bigger problems in the future."In the past, several nongovernmental organizations attempted a variety of activities to increase development and coordination, but without coordinating with government agencies such as the Department of Royal Forestry or the army. Large numbers of local people who have been prohibited from entering the parks are living in national park areas and dependent upon the forest for resources. Local people conflict with national park officials and often have to migrate to towns to seek employment. It is, therefore, crucial to find alternative methods for solving the problems that arise in national park areas by working cooperatively with the people in local communities and to plan for the sustainable management of natural resources.
Chantasit's conservation project focuses squarely on youth, providing camping activities for youth volunteers and using nature trails as training stations for becoming active participants in natural resource conservation. The youths' activities take place in a variety of settings, from national parks to wildlife sanctuaries to nature and wildlife education stations. The activities are subsidized by income earned from a guided nature walks service. Local individuals are selected and trained to become volunteers and guides in the hope of deterring their migration towns and to reinforce the notion that the forest is valuable in a variety of ways. The project also coordinates its activities with groups of teachers who attend a training camp to learn conservation skills and to understand how to explain conservation to their students.Chantasit has three camps and training courses in northern Thailand protection areas: Doi Suthep Nature Education Station, Doi Inthanon National Park and Omkoi Wildlife Sanctuary. Camps are run during school vacation and during long public holidays. Student volunteers and children are recruited through schools and clubs, and the media is asked to publicize information so interested students can apply. Chantasit's "Nature Interpretation" program features a Youth Volunteers Camp that has as its motto: "Go and See, Think and Do." Those students who attend the volunteer youth camps and experience and appreciate nature are asked to think of alternative ways to protect the environment. At the same time, the students are encouraged to become involved and participate in the programs run for younger students.The camps and training courses are designed for the university students who will run and manage the camps for high school children. Chantasit says that this method allows the ability "to transfer knowledge and experience from university students to the high school level and then to primary school, from generation to generation...step by step without a gap." To make the experience even more enjoyable, primary students are provided with games to stimulate their curiosity about nature, such as finding hidden answers to questions on park trails. Volunteer leaders are trained for a year and must successfully complete extensive course work in biology and environmental sciences as well as management. At the nature stations, students learn how to use the forest or park without producing adverse effects, how to interpret nature and the environment to students and the general public and how to protect natural resources with a variety of strategies. A nature study handbook has been produced by the student volunteers as well. Presently, there are eight schools in three provinces and a coordinating body of 350 members called the "Youth Volunteer Club for the Conservation of Thai Heritage." The leaders at both the university and high school level are encouraged to introduce the youth camp model to other parts of the country, and a newsletter is published to help members communicate and work together. Chantasit plans to coordinate the efforts of the youth camps in a national youth environment network that will develop approaches to national environmental problems and will work to lobby government, businesses and national organizations to help find solutions for Thailand's environmental problems.
Chantasit was accustomed at an early age to going into the forest with his father, and, as a young man, he persuaded his friends to travel in national parks. He remembers that as a youngster he was not always careful to leave the forest as clean as it was when he entered. While at the university, he became a trekking guide and implemented a forest conservation project. He graduated from Khakesart University with a degree in geography. Early in his career he took a prestigious job with the Siam Bank but felt unhappy being so far removed from working with nature. After six months, he left the bank to become an eco-tourism guide in the northeast and to work with environmental researchers. In 1990, he went to Japan to study conservation work and youth activities for five months and returned to Thailand to launch his own conservation project.