This profile was prepared when Pianporn Deetes was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
With a focus that combines cross-border environment and human rights issues, Pianporn is working with the communities who live in the Salween River watershed to become effective advocates for protection of the river that is the source of their livelihoods. The Salween, the largest free-flowing river in Southeast Asia, has drawn the gaze of three governments as a source for hydroelectric power, though they have excluded the local inhabitants from participation in the planning process. That exclusion is illegal. Technically, the legal status of many of the hill tribe people who constitute the population that would be displaced if the dams were built is also ambiguous because of ethnic discrimination and migration. Within this complex situation Pianporn is building the basis for improved justice and civic participation and also government’s accountability for consequences of mega-project development. New levels of citizenship grow from Pianporn’s strategies to educate and raise awareness of environmental and social impacts of dam construction on the Salween. Pianporn’s organization engages villagers at the local level to research, manage and document the many resources provided by the river and develop action plans to reform policy to exploit it. Her relationship with media from the local to the international has drawn in a larger citizen base while educating the press about the nuances of an important story. The process draws attention to laws that have not been implemented; providing a window that Pianporn is skillfully opening for increased use of due process both from citizen and governmental ends. The new skills that marginalized citizens acquire through Pianporn’s work apply to many situations with similar components. Pianporn and the local communities she is empowering disseminate their research and documentation to other minority groups in Thailand, Myanmar and China as well as to local authorities, policymakers and media sources.