It was hard not to be impressed by the lifeguard and disaster relief programmes on Patong Beach too, which involved so many members of the local community.
After months of organisation and hard work, the long-awaited Koh Siray clean-up day finally arrived on Apr 29, and what a day it was. Arriving in two speed boats, 70 personnel were welcomed on the beach by 30 students from the Sunshine Village Foundation waving Thai and Australian flags, a fancy dress kangaroo and clown, local villagers, keen volunteers and 200 staff from Rassada Municipality led by Rassada Deputy Mayor Pawat Supasuwan.
The visit was supported by the Direct Aid Program of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which awarded the Asia Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) a small grant to encourage collaboration for waste reduction in the area. At the suggestion of the Australian Consul-General in Phuket, Craig Ferguson, the visit also strengthened the commitment for water sanitation which began last year at Koh Siray primary school, enhanced by a visit from Australian Ambassador Allan McKinnon.
Both these high-profile visits certainly caught the attention of the Rassada officials who declared Apr 29 as a clean-up day. The council staff were there in full force and took over the organisation of the clean-up. They were strongly supported by the Moken village council and the sea gypsy community as well as members of the Thai community, including the famous local banana lady who provided a free fresh banana to every participant.
Volunteers were broken into groups and, armed with gloves, litter pickers, bags and determination, set off to clean the beach and village. The mixed groups saw personnel joking with wide-eyed local children and giggling Thai ladies taking photos with the men in uniform. A fun morning with a real purpose.
Very quickly the squalid conditions of the area started to transform. The collected waste was then weighed and it was revealed that a staggering 1,017 kilos had been collected in only 30 minutes. The accomplished volunteers then headed for lunch, which was provided by the Australian government, while 11 members of the lively Defence Forces Band provided the entertainment.
The visit was also designed to establish the local kindergarten as a sustainable centre. The kindergarten, which lies adjacent to the village, is well-placed to play a key role in improving both the health and economic circumstances of the Koh Siray community. Four centres will be established across the area which will focus on water and waste management.
The Australian government donated five compost bins, an organic garden, a new playground and some soap dispensers. The longer-term aim is to encourage the local community to find ways to turn waste into an income generating activity by creating products to sell in local markets. The equipment used in the clean-up was stored for future use with this in mind.
What the day clearly showed was the organisational capacity of the Rassada officials to manage such an important project. However, it’s only the beginning. The volunteers have left but the appalling state of water, waste and sanitation remains. The community knows it’s there, and in spite of whatever sensitivities are involved, the health and lives of children are at risk and serious pollution of the sea through plastic continues.
What has begun needs to be followed through in a determined and forceful way through the combined efforts of the local community, the Rassada officials, provincial officials and local and commercial interests. A long-term strategy for the whole of Koh Siray will be discussed at a forum in July which will engage members of the local community, experts and any other interested parties.
The area has the potential to become a real model for change across the whole of Koh Siray, Phuket and beyond.
– Dr Peter W Harris
Dr Peter W Harris is the APEN Chair. APEN, originally established in Australia and now established in Thailand, aims to contribute to building sustainable communities, including water, waste, energy and biodiversity, with a strong commitment to social justice.