Personnel from the HMAS Canberra visited the village on Monday (Apr 29) to participate in a clean-up and help establish the kindergarten as a sustainable centre with fresh drinking water and a garden.
The visit was part of a wider goodwill project sponsored by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with some lofty goals: to transform Koh Siray and reduce waste to zero.
However, the project does tick very big boxes in what is needed to make this happen: it aims to break the poverty cycle by promoting local waste management and increasing household incomes by empowering villagers to create products to sell in local markets.
These are among the poorest people in Phuket, simple villagers who live on the fringe of society. Any extra form of income is most welcome, and likely to motivate.
Most arguments for saving the planet from plastic tend to shy away from the motivation needed for the tremendous change required to achieve this. The short of it is that the result in the change in behaviour must have immediate positive benefit to each person involved.
Yes, selfish it is, and selfish does work. Think hotels and the latest fad of banning single-use plastics. There is no argument here, but it cannot be denied that it is a great selling point and literally costs the hotel less to implement, while doing the right thing.
Compare that to the people still dumping piles of garbage beside our roads all over the island. No direct immediate benefit for not doing so results in zero change in behaviour, no matter how wrong it is.
The empowerment of villagers to understand that tackling pollution is nothing more than a personal responsibility is crucial. Global pollution can be defeated by the combined willingness of individuals.
Also, for motivation, as soon as there’s an understanding that waste has value, people will find a way of making money from it – and the object will literally not go to waste.
Further, if successful, the Koh Siray village project will prove one thing: if it can be done there, it can be done anywhere. If people living among such impoverished conditions can change their own little world, there is no excuse for anyone else living beyond those meagre incomes for not doing the same.