No.42 Project Restore Manager ウィトン・ダリーソン

Witoon Daleethong(Project Restore Project manager)

”I’d like to see a world in which everything can stay together”

He was born in 1979 and raised in a village called Ban Bala that is several hundred kms away from Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. He and his family, which includes two sons are ethnically Balck Lahu that is a minority tribe. He first studied sociology at Payap University, a Christian College in Chiang Mai. Soon after graduating, he got married. he then decided to get a masters in Sustainable Development and Natural Resource Management from Chiang Mai University. After graduating he decided that he would return to his village and work with his community to develop sustainable solutions for the socio-economic issues that the villages in the Mae Tam watershed area face. He and his family have now returned to their village to serve his community by partnering with local Lahu and Akha farmers, and are working with the local government to bring a more sustainable future to the hilltribe people in the surrounding area. *Restore Project WebSite


Under capitalism
 —This is a story from around 1970 when I wasn’t yet born. To expand their business, major multinational grain companies reached for this Ban Bala village that is located in the up-country of Thailand. They suggested village farmers, “You had better cultivate corn because that will enable you to earn money skillfully.” I suppose that their suggestion sounded tempting. Village farmers who adapted to their suggestion started monoculture of corn which was fed to pigs all at once. For about 30 years—. The corn which was cultivated by pioneering the flat land and the mountainsides, using abundant agricultural chemicals and fertilizers which their manufacturer sold to them by taking advantage of their ignorance has been supporting the villager’s lives.
 On the other hand, without reflecting the bad effects of that behavior, the sacrifice of having continued that style was so large. The soil became sterile by the abundant usage of agricultural chemicals and fertilizers. And the mountains which at one time were covered with forest became bare mountain, and heavy rain shed the surface soil due to the burning of the fields that they were forced to make into new farmland. As a result, the beautiful landscape that remains from my childhood memory has changed completely….
When I was university student, I knew the reality which this village faced.

The days when things weren’t going according to my wishes.
 After graduating Payap University that is located in Chiang Mai city, the second biggest city in Thailand, I entered the Chiang Mai graduate school to learn the know-how to solve these problems that Ban Bala village faced. When I was studying at graduate school, the thought “I want to practice quickly the knowledge about sustainable agriculture which I learned in the field.” sprang up in my mind. Then, I was going back to my home on the weekends since about my 2nd year, and I started planting 10 kinds of trees which bear fruits (for example, tea, coffee, avocado, mango… ) on the side of the bare mountain. Because, some kinds of fallen leaves will make good leaf mold, that will make the soil rich, which had an effect on cultivating the groundwater through these processes, the mountain reverted back to original. But, villagers and my family didn’t understand my behavior. “Why do you plant such trees? Plant the corn to earn the money.” They expressed only opposing voices. I don’t want to follow their farming style, in brief the style that is damaging the land through abundant usage of agricultural chemicals and fertilizers. My behavior was the first step in order to break away from the conventional method.
 It was only a short time since then until I had come to have an idea “I’d like to settle down to farm in Ban Bala village.” I’ve had the idea “I’d like to come back to this village sooner or later.” since I was a high school student. A future that I can spend here every day was so attractive for me, because I liked going to the forest and the river, located just within my reach. Since I was a child, and I had been very happy just being here.
 But, the hurdles which wouldn’t be easy to overcome waited before me, who already had a household in Chiang Mai city. My wife (also from Ban Bala village) answered as follows when I suggested to her “Let’s go back to our hometown.” “Why do I have to go back now? Because I went to junior college to learn accounting not to go back this village, and I studied to get a good job, and to have a good life.” Our opinions couldn’t agree, we just kept following a parallel line. At last, I gave in to her, and I started working after graduating graduate school as a project manager at the NGO (The mission of this organization is to expand the education opportunity, and to improve the sanitation of children who live in the north-part of Thailand where hill tribes mainly live.) which had an office in Chiang Mai city.
 When I worked there, I visited various villages on the job. The image of Ban Bala (my hometown) being confiscated by the government kept coming to my mind whenever I went to those villages. Soon after, I began going back to my village on the weekends, and started working to realize my ideal farming style. Then, I tried to involve villagers because I had the confidence of my vision. But, no one followed me because I so forcefully pushed myself on them, without considering their positions. I acted like “You should do as I do, because you can’t go wrong if you are advised by me.” As I wrestled with myself, without considering their feelings and thoughts, the young people who lived in this village went out to the urban city to seek jobs. Furthermore, my wife and children went out to Bangkok to work which was far away from this village and before I knew it…. The days when the problems which appeared one after another faced me and all things weren’t going well. It was as if I was in the dark and there was no sign of light anywhere.

The things which sustained me
 I started to go to bible school to be able to learn Christian thinking, because I’d like to have peace of mind more than anything else under such situation. That was when I was 29.
 I repeatedly wondered to myself during the four months when I went to that school. “How can I live in this village? What can I do for that?” such questions came and went in my mind again and again. Then, the teacher said this to me, “Your mind will teach you that which you truly want to do and the reasons why you were born into this world. God will guide you to the true path.”
 “Why did he do such things even though he got a masters degree? Is he crazy? ” “He left his wife and two children. How does he raise them?” The villager’s eyes told me that they looked down on me, because I went to that school after refusing the post as a second-director at the NGO which I worked until started going to bible school. In other words I gave up a position that was sure to give me high social status and wages.
 At that time, it was Mike and John who visited me—. Several years ago, the American Mike who taught at Chiang Mai University (also the missionary of Baputest) came to visit my village. While he did that, he pushed forward a project that would give the opportunity to have an equal education to children who grew up in economically poor homes (mainly those who lived in farming villages).
 The schools were applied for and constructed in Ban Bala village. Then, I got a request from him “Would you become a teacher in that school?” But, I refused. I wanted to go back to my village, but I didn’t intend to go back as a teacher. If I didn’t go back as a farmer then, there was no meaning. Actually, all I could think about was agriculture.
 While this and that occurred, destruction of the lands proceeded quickly. However, after some time the lands became so beautiful thanks to my wife’s mother who took care of the lands. When I saw this scene, I was suddenly reenergized and I thought to myself, I must try again.
 In 2011, I spent my days being patient…. Finally, I settled down to work in my village. But, a new problem arose. My wife said, “If we live here, the children won’t be able to go to the school. So, I want to build a house near a school.” On the other hand, I insisted “I want to buy a second-car to use when I farm.” Our opinions were completely conflicting. My father, mother and so on, sided with her… Anyway, I needed to be patient all the time.
When I went head on in what seemed like the blowing wind, Mike and John who understood my thought and goals were there to support me, They said things like, “Never give up!” and We’re cheering for you. This made me feel that I wasn’t just a crazy man. Thanks to that, I continued to pursuit my dream without giving up until now.

My dream
 “Getting a good job, buying a big car, and living in a luxury house… These are the only successes in life.” instigated upon people by the Thai government. While many people aim for that, there are some crazy people like me who can’t follow that.
 Anyway, this place has an answer. There is beautiful nature such as land which is suitable for doing agriculture, mountains, and rivers. And, there is life, history, and culture which has been inherited throughout the years. The life wisdom that the past has made, has been taken to know the answer to the question “How can we survive?” Actually, if people have lots of money but they don’t have any food at all, they can’t survive. That’s why our life isn’t supported by money. I’d like to bring an end of the life in which humans depend only on money and economic prosperity. I think that we have to change our lifestyle to be sustainable (for example, we can inherit a culture which values the land and natural resources like animals and plants future generations.)
 The fear that our lands may be taken from us by the government and that we wouldn’t be able to live here is strong within me. Before that happens I want to return the beauty which has spread in this village once again by our hands. There is only that thing in my mind. This time is a second challenge. Ten or more farmers understand my idea and follow me now, because I learned from my past failure, I came to speak patiently on level footing with villagers. In fact, I came to stay here at last just barely, although I thought I was likely to waver and give up again and again.
 Someday, I’d like to see a world where sustainable agriculture is used. I’d like to see a world in which everything can stay together. It’s my dream. I realize that is an incredibly big dream, and I always return to the same question “How can one earn money?” “When can one get money?” But, god said “you should do what you want to do.”


[Editorial note]
I suppose that everyone who opens a door to a new world will trace a similar path in their life.


Supervisor: Joe Erickson


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