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Keeping watch over precious resources! (Part 1)

Story By Lara Scott, Humanitarian Desk Officer

Part 1: Life on Thailand’s largest lake

Gim drives along Songkhla Lake every day, from appointment to appointment. From Shongfern to Phattalung town is just over an hour. From Phattalung to her next destination along the coast of the lake is another two. She is accompanied by her five year old daughter, Mai, who falls around on the floor and yells through all the meetings they attend together. She’s cute, and a familiar presence. No-one minds, really.

When she is not driving, Gim is listening, intently. She facilitates meetings – for the Thai Seawatch Association – of ‘fisherfolk’ activists and small-scale saving and loans groups, as well as the spin-offs from these groups such as Ko Kud’s fish farm and ‘sweets kitchen’. From this group you can get a bag of very sugary cupcakes. Mai loves them. So does everyone, really.

The few staff employed by the Thai Seawatch Association work with groups like this up and down Songkhla Lake. As Thailand’s largest freshwater lake – and the base for thousands of fisherfolk – over 150 of the villages that surround it are reliant on the fish they catch from it. Maintaining the health of the lake is critical, and so over the past twenty years a strong advocacy network has developed, something like a ‘friends of Songkhla Lake’. Made up by lots of different groups with various interests, the Thai Seawatch Association holds them together.

Everyone is a volunteer. Gim speaks with high praise of Mrs Supaporn, who has worked for the lake for twenty years. Currently, she heads up the local women workers’ group. Her house is right on the shore: three concrete steps lead down to the marshy perimeter, and the view from her porch is of an almost blindingly silver stretch of water, reaching out to hills on the opposite side. She shares the property with her sister and other family. She grows orchids, she has this in common with Gim.

Her neighbours and fellow activists live in a stilt house, built on the lake itself. Having the water underneath the floorboards cools the house down. On a lazy Thursday afternoon not a lot is happening on the edge of Thailand’s largest lake. It is hot. Fishing boats are nearby, ready for the evening’s crab catch. A meeting has just ended, the focus this month on a piece of research the women workers’ group put together. It looked at why women in the region end up working in the fishing industry. Apparently, conclusions are forthcoming. Gim is thanked and gets back on the road with Mai, so to make it for the next meeting, three towns away.

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