Thorng Luen, leads a group of kids into the forest. He explains uses for nearly every plant they pass.

"This plant can be wrapped around a cut to stop the bleeding", "the berries from this plant are good for an ulcer", "this plant can be burned and the smoke will help sick cows and buffalos", "the fruit from this plant can be used to make soap for washing clothes".

The students already know about the fruit trees and are quick to grab a snack.
My name is Thorng Luen Khamdokrak and I have been fighting to save the local forest for the last 10 years. The forest is 700 rai (273 acres) and is located between the villages of Ban Pra-bat and Ban Huay-bong, near Khon Kaen, Thailand. It is beautiful and healthy now but 10 years ago there was almost nothing here.
 
People in our villages rely on the forest for everything. We pick fruit from the trees, use plants and herbs to eat and as medicine, catch insects and animals for food, harvest mushrooms, make tools from the trees branches and wrap our food in banana leaves. For generations we have relied on the bounty of the forest.

 
Modernization
But 20 to 30 years ago, as Thailand began to modernize, the forest began to diminish. People wanted to make money so they cleared areas of the forest to grow large fields of rice, sugar and corn, which could be sold. They also cut trees to make houses and to sell the lumber. Eventually, little remained of the forest and the village lacked the ready source for many of our daily needs. Perhaps because the forest had always been there, we had taken it for granted.
 
Although many people in the village recognized the diminishing forest as a problem, we did not know how to solve it. Around 10 years ago, we started telling people not to cut down trees and to stop clearing land to grow crops but many people didn't listen. We formed a local committee to make rules but people would often break the rules. Our solutions only half worked.
 
We asked PLAN to help make the forests healthy again. PLAN arranged for us to visited well-managed forests and meet with government forestry officials and forestry experts from universities. They taught us how to reestablish, manage and protect the forest.

 
Reestablishing the Forest
We started replanting and nurturing the amazing variety of trees and plants that had once flourished here.
 

Fruit used to make soap for washing clothes

Yod points out signs with the names of trees in Thai, Isaan (local language), and English that have been put around the forest
We made signs with rules for using the forest and penalties for breaking the rules. Somebody caught cutting a tree is fined 1000 baht ($25 US). 500 baht goes to the person who reported the tree poacher and 500 baht goes to the fund for protecting and replanting the forest.
 
A road has been cleared around the forest to protect it from fire.
 
We started running camps for children, taught by village elders like myself (and older kids who have already attended camps) to learn secrets of the forest. The kids love the camps. They spend three days in the forest drawing pictures, learning the names of trees, talking with elders about the forest and having fun.
 
These camps turned out to be the most important step to saving the forest, because they provided the single ingredient that made everything else work. They taught people to love the forest.
 
When I was growing up the trees were much bigger than they are today. But 10 years ago there was nothing here at all. Now the forest is back and it is growing and becoming healthier every day.
 
Lessons Learned:
Community involvement and education are necessary for a program to work on a long-term basis.
 

(click on the lotus leaves above)
Most problems are not new. Find people who have already solved the problem and learn from them. In this case, we learned how to replant and manage the forest from government forestry officials and forestry experts from universities. Taking the time and effort to visit well-maintained forests and to learn from these people was a worthwhile trip and an inspiration.
 
Hear Thorng Luen speak (1-2 minutes to download)
 
For more information, email Mr. Chalin Subpamong , Program Support Manager c-thaila@plan.geis.com
 
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