Cement mining and factory concession at Mayingon Village, Hpa-An, Karen State, Myanmar
Hpa-an is the capital of Karen State in Myanmar. It is known as a City of Mountains, especially limestone mountains. The Salween River flows through Hpa-an before it empties into the Andaman Sea at Mawlamyine. The population here is mostly Karen with simple and subsistence livelihoods. Most are Buddhist.
Mayingone is a small village in Hpa-an on the west side of the Salween River. At the village there is a limestone mountain. Up on the mountain, there are many caves with rich ecosystems and great number of bats. The villagers use the guano to fertilize the soil. In rainy season, the mountain becomes inundated; some caves are also flooded. Villagers fish here. When the water level recedes, villagers cultivate the land. In the dry season, the land becomes grassland for grazing. Villagers also come to the mountain to collect firewoods.
Because of the limestone-dominated landscape, a cement company applies for a cement mine concession here. The company claimed that the community could not use the land around the mountain because the land is flooded, but the community fights back and submitted an opposition letter to disallow the company to blast the mountain.
In 2012-2013, Mayingone received supports from Bedar, a Yangon-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) known for its support in community organizing. Bedar sent its community organizers to assist the community in various activities, for example, holding workshops on community capacity assessment and relevant stakeholders; trainings on environmental knowledge, human rights and community rights; coordinating and organizing skills. For internal community organizing, Mayingone agreed to do the following 6 plans:
- Campaign and mobilize villagers living adjacent to the mountain
- Raise awareness among youth
- Seek more information about the project
- Emphasize community indigenous beliefs, traditions and cultures
- Believe in the rights and power of the people to negotiate
- Use media
Bedar community organizers and Mayingone community leaders jointly worked to raise awareness on the impacts of the cement mine project. Monks, teachers, village administrative and youth leaders led the campaign to urge their community to recognize the values of local environment and natural resources. They organized a drawing contest for children and youth to illustrate the mountain and its environment. They held meetings among village administratives and monks. They established a women‟s group.
During this time, Bedar community organizers and Mayingone youth leaders also supported the villagers to survey how they utilize natural resources on the mountain and its adjacent. The survey focused on quantitative data and local economy. They were able to produce a great amount of information but still lacked the tool to organize the information in a systematic way. They were also unsure of how to apply this information in their advocacy or create proposals to the decision-makers.
In October 2014, the first CHIA workshop in Myanmar was held in Yangon. NGOs and CSOs that worked with Mayingone also attended the workshop and they found CHIA was an important concept and process to complement their previous community organizing efforts.
Mayingone started conducting Community Health Impact Assessment (CHIA) for the cement mining concession the in December 2014 with a workshop. Getting to know the community was the first and most important step. Facilitators had to be introduced to monks, community leaders and the villagers. Then, the team visited the surrounding environment, the proposed concession site. The ideas, concepts and 6 processes of CHIA were then explained. The workshop also discussed the laws and regulations related to the concession, cement production, approval process and case studies in Thailand. In addition, the community created a draft community map and a community timeline to learn more about itself.
After Workshop 1, villagers who attended the workshop invited other community members to help create community maps and collect information for the community timeline. Moreover, community organizers and Mayingone community organizers successfully expanded their study area to include all 10 villages surrounding the mountain.
At Workshop 2, the 10 villages sent their representatives to present about its community. After that, they connected those information to the community maps and community timeline. Villagers then learned about impacts of cement production from the scholars.
After Workshop 2, villagers went back to their village and consulted their community members to check for accuracy.
Workshop 3 was about report writing. The villagers in the community core working group jointly wrote the report outline and subtopics before delegating each group member to write his or her own section.
Workshop 4 worked on document review and making policy recommendations. The community core working group, who was responsible for writing the report, presented their product to the whole community. The community collectively reviewed the accuracy of the report page by page. Higher scrutiny was placed on the section on recommendations to the central government, local government and the community. Community leaders and village representatives concluded that the natural resources shared among 10 villages had an identity. They called this identity the “Mother of Generations.” In the analysis, the community pointed out the deep connections among the mountain; indigenous cultures, traditions and values; natural resources; and the livelihoods of the people. The community used a community calendar to illustrate this deep connection.
On 11 December 2015, Mayingone celebrated “World Mountain Day.” They created an exhibition from their study to create a learning space for the community. They also presented the study, specifically the values the community hold. These values reflected the deep connections among livelihoods, local economy and the mountain rich ecosystems. They also presented their community-centric development plan for the whole community to review.
On 27 September 2016, Mayingone villagers planned to presented their CHIA results to the public. Their main target was the local government. They hoped this report launch would enhance their engagement in deciding a development plan that aligned with community livelihoods. Mayingone local school had also adopted the CHIA findings and in the process of developing a curriculum for the children to learn about their own community.
Nowadays, Mayingone Village has become a CHIA learning area in Myanmar. It has inspired other communities in Myanmar to conduct their own community research and to engage in public policies. It is also a participatory learning space for Salween Basin Universities Network, a network of academics from Thailand, Myanmar and China.