Coady International Institute diploma in development leadership participant Attjala Roongwong knew, in high school, she wanted to work in forest and natural resource management.
From Thailand, Roongwong is a member of an organization called Forest for All which, as described on the Coady website introducing program participants, is “a group of practitioners who are committed to serving local communities, government and non-government organizations working towards a community-based approach to environmental management in Thailand.”
Roongwong provides a brief description of her work for the introduction piece.
“My work aims to ensure community rights in natural resource management are recognized and practiced on the ground through local empowerment as well as multi-stakeholder platforms and collaborations.”
In talking to the Casket Oct. 20, Roongwong described getting involved with Forest for All as a “good opportunity” and noted she works as a research assistant for the organization.
She talked more about how work in the forestry sector was something that always interested her.
“When I was in high school I started to have more interest about forestry, nature and natural resources,” she said. “Through summer camps I had been to in my province, I saw the government officials working and leading the nature camps I attended and that made me, kind of, interested. What do they study? And, where could I get the knowledge and become like them?”
She noted her “attitude” changed somewhat as she attended university studying forestry, and from early work experiences.
“In the forestry schools, we couldn’t really interact much with local communities,” she said.
“We learned a lot about scientific ways and ideology but, when I started working more and engaging more with the communities through this organization, I learn a lot of things, about traditional knowledge and local practices; cultures and relationships between local people and nature … it has helped me a lot,” she said of her new focus.
She talked about challenges in her work.
“[The] first five to 10 years I started my career, I found a lot of conflicts in Thailand surrounding the issues of land rights, forest, management rights, ownership rights,” she said.
“People having different perceptions and, in some areas, it started to become like a violent conflict between the government and local communities. The laws not really opened up, being quite centralized by the government and using a top-down approach in the management of the natural resources in the country.”
She noted much of that has changed for the better.
“In our country, we also have some reforms,” she said. “Several laws have been reformed including laws about environmental and natural resource management.”
Asked about attending the Coady, Roongwong said her goal is to acquire more leadership skills to help grow her organization back in Thailand.
“I would like to acquire new knowledge and skills to become a more effective leader because, right now, I’m a freelance consultant trying to develop a network of practitioners who have to same passions, missions, in promoting more community rights and laws – an inclusive process – for natural resource management in Thailand,” she said.
“We’re trying to form our group and provide services to local community-based organization and government projects because, right now, there are several pilot projects going on, getting some support from international donors.
“Also, meet consultants from outside the government sector to help guide, facilitate the process. This way we can influence the government process; not being in the government sector but being an outsider, helping in the new learning … lessons learned for more effective, inclusive laws in the future.”
Roongwong has been enjoying her time at the Coady and noted she has especially appreciated learning about the Mi’kmaw culture and spending time around Coady Chair in Social Justice Dorene Bernard, who is well-known for her environmental advocacy work.