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Poor mourn loss of hero
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  1. #1
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    Nov 2005
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    Poor mourn loss of hero

    Poor mourn loss of hero
    Villagers vow to continue fight for justice after death of Vanida

    Thailand yesterday lost one of its most prominent fighters for the poor when Vanida Tantiwittayapitak passed away in peace at 52 after battling breast cancer for more than two years.

    Her passing was just four days prior to the 12th anniversary of her co-founding of the Assembly of the Poor (AOP), Thailand's most recognised grass-roots movement both here and internationally.

    Tens of thousands of villagers, who formed the backbone of the movement, mourned Vanida while vowing to carry on the campaigns to which she devoted so much of her life.

    "Vanida is our hero and she will always stay in our hearts," declared village leader Sompong Viengchan from Ubon Rachathani.

    "She taught us by setting an example of how we can stand on our own two feet and fight injustice. Because of her, I learned to talk to the prime minister without my legs shaking. We will carry on her dream of a better and more just society."

    Vanida's name emerged in the early 1990s as a leader of the anti-Pak Mun Dam movement. While many people saw Vanida and the villagers fighting a losing battle as the dam was completed in 1994 with loans from the World Bank, the movement gave birth to an even larger force for the underprivileged.

    Thousands of people from every region fought under the AOP's umbrella, from villagers losing their land and livelihoods to state infrastructure projects, southern small-scale fishermen fighting commercial overfishing, urban slum dwellers facing eviction to city factory workers exploited by their bosses.

    "Thai society today lost one of its greatest women," said former prime minister Anand Panyarachun at Vanida's funeral rites at Wat Wachiratham Satit in Bangkok last night.

    "What Vanida fought for was not wealth or personal benefit, nor for her family or friends, but for a caring society. She helped others to fight for their rights, fight for the poor, fight for the underprivileged and for those who lost their rights and faced injustice still so prevalent in Thai society.

    "If we could contribute [to society] half of what Vanida has done over the past 30 years, then we could all have peace."

    Her fellow grass-roots activists and allies within the movement said they would never forget Vanida as they continued to carry on her legacy.

    "Phi Mod [as Vanida was fondly called] is a mentor, a friend and even a big sister to many of us. Losing her is heart-breaking and it has shaken our morale," said Prapas Pintobtaeng, a political-science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University.

    "But she always reminded us that the movement cannot rely on just one or even a handful of leaders. The AOP has always been inclusive of many people at decision-making level. We have learned from her that everybody in the movement, no matter what they are - activists, academics or villagers - should move and grow together. Her loss just reinforces the need to fight on."

    Sompong, from the Pak Mun community, said many villagers in the AOP movement were still unaware of Vanida's death because their remote villages were inaccessible by phone.

    Vanida's funeral rites are being held at Wat Wachiratham Satit on Sukhumvit Soi 101/1 until next Wednesday, when her cremation will be held at 5pm. The family requests no wreaths be sent, but it may establish a fund to which donations can be made.

    The Nation
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    Last edited by Khun Don; 06-12-07 at 11:21 PM. Reason: add photo

  2. #2
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    Sydney Australia
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    Re: Poor mourn loss of hero

    well only the good die young.

  3. #3
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    Re: Poor mourn loss of hero


    An activist and true friend of the poor

    Right up till the very last days of her life, Wanida Tantiwitayapitak continued to hold on to her fiery mission to serve the underprivileged in Thailand


    A few months ago we visited Wanida Tantiwitayapitakat at her brother's house where she was resting after a series of treatments for cancer. Accompanying us was Phinun Chotirosseranee, a businesswoman-turned-environmentalist from Kanchanaburi. During our conversation, which touched on the usual subjects of social problems and possible alternatives, Wanida raised her concern about the safety of the Sri Nakharin dam in Ms Phinun's hometown. ''The structure of the dam is not solid; it is located in an earthquake-prone area,'' Wanida made the observation in her feeble voice. ''What will happen to people who live downstream if the dam collapses?

    ''But please continue your campaign to raise public awareness,'' Wanida asked Ms Phinun. ''I will try my best to fight alongside with you,'' she said.

    Despite her bony cheeks and sparse hair (due to chemotherapy), Wanida's eyes still shone; her parched lips maintained their stubborn character, ever ready to challenge the powers that be. But they were the very same lips which always spoke kindly to the poor she came across, be they the fisherfolk affected by the Pak Moon and other dam projects, the slum people in Bangkok and other big cities, the factory workers whose health had been ravaged due to poor environment... The list of the downtrodden whose lives began to feel a glimmer of hope, thanks to Wanida and her peers at the Assembly of the Poor (AoP), is long and diverse.

    Wanida: "Please continue the work for the country for me."

    The list is also a testament to how misguided Thailand's development policies have been over the last five decades. Centrally planned, with little consideration for the locals, the mega projects have adamantly been imposed for short-term profit (of politicians and the few local influential people) and not much else.

    The entrance of Wanida on the scene has _ to the annoyance of policy-makers _ significantly reshaped the otherwise mundane narratives of the poor being robbed of their livelihood and having to fend for themselves.

    The AoP, for all its limitations, is the very first effective networking of villagers from all corners of the country who have managed to coerce a certain bargaining power vis-a-vis the national administration. Unprecedented in this country's history, the government was obliged to pay compensation for ''the loss of opportunity'' to the Isan villagers affected by the Pak Moon dam who were not able to fish during the three-year construction period.

    Contrary to the authority's promises, the stocks of fish continued to dwindle after the dam went into operation, and with the subsequent finding by the World Commission on Dams that the project yielded far less electricity power than originally projected, the Thaksin cabinet was pressured to open the dam's gates for four months a year. Such a challenge to the state by the downtrodden had never before been heard of in Thailand.

    (However, the Pak Moon villagers have had to rally every year to remind the government to fulfil its promise. Early this year, the Surayud cabinet cancelled the cabinet's resolution altogether.)

    Born in Bangkok in 1955, Wanida demonstrated her interest in, and concern for, the less privileged from a very young age. Her teenage years coincided with the growing civil movement, mostly student-led, after years of suppressive military regimes.

    Still a senior high school student, she took part in the historic Oct 14, 1973 uprising that toppled the Thanom-Prapass government. During the three-year interlude of so-called ''democracy'' (1973-1976), Wanida worked on various campaigns, notably with the women workers at Hara Jeans factory.

    The legendary siege by the Hara workers, after unsuccessful rounds of negotiations with the employers over unfair treatment, witnessed the very first attempt to run an enterprise by and for workers themselves.

    The bloody massacre of leftist students on Oct 6, 1976 put an abrupt halt to such endeavours. Wanida herself fled to join the Communist Party of Thailand in the jungle, where she stayed for about four years.

    In 1981 she returned to the capital, completed her university education, worked for a couple of years to repay the family's debts and support her younger siblings' schooling.

    Despite the good income, after completing her family duty, Wanida resumed her labour of love: that of working with and for the poor.

    Long before the southern violence erupted, during our stroll through a fresh food market in Pattani, Wanida recalled the time she spent at a CPT base nearby. The forest there was still in pristine condition, she remarked, for the CPT members had been protecting it as their hideout.

    She also commented on how the southern vendors of pork and beef could put up their booths near one another. ''See how the folk here can live together _ religious differences [between Muslims and Buddhists] are not a problem. It is the outsiders' interference that usually pits people against one another.''

    Ironically, Wanida's own line of public campaigning on behalf of the poor throughout the kingdom suffered a similar charge of ''outside interference''. But one needs to understand the difference in context _ and in intention.

    In an interview with Thai online newsletter, Wanida explained how the common folk have been deprived of their right to control their own destiny. Her job was to empower their voice. ''They don't have anything at all. No law, no army, police, civilian officials or weapons [to protect them]. Even to talk among themselves about whether or not a [development] project is justified could land them in jail. Back then, the Pak Moon villagers had to sneak out into the fields to talk about the dam.''

    For Wanida, knowledge was power. And her years of social work were put to good use in support of the powerless. Again, Wanida more or less started a new chapter in Thailand's grassroots movement. Unlike the previous (and even current) generations of activists who are typically from the middle class, with a university education and enjoying regular salaries, Wanida was one of the very few who embarked on a new type of public campaign, one that would later see a blossoming of quintessentially mass-based leaders _ those who are native to the land and dare to challenge the imposition of mega projects.

    Despite the differences in their background and nature of problems facing them, this new breed of grassroots leaders shared a common cause: a search for justice.

    The fisherfolk of Ubon Ratchathani, for example, have become confident of their rights. They no longer feel embarrassed or shy about speaking up. More importantly, the role of intellectuals vis-a-vis villagers has been reversed. The Assembly of the Poor was a pioneer in doing away with hierarchies: the villagers now took a front-seat role as por krua yai (core members) while Wanida and other educated middle-class activists served as advisers. The new era had begun.

    It would be a dramatic, larger-than-life step towards real democracy. A democracy that went beyond the routine of elections and the perennial struggle for power.

    During a planned state visit by General Maung Aye, vice chairman of Burma's State Peace and Development Council, in 2002, Wanida was asked by a member of Thaksin Shinawatra's cabinet, a former associate from the October generation, to relocate the demonstrations by the AoP to a secluded spot so that it would not be ''an eyesore'' for the Burmese delegation.

    She refused, arguing that the Burmese leaders should have a chance to learn what Thai-style democracy actually was all about.

    In retrospect, the democratisation process was a class in itself, for both Thailand and other countries, to take lessons from; a process that saw thousands of villagers across the nation joining hands to set up the country's first protest village, right in front of Government House (once lasting 99 days) and at several other sites.

    The villagers' ingenuity and sense of determination has been manifest in various forms _ hunger protests, long marches throughout the Isan region, a completion of Thailand's first grassroots-based research (that went on to win the Best Research of the Year award from the National Public Health Foundation).

    In between the moments of glory have been times of bitterness, sweat, clashes, doubts, physical and verbal confrontation.

    Wanida herself was slapped with several lawsuits (some of which have yet to reach their final verdict). For the energy policy planners, in particular the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, Wanida was probably at the very top of their blacklist.

    But this woman never wavered.

    Those who have worked with Wanida have invariably commented on her consistency, simple lifestyle, selflessness (she turned down several nominations for awards), and remarkable courage. And the willingness to forgive.

    Sompong Wiangjand, an AoP core member, said Wanida often told her how important it was to forgive those who have wreaked havoc on the villagers' lives. She also encouraged Ms Sompong to keep up the fighting spirit, regardless of the results.

    ''We may lose today, but we can always fight again tomorrow,'' Ms Sompong quoted her sister-friend as saying.

    Up until the day she fell ill with cancer, Wanida tirelessly devoted herself to her mission. It has not been a lonely struggle: she cultivated long-lasting friendships with thousands of villagers who considered her their true friend. They had nothing to offer her besides sticky rice and fish, and a gaze that revealed their deep gratitude for what she was trying to do on their behalf.

    A few days before her death, some close friends of Wanida paid her a visit. One was Rosana Tositrakul, who had been her classmate back in high-school days.

    Ms Rosana later related how Wanida, though barely able to speak, placed her hand on hers and said softly: ''Please continue the work for the country for me.''

    Wanida passed away at 1pm on Dec 6, 2007, leaving her life-long mission for others to carry on. It was four days short of the 12th anniversary of the Assembly of the Poor, which she co-founded.

    Bangkok Post

  4. #4
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    Mar 2004
    Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA
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    Re: Poor mourn loss of hero

    ǹԴ ѹԷҾԷѡ

    I know it's short notice, but the 100th day rememberance after Wnida's death is being held this weekend at the Thai Baan Center in Ubon Ratchathani (֡ ѹ - չҤ ٹԻѭ䷺ҹ . .Ժѧ .غҪҹ) Schedule is as follows. I am going to attend parts of it. Should be quite an experience.

    100th day Rememberance Ceremony for Wanida Tantiwittayapitak

    Friday, 14 March
    Dharma Walk from the Sapue Rapids to Thai Baan Research Center
    Arrive, speech by Sulak Sivaraksa
    Chanting and Dhamma Talk
    Dicussion of the banned movie (after the 6th of October, 1976), “Thongbaan: People,Dams, Land, and Rivers
    Cultural performance by local villagers and others such as Songs for Life music, Mo Lam, poem readings by Mun River Basin authors, short movie by Kyoto University Students, slide show and videos by American students and environmental groups

    Saturday, 15 March
    Opening Ceremony
    Speech by Nithi Eawsriwong, famous Thai anthropologist
    Discussion: “Lessons, Core Knowledge, and Changes in the Peoples’ Movements’ Struggles
    Discussion: “The Current Situation of the Peoples’ Struggle Within the Future of Thai Society”
    Ritual: evening chanting by nine monks
    Welcoming Speech by Ubon Ratchathani Governor and speech by former Prime Minister Anan Panyarachoon
    Cultural Forum / Wanida 100 Days Rememberance Ceremony
    Video: (“Life and Death of Wanida”) by Wanida’s family,
    Music, Lights, Sounds, Color, and Slides: The 30 Years of People’s Politics and People’s Struggles Through Wanida’s Life’s Lens, Cultural Forum by Naowarat Phongpaiboon, famous Thai poet, Mo Lam by artists and allies

    Sunday, 16 March
    Organizers and Wanida’s family thank all guests
    Academic Forum: Discussion on “People’s Movements and self-determination”, by Bamrung Kayotha, Banthorn Onndham, Bamrung Boonpanya, slum community representative from Ubon Ratchathani, AOP Representative
    Closing Ceremony of the Academic Forum by Saneh Chammarik, NHRC chairperson
    Declaration of Peoples’ Determination by the Assembly of the Poor

  5. #5
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    May 2009
    I wish it's Thailand, but don't you too? ;)
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    Re: Poor mourn loss of hero

    Her efforts and kindness are especially admirable in light that she is from a privileged background and yet has the innate ability to empathize with others and their living conditions which she is not subjected to...

  6. #6
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    Feb 2008
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    Re: Poor mourn loss of hero

    And she never saw herself or set herself up as a leader either. She wanted people to be able to take control of their own lives.

  7. #7
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    Re: Poor mourn loss of hero

    It's good to see someone from Isaan stand up for the rights of my people. I hope one day I can be courageous and inspiring just like her to help further my people.

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