Network Member Interview: Waewrin Buangern, Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group


Waewrin – who also goes by Jo – is from Northern Thailand. Together with the Community Resource Centre (CRC), Jo and her fellow community leaders have been fighting for years to prevent lignite mining in the area. Click here to read more about the Rak Ban Haeng Group’s struggle (available in English only).


What experience or individual inspired you to join the fight for land and environmental justice?

Waewrin “Jo” Buangern.


The Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group has been opposing lignite mining in Northeastern Thailand for more than 10 years. When we knew that the Green Yellow Co. Ltd (GY) was granted a mining concession in August 2015, we knew we had to fight this land grab. As coordinator of this group, I worked with my group to ask for help from the people we respected, and instead, they ridiculed us and accused us of throwing straws against the wind. It was impossible, we were told. And we were asked to stop opposing the mine. The company came after us even at our workplaces, forcing us to resign from work. The company was luring the Ban Haeng residents to sell their land to them. It made us see the injustice and we started to devote ourselves to our advocacy work.

They put up signs to threaten those who refused to do so. The signs said that the company had received permission from the Royal Forest Department (RFD) to use the land and no trespassing was allowed, even though part of the land was still being utilized by its residents. They had then brought the forestry officers over to arrest the villagers accusing them of trespassing. The off-limits signs were put up everywhere. The existing dirt roads were destroyed and made unusable. Barbed wires were installed to prevent the use of the road.


“We are not happy to just stop mining in the area; our vision is to participate in the legislative process to draft a law, which can help protect our natural resources effectively.”


We, the villagers, installed protest signs around the village as well. The company secretly removed all our signs, causing us to feel furious. We could not bear such injustice, and thus formed as a group to fight the mining project – beginning around 2010. Since we started, our struggle has led to legal reform. This reform facilitates the exercise of our rights to protect our natural resources. We have been conducting sit-ins and protests to urge parliament to draft laws.


Was there a turning point or particular moment in your life that shaped you or had a lasting impact on your journey?


Divorcing my husband was a key turning point for me. It enabled me to devote myself full-time to the cause. I asked for a place to stay and work with Sor Ratanamanee Polkla of the Community Resource Center (CRC), since I did not know anyone who was engaged in such protests against the mining project. Then, I got to know fellow leaders in the environmental movement – including Lertsak Khamkhongsak, and the Campaign for Public Policy on Mineral Resources (PPM).


Getting to work with these people helped to shed light on the structural problems we were facing. It was not just my community alone that has been trampled upon by the investors or the state. Such problems occur everywhere regarding the mine, the sea, or the forest. Everywhere, communities have been treated the same. It is a rather gigantic structural problem imposed on us by the state. It wreaks havoc on the communities and the underground natural resources. The state does not realize the humanity and the values of a traditional community.

This realization marked a turning point in my life. I unshackled myself from the dream of building a warm and loving family, from leading a simple life, and embarked on the rough and dangerous journey of combating the long-term, structural problem of environmental harm and violence that communities across the country are facing.


This work can be challenging and difficult. What inspires you and helps you keep going?


My only inspiration to keep me fighting is my sisters and brothers in the community. They have no one to turn to. However hard the challenge, they have never let go of our hands. Our only passion is the chance to continue living in a place where we can live our life peacefully. No one or no community on earth should be evicted from the place they live simply because the state or investors want to acquire the resources under our land. Such dehumanization and how development is more valued than humanity should not exist. What’s the purpose of development by the state if it will lead to the extinction of all local people?

Jo at the Lampang provincial hall submitting a complaint.

The only thing that binds us together is our hope of being able to live our frugal life. Everyone in the community should have a place to stay and land to till. We shall live and help each other. Before the mining company came, everyone was engaged so intimately with each other and there was barely any fight among us. There was no faction among us. That’s the best we hope for. It is nothing new. Rather, it had been there before the arrival of the mining company.  We had time to do organic farming and stay united. If they have applied for new concessionary rights or if the court allows them to proceed with mining, we still want to fight. We still have organic farming as a common activity that brings us together.

October 5, 2023 | Dominique Calañas