It’s Our Birthday!
This year marks a milestone for Traidhos Three-Generation Barge Program and its many incarnations. We are celebrating twenty years of Barge Program!
The Barge Program was started by ML Tridosyuth Devakul in order to educate young people about the natural world around them. Trips began on our 20-metre converted rice barge, helping students explore the mighty Chao Phraya river. From these early river days, the program has evolved, now offering extensive options for environmental education and education for sustainable development throughout Thailand. We are recognised by schools throughout Thailand, Asia, and the world for our high-quality experiential learning opportunities, which have been offered to more than 50,000 students over the past twenty years.
In celebration of our twenty years educating in Thailand, we will be hosting several events during the year, as well as a special 20 years of Barge Program
souvenir series. A reunion trip will be held for all past staff on 6 June, (with a promise of no pad sii eiw
!) We also plan to host a day trip for school leaders as a thanks to the many schools who have supported the Barge Program throughout its history. This year’s T-shirts have our specially designed twenty-year logo, and we also have a cloth bag made by Isaan artisans. One new, fun, item this year is a three-minute shower timer! Remember your shower challenge on the barge? Continue the water saving at home with a daily reminder of having a shorter shower!
For anyone wanting to share their memories of Barge Program over the years, please contact us or post on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TraidhosBargeProgram
Twenty Years of Change
So this year it’s Happy Birthday to the Barge Program! Twenty years have passed by and though it may seem like just yesterday to some, there have been many changes to Thailand’s lifeblood – the Chao Phraya River - since those first days aboard the barge.
In the first years of the Barge, black bin bags bursting with waste were more common sights on the river; today there is less surface waste bobbing downstream. Perhaps this is an effort of long-standing campaigns since the 1990s like the Magic Eyes, though bin individual litter is still a common observation for River Observations on the barge! Who hasn’t played count-the-flip-flops amongst the water hyacinth when waiting for the express boat?
Looking out onto the banks, there have been changes in land-use too. In our first years, journeys on the barge looked out onto single-storey wooden structures. Gradually, these have morphed into two-storey brick homes and condominiums. As well as our own observations, satellite remote sensing from 2012 show a 141% increase in urban land since the 1990s in the lower Chao Phraya. As Bangkok grows, so too has riverbank development, as these banks are increasingly connected by large bridges and protected by concrete walls to prevent natural flood events, but thereby altering river flows.
Despite increased flood management investment in the last two decades, 2011 saw the worst flood event recorded in Thailand’s history. Heavy summer rainfall overwhelmed upper-catchment dams and levees installed to protect Bangkok, resulting in flood damage more costly to Thailand than Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans. Recent studies show these flood events have been increasing and are set to continue on this trend.
Our twenty years on the Chao Phraya has been a time of celebrations and set-backs in the changes we have seen. One thing that has been consistent though, has been the response to our work from the schools we work with. Twenty years on, students first welcomed aboard are now having their own families and influencing their own children on the decisions they make. Moreover, staff now applying to work aboard the barge have been on field trips with us in their own childhood! We hope that with the laughter and deep interest we attract on the barge, global citizens will go through life promoting a more sustainable future. With all the predictions set for the Chao Phraya’s future – further subcision of the delta, increased urbanisation and flooding – we hope there will be a contrast from global citizens changing observation in the next twenty years to see even less pollution and a cleaner, more natural river.
Focus on land- trip site: Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, is a popular 2 – 3 night destination for all ages of students. The Barge Program stays at simple National Park accommodation or includes a camping component. Days are spent hiking the forest or grassland areas and learning about food chains, human impact or biodiversity.
Elephants of Khao Yai
The searchlight attached to the top of the truck sliced through the darkness, illuminating an array of Khao Yai National park’s impressive wildlife. Sambar dear, civets, porcupine and yellow-throated martens left the excited group of Year 7 students satisfied by their night safari experience. However, little did we all know that our night-time animal adventure was not over quite yet.
The driver must have seen them first. He slowed almost to a complete stop just as the searchlight operator concentrated the beam of light on their beautifully impressive forms. The elephants hesitated for a just a moment, before the two of them, mother and infant, continued to push their way out through the thick forest and into the road. The students in the truck were fantastic and did just as they were briefed to do in the event we were lucky enough to see these fantastic creatures: staying seated in their seats and keeping their voices low. In whispered tones we all excitedly gasped at what we were all seeing. But these two animals were only part of the story – just up ahead was the rest of the herd, consisting of no fewer than eleven individuals. Clearly used to the night safari trucks, they let us move slowly by, as close as two cars passing on a road.
It was an amazing sight to behold: elephants of the wild going about their night-time activities, with very little care for the humans watching on. While I’m sure the truck drivers, and elephants alike, were ready to react quickly had anything gone awry; the reality was that neither human nor elephants felt in danger at any point.
Luck was still on our side the next day. On our drive out of the National Park, we found our route blocked by another one of the impressive beasts, this time a solitary bull who seemed to be enjoying himself while frolicking amongst the roadside trees. Just like the previous night, he seemed completely unperturbed by our arrival. We kept a respectful distance and only slowly crept the vehicles forward as he made his way from tree to tree. After only a few minutes of watching and waiting, the large male elephant stepped off the road and into a clearing, allowing us to continue on our way.
On 13 March the country celebrated National Thai Elephant day, a day in which people are encouraged to appreciate these amazing creatures. For me, this meant remembering my two close encounters with them during one of the Barge Program’s latest trips in to the Khao Yai National Park. Alongside an everlasting memory that I am sure many of the accompanying Year 7 students will share with me, I also took away an important lesson. We can continue to marvel at the splendour of seeing elephants in their natural environment, but in order to do so safely and responsibly, it is vital that we remember whose National Park it really is.
Environmental Education Coordinator and Facilitator with Traidhos Three-Generation Barge Program
Waves of Water Hyacinth
The ever present and telling Water Hyacinth Investigation has been a solid part of Barge Programs over its 20 year history. From telling stories to discover the history and adaptations of water hyacinth, to getting your hands dirty on the roots, to scientific sketches and identifying macro invertebrates, all the way through to finding out what this means for water quality, hyacinth is always an exciting activity.
Recently, the water hyacinth has yielded disappointing results reflective of the changes on Chao Phraya river as Bangkok and other riverside towns develop. This activity has helped Barge Program to monitor river water quality over the past twenty years, and we have watched its score decline. Ten years ago a usual water quality score was 5-6 / 10. At present the usual score is 3-4 / 10. You can also notice a change in the species found. We used to find hundreds of wriggling scuds, and now they are rare. Much smaller spider like crabs are found now compared to the somtam sized crabs of the past. Fewer damselfly nymphs with their three paddled tails are found, but more of the one score squirming segmented worms instead.
Here is an artistic reflection on water hyacinth
Home to crabs, shrimp, worms and snails
Damselfly nymph tails
Verdant and floating
A vast expanse of river
Trapped by green forest
Water filter and weaving
Habitat for life
What changes have you noticed to the Chao Phraya river? Tell us about your favourite water hyacinth moment at https://www.facebook.com/TraidhosBargeProgram
River of Words Update
In January, Traidhos Three Generation Barge Program joined with Earth Matters to host a River of Words (RoW) Teacher Workshop on the Chao Phraya River. The RoW competition is open to student across the world to submit poetry, drawing, painting, or photography with the theme of watersheds. Our teacher workshop event had participants from six different countries onboard to take part in watershed based activities, and to discuss creative arts that could be connected to these activities.
From this event, it was decided to start a South East Asian branch of the River of Words competition. Barge staff Lynda and Stan will be part of the overseeing organizing team and competition judges, along with Kenny from Earth Matters and Wes from Wells International School. We are very proud to be a part of this project bringing awareness to watershed through creative arts.
More details to follow as the website goes live!