Moken, Guardians of the Sea
The Moken are an ethnic group of semi-nomadic fishermen living on several of the Andaman Islands, off the coast of Burma and Thailand. Traditionally, they travel around, spending part of the year on their boats, kabangs, making a living from fishing and gathering shellfish. But their way of life has been threatened for several years. Intensive fishing has considerably reduced the stocks of fish and shellfish that they can access, and plastic pollution jeopardises their work. The 2004 tsunami highlighted the particular status of the Moken in Thailand. A majority of them do not have any identity papers, which prevents them from accessing legal employment, obtaining social security benefits or even accessing the public health system. Without papers, most of the Moken are forced to work in dangerous or wretched conditions, and for wages that are well below the minimum required.
For nearly 10 years, the Fondation Jan & Oscar has been helping the Moken living on Lao Island by playing an active part in their children’s education. But with our project combatting plastic pollution – Moken, gardiens de la mer (Guardians of the Sea) – our Foundation hopes to go further. Indeed, we are finding that the first generation of educated children is having difficulty continuing to higher education and integrating into the workforce. We need to help them access vocational training that makes sense in the context of their way of life, or provide them with an additional income if they wish to keep their traditional fishing activity alive.
The Moken fishermen can now sell the plastic they retrieve from the sea or islands directly to our social enterprise Ranong Recycle for Environment at a fair price. Young Moken people who wish to do so can also receive training and work at the collection centre, sorting the plastic in exchange for a fair wage and accommodation.
The partnership with the Moken of the Surin Islands
The Surin Islands are an archipelago in the Andaman Sea, 60 km from the Thai mainland. Today, the Moken people on these islands live semi-traditionally in a village of 80 homes. Surin is a National Park, and many tourists visit the Moken village each day. The Moken people in Surin also have the problem of the plastic waste brought in by the tourists, as well as the greater problem of that brought in by the sea, washed up on the numerous beaches and wild creeks of the archipelago. Our project for collecting and managing the waste began in 2020 thanks to a partnership between the Moken people in Surin and our social enterprise Ranong Recycle for Environment. A group of 4-5 Moken people are paid to collect, sort and clean the waste. After a 4-hour crossing to the mainland, the plastics are purchased then packaged by the Ranong Recycle for Environment team to be recycled.
In 2020, the Moken people in Surin collected more than 4,000kg of plastics and drift nets. The aim of our project is to support sustainable community management of the problem of waste in a way that respects the social and cultural organisation of the Moken people, with the hope that, through word of mouth, this will inspire Moken people in other communities.
In 2021, a German-Moken family (Lena, Hook and their son Noah), travelling in a traditional kabang, will visit islands where Moken people live to make them aware of plastic pollution and to encourage the relaying of knowledge between the generations. We would like to see a real Moken network develop on the islands of the Andaman Sea, on the periphery of Ranong: Koh Lao, Koh Chang, Koh Phayam, Koh Sinhai, Koh Sai Dam and the Surin archipelago.
Training young Moken people at the collection centre
Since the beginning of 2020, young Moken adults from the various islands have been living and working at the Ranong Recycle for Environment collection centre. They sort the plastic waste brought by the collectors and are paid a fair wage. This enables some of them to finance the continuation of their studies.
In 2021, a new phase of our project has started. In this, some young Moken adults from the Centre are being trained in management tasks – recording the quantities of plastic and drawing up invoices, collecting and entering data on the computer, and learning to use Excel and sending e-mails. The young Moken people will be able to take a central role in our project, acquiring new skills that they will be able to use in their future employment!
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