Moken, Guardians of the Sea
The Moken are an ethnic group of fishermen living on several islands in the Andaman Sea, off the coast of Burma and Thailand. Traditionally the Moken are nomadic. They move around and live part of the year on their boats, the kabang, subsisting on fishing and shellfish harvesting. But their way of life has been threatened for many years. Intensive fishing is drastically reducing the fish and shellfish resources they have access to, and plastic pollution is hindering their work. The 2004 tsunami highlighted the special status of the Moken in Thailand: a majority of them have no identity papers, which prevents them from accessing formal work, social benefits or even the public health system. Without documentation, most Moken are forced to work in dangerous or degrading conditions, and for wages well below the minimum required.
For almost 15 years, the Jan & Oscar Foundation has been helping the Moken living on the island of Lao, by actively participating in the schooling of children (link to the project to build a school in Koh Lao). But with our project to fight against plastic pollution: Moken, guardians of the sea, our Foundation wishes to go further. We have noticed that the first generation of school children has difficulties to continue their studies or to enter the labor world. It is necessary to allow them to access a professional training that makes sense in their way of life, or to ensure them a complementary income if they wish to perpetuate the traditional activity of fisherman.
The Moken fishermen now have the opportunity to sell the plastics collected at sea or on the islands directly to our social enterprise Ranong Recycle for Environment (link to Ranong Recycle project) at a fair price. Young Moken people who wish to do so can also come to train and work at the collection center to sort plastics in exchange for a fair wage and accommodation.
The partnership with the Moken of the Surin Islands
The Surin Islands are an archipelago located in the Andaman Sea, 60 km from the Thai mainland. The Moken people settled on these islands live in a semi-traditional way in a village of 80 houses. Surin is a national park and many tourists visit the Moken village daily. The Moken of Surin are thus confronted with the problem of plastic waste brought by tourists, but also and above all of those, carried by the sea, which wash up on the numerous beaches and wild creeks of the archipelago. Our waste collection and management project started in 2020 thanks to a partnership between the Moken of Surin and our social enterprise Ranong Recycle for Environment. In 2020 and 2021, a group of 5 Moken are paid to collect, sort and clean the waste. After a 4-hour crossing to the mainland, the plastics are purchased and then processed by the Ranong Recycle for Environment team for recycling. Since 2020, the Moken of Surin have collected more than 7,000 kg of plastics and drift nets. In 2022, the collection of plastics will be extended to the islands of Ra and Pratong, near Kuraburi. The waste management is evolving into a system where each Moken can collect and resell the waste to the Moken leaders of Surin and Ra projects.
The goal of this collaboration is to support community-based and sustainable waste management that respects the social and cultural organization of the Moken, with the hope that through word of mouth, it will inspire Moken in other communities. This project is coordinated by the German-Moken couple Lena and Hook. Hook is originally from the Surin Islands. He owns the last traditional Moken kabang in Thailand. In addition to coordinating the waste management project, Hook and Lena travel in their kabang to the islands where the Moken live to raise awareness about plastic pollution and to promote the transmission of knowledge between generations. We hope to see the creation of a real Moken network on the islands of the Andaman Sea: Koh Lao, Koh Chang, Koh Phayam and the archipelago of Surin. The project leaders from Surin have also created the first Moken social enterprise to professionalize and expand this waste management in Phang Nga province: Moken Ocean Guardians.
To learn more about this project, visit https://www.mokenislands.com/ Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MokenNews Facebook https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100087249013458
Training young Moken people at the collection centre
Since early 2020, young Moken adults from various islands have been working and staying at the Ranong Recycle for Environment collection center. They participate in the sorting of plastic waste brought by the collectors in exchange for a fair salary and social protection. This allows some of them to finance their studies. 5 of them are housed for free in Ranong.
In 2021, a new phase of our project has started. This involves training some of the Moken young adults at the center in management tasks – accounting for plastic and writing invoices, collecting and entering data on computers, learning to use Excel and sending emails. The Moken youth will be able to take a central role in our project, and learn new skills that they can use in their future jobs!
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