Closing ceremony marks restoration of 50 CLCs; extensive, province-wide training in disaster-risk reduction
Three years ago, more than one hundred of Ayutthaya’s Community Learning Centers (CLCs) were forced to stop or limit services after being hit by the worst flooding in Thailand’s modern history.
In his welcoming remarks at a closing ceremony for a project to restore these CLCs, Min Bista, Education Advisor and Coordinator for UNESCO Bangkok, remarked not only on this success – 50 of the damaged CLCs are now fully operational – but on how the initiative has brought disaster risk reduction (DRR) to the fore.
“This is the context in which this closing ceremony occurs: an Ayutthaya where non-formal education is robust and communities have an increased level of preparedness to respond to disasters when they arise,” Mr Bista said.
The 2011 floods took hundreds of lives and caused billions of baht in property damage, affecting more than 300 CLCs, 106 of which were in Ayutthaya province.
CLCs serve tens of thousands outside formal educational systems and form a key component of the flexible learning strategies supported by UNESCO. Recognizing their importance, UNESCO Bangkok joined Thailand’s Office of Non-formal and Informal Education (ONIE) to support the restoration of the centers. With assistance from the government of Japan, the project helped restore buildings and provide CLCs with the equipment and learning materials they need to function.
UNESCO also partnered with Thailand’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation to conduct DRR training in the province.
Successes on both fronts were highlighted at the special ceremony on 27 May at Impact Muang Thong Thani in Nonthaburi.
In his opening remarks, Mr Bista said when disaster strikes, human culpability is too often ignored, both in terms of contributing to factors that worsen their impact, such as climate change, and in the absence of precautionary measures beforehand.
“No one disputes the intensity of the rains that fall during these periods. The level of loss, however, clearly points to humanity’s lack of preparedness,” Mr Bista said. “It is in this spirit that UNESCO Bangkok strengthened the DRR knowledge and capacities of learners, teachers, education officials and community members through a province-wide capacity development programme.”
Some 20,000 copies of a flood safety handbook were distributed throughout Ayutthaya and DRR training was provided to 20 master trainers, 240 CLC facilitators and 2,583 learners and community members.
Japanese support was crucial to the project’s overall success.
Speaking at the ceremony, Japanese Ambassador to Thailand Shigekazu Sato reflected on the bonds between the two countries forged in adversity in 2011.
After the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake, Thailand was behind only the US and Taiwan in terms of foreign donations. Later that year when disaster hit Thailand, the Japanese remembered that generosity.
“The people of the Tohoku area produced a video message to encourage the Thai people and support for Thailand came not only from the government of Japan, but also from individual citizens,” Mr Sato said.
“It was the kindness of the Thai people and the good relationship between Thailand and Japan that prompted the Japanese government to actively support the project to restore Community Learning Centers.”
Churairat Sangboonnum, the Secretary-General of the Thailand National Commission for UNESCO and Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, expressed gratitude for Japan’s support. Not only has Japan been instrumental in rebuilding the CLCs, Ms Churairat said, but the country has also played a key role in restoration efforts at the province’s UNESCO World Heritage site as well.
Virod Klanliang, from Ayutthaya’s Provincial Office of the Non-Formal and Informal Education, gave a presentation of the project’s milestones from its inception up until the present day. Among the highlights covered by Mr Virod was the visit of UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova to Ayutthaya in 2012 to assess flood recovery projects in the province, including the restoration of the CLCs.
Despite officially coming to a close with the ceremony, the project’s organizers hope that its lessons will resonate far into the future. And it was with this goal in mind that UNESCO Bangkok partnered with software developer Opendream to create the mobile gaming application, “Sai Fah: The Flood Fighter”.
As Ichiro Miyazawa, UNESCO Bangkok Programme Specialist, outlined at the ceremony, each level of the game provides a new challenge – and lesson – on the safest course of action before, during and after floods. The game proved a hit in Thailand and received international media attention.
With awareness raised in this way, the project’s most valuable legacy is that it should help to preclude the need for an initiative of this scope and duration again in Ayutthaya.
As Mr Bista said, “The greatest achievement of this project is that we have empowered an entire province to reduce its vulnerability to man-made disasters.” With the CLCs rebuilt and DRR awareness raised, local communities themselves will have the skills they need to mitigate the effects of future disaster. “This is the grand success that needs to be acknowledged and celebrated here today.”
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By: Noel Boivin