Since 1995, the Traidhos Barge Program has been providing high quality outdoor experiential education.
Back in 1994, Thai architect ML Tridhosyuth Devakul had a vision of creating a floating school that would provide the young people of Thailand with an experience that would both alert them to the problems facing the Chao Phraya River, and inspire them to act to improve and restore it to its previous ecological health.
Through a collaboration with the Chewonki Foundation, a leading environmental education institution in the United States, he purchased and renovated a twenty metre teak rice barge, turning its empty hull into a floating living and learning laboratory and spearheading the launching of a highly innovative education program for Thailand.
The first trips began in January 1995, with participants coming from both Thai schools and universities as well as Thailand-based international schools.
During the late 1990s, ML Tri donated the Chao Phraya Barge Program to Khunying Chodchoy Sopophanich the President of the Thai NGO 'Thai Environment and Community Development Association' ( TECDA) and the Program became known as the 'Magic Eyes Chao Phraya Barge Program' or 'Magic Eyes'. The Program grew steadily to have a good reputation amongst the International School community. Collaboration with Thai artists, resulted in Art on the River Programs and subsequent art exhibitions which generated income to bring Thai Schools on trips to experience barge and art activities.
In August 2005, Khunying Chodchoy returned the Barge to ML Tri, also the founder of Traidhos Three-Generation Community for Learning. The barge found its new home under the Traidhos Three-Generation umbrella and has become known as Traidhos Three-Generation Barge Program.
By the time the barge program turned fifteen in 2010, it was operating as a watershed program with student activities at the source of the Ping in Chiang Mai, in the forest environments of Khao Yai, and at marine environments to consider habitats where rivers meet the sea.
The Program continued to evolve and add programs to consider the role of the river in Thai history and culture. A River Guardians project, sponsored by SUNY Buffalo took place with Thai schools situated along the Chao Phraya River.
In 2015 the barge celebrated twenty years of operation with a reunion for past staff, while some past participants started to apply to work or intern with the program. Everything was going well for the Program until we awoke in July 2016 to learn that just before dawn, the Barge had sunk while moored close to the office. What caused the boat to sink remains unknown as it had been well maintained. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but it took a lot of work to lift and restore her, before river trips could continue. The unthinkable happened a year later, when in the night, a black barge collided with our empty boat creating a large hole in the hull. This time the decision was taken to retire the Barge from active service and Barge Program river trips were adjusted to take place on a hired barge.
Land trips continued to develop with new sites added at Samut Songkram and Samut Sakhon. A wetland trip was developed in Nakhon Sawan to complete all watershed offerings. Barge Program became more active in networking with like-minded groups in Bangkok and a greater emphasis was placed on including a community service element in programs.
In 2020 we are delighted to be celebrating 25 years of the Barge Program and its work about environmental education in Thailand. As part of ongoing program development and commitment to offering experiential education, the Barge has been moved to a plot of land on Ko Kret. Here she will serve as the central feature of a new Barge Program land based educational site, which is currently undergoing development. As well as having the barge as a classroom, she will continue to be the key to the Barge Program's community building ethos, with students able to live and cook aboard the barge while participating in our famous 'barge crews'.
Plans also include educational gardens where students will be able to experience growing and harvesting food crops while learning about King Rama IX's sufficiency economy ideas. The site will allow students to explore the biodiversity of life and to consider environmental issues through a wide range of EE activities, as well as being able to continue to explore the communities and culture of Ko Kret itself.
To date, over 72,000 students and staff have participated in the program. Today the importance of understanding sustainable choices and what it really means to be a 'Global Citizen', have never been more important.