Visible Ghosts

Rasi Salai, Thailand (2019-2020)

Project Goals:

Inform local researchers, grassroots organizations, and government stakeholders about population health, the environment, and the political ecology of Rasi Salai to guide compensation and restoration efforts.

Guiding Question:

"How do different features of the environment affect community health and well-being in Rasi Salai?"

Project Description:

Since its construction in 1992, the Rasi Salai Dam in Thailand has displaced people, violated their rights, and destroyed natural resources. Visible Ghosts of Isaan is an research project that illuminates villagers’ evolving relationship to the Mun River and wetlands over the past quarter century through objects, maps, and citizen science research. 

During this project, 37 citizen scientists used the Discovery Tool to document features of their communities that impact their ability to lead healthy lives. 23 residents (citizen scientists and their neighbors) decided to partake in an object-based storytelling project.

From September 2019-July 2020, the Visible Ghosts project used citizen science, objects, and maps to document the story of Rasi Salai, where dams and other industrial development have forced farmers to cultivate lives at the margins of a changing climate. Artwork by Molly Marie Gurney.

Insights and Areas for Improvement:

In total, Rasi Salai citizen scientists collected 198 photos about their environment. During the community meeting, citizen scientists broke up into three groups to analyze the data.

Group 1 developed 7 themes that catagorized types of agriculture and discussed postive and negative aspects of community culture and beliefs. Meanwhile, Group 2 developed 6 themes that described livelihood and local politics. 

Since Group 3 developed 10 themes that spanned both ecological and social dynamics, their analysis was inclusive of the first two groups' findings:

Theme Insights
Non-timber forest products  NTFPs can be used as food for people in the community and be made into dry food. People can make a living from selling NTFPs. After the dam construction, the number of NTFPs has decreased. We suggest growing wetland plants at home. 
Religion and beliefs  Religion and beliefs help people maintain the local traditions, and are the spirit anchors of the community members.
Backyard vegetables Vegetables can be used to cook in the family, and people can sell backyard vegetables for extra income.
Local products  Local products can be made from natural resources, help people make extra income, and are used in households. 
Elderly Development Center These gathering places allow community members to exchange knowledge, and serves as an exercise venue for the elderly.
Local fisheries Fish can be processed into dry food and helps people make a living. After the dam, fish numbers have plummeted, gear is increasingly more expensive, and there are new rules and limitations around fishing. We propose creating more fish reservation zones and banning fishing during the breeding season in more areas.
Civil state welfare program Community members work together to manage the project, which helps to jobs. However, profits have decreased. We propose local authorities check on financial progress at least once or twice a year.
Way of life Before the dam, the wetlands provided abundant food and natural resources to the community. Now, this way of life has disappeared.
Local farming activities People take pride in producing their own food to reduce household expenses. Plants and vegetables can be processed to be kept longer, and people can sell fresh produce. After the dam construction, there was no space to raise cattle, and since, the number of people who have cattle has become smaller. We propose that the government should provide space to raise cattle, along with other career promotion opportunities.
Community forests Each village shares the natural resources in the forest community. We propose building fire barriers to protect this vital resource.

Interested in learning more?

Learn about Rasi Salai's Story of Resistance in this comic.

Strengths Identified:

  • Non-timber forest products used for food and career building
  • Backyard vegetables for cooking and extra income
  • Local products able to be made from natural resources, make extra income, and be used in households
  • An Elderly Development Center used as a gathering place, knowledge exchange, and exercise venue
  • Local farming activities to reduce household expenses and for sale
  • Abundant wetland with natural food for cooking and charcoal production
  • Religion and beliefs acting as spirit anchors of the community members and helping maintain local tradition
  • Fisheries that helps community members to make a living and can be processed into dry food
  • Natural resources in the forest community
  • A civil society project creating work and careers in the community


Identified Areas for Improvement:

Since the dam's construction, the village has seen:

  • Decreased number of non-timber forest products has decreased
  • No space for cattle raising
  • Decreased number of people who have cattle
  • Loss of the way of life in the wetlands
  • Increased number of fish
  • More expensive fishing gear
  • Limitation on types of fishing.
  • Risk of fire within the community forest
  • Loss of capital and profits decrease

Institutional Partners:

Ubon Ratchathani University, Wetland People Association, The Tam Mun Project, Luke Duggleby.

Associated Publications:

Visible Ghosts of Isaan webpage.


The United States Fulbright Program.

To learn more, contact Praveena Fernes.

Our Voice Impact

"This experience has changed my life.  I see inadequacies everywhere I go as it relates to pedestrian access and safety.  I even stop [at] construction sites to remind them to be considerate of the handicapped in our community.  Thank you all so much for this awareness and empowerment to require change."

~ Pam Jiner, GirlTrek Advocacy Leader, Denver CO