They could’ve spent this day working on their gardens and forest protection. After all, their gardens and forests are the source of their livelihood and every day that they’re able to work is critical. Instead, they spent the day all gathered together, waiting and taking turns to tell me their stories until we all got lunch together. I can’t overlook how generous they were with their day, and I want to make sure their stories are heard.

I always thought of environmental issues as noble, but they never struck me with the same oomph as human rights issues… but spending time in villages like Huay Lu helps me to realize that they are one and the same.

Most of the people I spoke to that day were originally from Myanmar. As a persecuted minority, many of them had to make dangerous and risky escapes into Thailand. That transition was just as challenging at times, especially when timber businesses had begun to extract the forest that they relied on for resources and survival.

Learning how to manage the forest as a community was the key to their survival, and person after person brought out their grandchildren and told me how they felt hopeful that this next generation would never know the terrible things they’d experienced in their lifetime.

That moment redefined sustainability for me. It’s not just “going green” cause that’s a good thing to do. It’s about living beyond yourself, for generations to come.

Philippe Lazaroideal, ideal1