Grandmother Power Review Preview
Happy Grandparents Day everyone.
I wasn’t exactly aware of the existence of Grandparents Day, but nevertheless, in the United States, September 9, 2012 or the first Sunday after Labor Day is a day of honor for our older and wiser relatives.
I thought it would be fitting to talk about a book to be published (September 18, 2012) called Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon by Paola Gianturco. I’ve been given a sneak peak of the book so that I might share my thoughts on the environmental theme in Grandmother Power.
Grandmother Power isn’t focused soley on one topic such as health, human rights, or the environment, rather it is an all encompassing overview of the accomplishments of our elder grandmothers. It is about activist grandmothers from 15 countries who tell their captivating stories of how they battled for the protection of their grandchildren and fellow citizens.
The twitter-verse took notice of Grandmother Power today on Grandparents Day:
My take on the book is of the chapter that devotes itself to telling the story of 73 year old Tongbai Pongtawong from Thailand. Her personal account of exploring environmental justice and rallying her friends and relatives makes her a leading exemplar for environmental activism.
Tongbai Pongtawong is a cotton spinner who works in a remote village in Thailand. Her environmental activism journey started when she grew increasingly worried about other nearby grandmothers, who all worked the local trade of weaving organic cotton, that were situated near a polluting gold mine. Her fellow grandmothers from the village of Na Nhong Bong told Tongbai of cyanide poisoning the water, fish, and crops – all which came from the gold mine. The villagers were no longer able to drink nor cook with the polluted water from the Huay River. It became clear that the villagers had a serious problem when fish were dying in the river and their rice and vegetable plantings would not grow.
Despite the overwhelming feeling of not being able to do anything about a challenge that seemed insurmountable, Tongbai overcame by rallying her community. She and 43 of her colleagues came together with their general manager of the cotton weaving group to write a letter of protest to government officials about the mining operations. The manager went a step further and accompanied some of the workers to meet with government officials in Bangkok.
Although the narrative is a bit unclear as to whether the direct actions of this group of grandmothers and their manager were successful in their campaign efforts, the story notes that some years later scientific evidence mounted up against the mining company.
According to Grandmother Power, it was found years later, that the subsidiary of Australian mining company TongKah Harbour PLC was completely apathetic to their mining operations. After just 2 years of mining near Tongbai’s villages, water surfaces were tested and found to have dangerous levels of lead, cadmium, manganese, and arsenic. The concerns about cyanide poisoning were later validated when the local Department of Health gave blood tests to 500 nearby villagers. The blood tests confirmed cyanide in 63% of the samples as well as lead and mercury in 100% of the samples!The author points out the obvious irony in Tongbai’s story of trying to preserve the local tradition of organic cotton weaving and thereby also protecting the environment by not utilizing chemical fertilizers or pesticides – while the gold mining company flooded the area with dangerous toxics.
Stories of companies who go to other countries with the intent of performing operations that they wouldn’t be allowed to do in their own country should be illegal. This story is an example of why it disgusts me to find out of such tragic environmental disasters, especially when human life is infected with needless disease or ailments.
Nevertheless, Tongbai is an excellent example of showing off the power of grandmothers and the power of community activism. I didn’t have the honor of reading the whole book, but I hope you get a sense of the theme in my short Grandmother Power book review.
You can pre-order the book on Amazon here.
All author royalties will be donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, which provides grants to African grandmothers who are raising AIDS orphans.
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