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I spent most of my life near a river, and I never really gave it a second thought. The Chao Phraya is a major river that flows through Bangkok and is an important source of livelihood for thousands of locals, but my interactions with the river mainly consisted of watching patches of decomposing garbage and invasive weeds unhurriedly floating past. So to me, the Chao Phraya was just a way for camera-wielding tourists to ‘ooh’ at the Grand Palace.

Working at Anacostia Riverkeeper (ARK) this summer, a small nonprofit organization aimed at restoring and protecting the Anacostia river has made me more cognizant of a river’s importance to its community, as well as the community’s importance to the river in terms of protection and restoration.

ARK’s main outreach mission is to get people to #cometotheriver because, despite winding over 8 miles through DC, it is still “DC’s forgotten river”. Knowing about and experiencing the river is the only way progress can be made. Anacostia Park is where I saw the community really come together over the river – with over 1200 acres of space which includes the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic garden, a skating rink, picnicking sites and sports fields, it’s one of DC’s largest and most important areas for recreation. I saw strangers come together to haul out hundreds of pounds of trash from the river, and families learning how to fish with ARK’s free Friday Night Fishing program. I attended two of ARK’s free educational boat tours, and learned about DC’s history and geography. With our most recent grant project, we’re tasked with organizing volunteer forces to go and sample parts of the river to measure levels of E. coli. I curated the call-for-volunteers email, which had the highest percentage and number of opens of any email sent within the past year, and read all the replies of people responding to that call – the enthusiasm is heartwarming and it shows that people really do care. I saw how the river brings people together, through family bonding activities and the same sense of wanting to protect what belongs to them.

In terms of my contribution to the organization, my main project has been to draft a grant proposal for creating High Water Mark signs to educate people on historic floods and how the water can affect them. Asking people for money is hard, but I found myself enjoying it immensely. I wrote the entire draft in a single day. Because there are parts I’m not qualified to fill (such as the budget proposal) and our busy staff can take 3-4 days to review my writing, my workload has slowed significantly although we are on track to submitting the grant. I’m now back to doing general smaller things like writing emails, deciphering awful handwriting on waiver forms and researching river policy, but I hope I’ll be able to take on another project soon and further contribute to restoring the river.

Getting to know the importance of the Anacostia River has made me think about the Chao Phraya, a river much closer to home. I know more about this foreign river than I do about the one that has served me through the years and gone completely unappreciated. I don’t even know if Bangkokians care enough for an environmental organization like the ARK to exist. Maybe when I go back home, I will actively try to meet people who are working on restoring the Chao Phraya and find out more.