Niwat Roykaew(Khru Tee)

Director & Chairperson, The Mekong School: Institute of Local Knowledge

Mr. Niwat Roykeaw is known locally as Khru-Tee (Khru means teacher in Thai). He is the Chairperson of Chiang Khong Conservation Group and the Director of Mekong School: Institute of Local Knowledge. He grew up and attended primary and secondary school in Chiang Khong District and high school in Chiang Rai Province before receiving his bachelor’s degree from Chiang Mai University in 1982.

Khru-Tee began his teaching career at Chiang Rai Teachers College, and is a certified teacher under the Ministry of Education. He taught the children of various highland schools in Chiang Rai Province from 1983 to 1990. From 1990 to 1997 he was the headmaster at Montri Wittaya School, Ban Houy Ku School, and Ban Song Pee Nong School in Chiang Rai. For his dedication to public education access in underserved rural areas, Khru-Tee has received a Dedicated Teachers Award from the Teachers Council of Thailand.

In 1995, Khru-Tee and his colleagues in Chiang Khong founded the Chiang Khong Conservation Group (Rak Chiang Khong) to address the drought problem in the Som River, a local tributary of the Mekong River. The Hmong villagers were being blamed for deforestation and the seasonally dewatered stream. The project solicited funding from local citizens, businesses, and organizations to buy trees for Hmong communities, and as a result, water returned to the stream and the group now teaches local communities to maintain their forests and rivers. In 2002, Khru-Tee co-founded Mekong Lanna Natural Resources and Cultural Network to empower local communities along the Mekong, Ing, and Kok Rivers to protect the rivers and the forests with Community-Based Knowledge. Projects included successful defense against mega-development projects in the mainstem Mekong River, such as the Lancang-Mekong Commercial Navigation project, and ongoing opposition to mainstem dam projects such as Xayaburi and Pak Beng. 

In 2015, Khru-Tee co-founded the Mekong School: Institute of Local Knowledge, with an office and meeting center on the Mekong River that encompasses the staff and missions of the other groups. Construction has started on a library of local knowledge and place-based resources, including the archives of a recently dissolved Bangkok-based Thai NGO with a decades-long history working on land and water conservation and rights in SE Asia, which will be housed in the forthcoming Mekong School Digital Library. The Mekong School is engaged in the Mekong Youth and Mekong Curriculum programs which hope to teach traditional ecological knowledge together with environmental science education in an outdoor education setting to local K-12 students, using participatory and project-based teaching and learning methods. 

In recognition of his two decades of work that resulted in the cancellation of the ‘blasting the rapids’ project, Khru-Tee was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for 2022. The Goldman Prize honors “people of ordinary backgrounds doing extraordinary things to save our Earth.” The prize is “the world’s foremost award honoring grassroots environmental activists, recognizing outstanding leaders from each of the world’s regions. Goldman Prize winners prove that we can re/shape the Earth’s future.” Most recently, Khru-Tee was awarded The Asia Foundation’s 2023 Chang-Lin Tien Distinguished Leadership Award in recognition of his tireless community advocacy efforts to protect the ecosystem of the Mekong River and community livelihoods. Learn more about Niwat and the work of the Mekong School at