UPLift--Poverty Alleviation For The Ultra-Poor

UPLift is a program designed to empower communities on the Thai/Burmese border that lack food security, opportunities for income, and education. Through the use of small grants and skills trainings, these families receive the opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty without having to rely on external aid indefinitely.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Survey Areas Expanded

We have added Thoeng District (Chiang Rai Province) and the Muang/Tha Song Yang Districts (Tak Province) to our survey areas.  Take a closer look at our interactive map:

View UPLift Survey Areas in a larger map

After nearly two months of working on UPLift, our criteria for locating households in need has changed accordingly from those used by BRAC in Bangladesh to the environment here in Thailand.  We usually look for two or more of the following:
a) Landless households
b) Migrants without full nationality
c) Households with social constraints that prevent them from having normal stability (eg, HIV/AIDS, physical disability, single mothers in communities with cultural stigma)
d) Households that have trouble finding enough food for all of its members.

If you have any questions about UPLift or have comments on how to improve this journal, don't hesitate to send us an email at uplift.khomloy@gmail.com.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Garden Project Expansion in Chiang Mai

We are happy to announce that two more sites in Fang district, Chiang Mai province are being started! Some more info on Suan Cha School and the Daylight School:
More pictures of Suan Cha School
More pictures of Daylight School
Suan Cha Primary School has 50+ students that are of Palaung ethnicity, which is a small hill tribe originally located in the Shan State, Burma. The village nearest to the school is a group of Palaung who have recently migrated to Thailand.

Daylight School, our next site for expansion, is located on an orange plantation in the hills of Fang. It is on plantations such as this one where thousands of Shan migrants come to work and live. Lan Mao, also a Shan, is currently serving as sole teacher there for around 20 children aged 5-15 years.
Daylight was founded by Blood Foundation, a local NGO in Fang focusing on education projects for ethnic minorities, most notably the Shan. Blood Foundation also has worked closely with Suan Cha School for the past year and was very helpful in helping locate these communities.

Our Garden Project addresses the issue of food security for the ultra-poor, gives them the opportunity to reduce their food expenses and in the process improves their chances of supporting their children’s futures.

On another front, Paul and Mark just finished an initial survey of areas in and around Mae Sot, including the Mae La and Umphium refugee camps. Keep your eyes open for some interesting news in the next week or so…

Monday, August 9, 2010

Families on the Thai/Myanmar Border Have Little To Choose From

Tachilek is a hectic Burmese market town on the border across from Mai Sai, Thailand. In addition to being the home of numerous vendors, restaurant owners, taxi drivers and tourist guides it also has a large number of ultra-poor residents. These families, new arrivals from other portions of Myanmar and unable to support their means through normal work, are driven towards another option—street begging in Thailand.
Mae Doo is such an example. Single mother of five, she spends three weeks a month on the streets of Chiang Rai city begging with her children. It is enough to keep her family going, she says, and garners far more income than her previous job, being a fresh produce vendor. However, her children don’t have the luxury of attending school and they rarely even have enough money to treat medical problems. Her second son has had an infection on his right foot for a while now, and she might not be able to afford the costs of sending him to a Thai hospital.

We are trying to come up with innovative ways for women like Mae Doo to maintain a steady income without having her children on the streets as well. If successful, her children can then have access to formal education which provides a path out of the cyclical rut of ultra-poor families.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Beginnings of a Garden--UPLift Project Journal

Spending time listening to communities in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand has given us the opportunity to understand the daily lives of recent arrivals to the area, most notably refugees and migrant workers. Through working with Blood Foundation, a Fang-based organization, UPLift has been interacting with Shan and other ethnic minority communities in the area for the last month.

(Related: See progress of UPLift's Garden Project in Fang)

This time has also taught us an important lesson that is usually daunting when beginning a development project: Sometimes the hardest barriers to overcome for marginalized groups are the most immediate.  Whatever this initial barrier may be, ways can be found to bypass it.  Through listening to stories and interviewing workers, simple challenges (and creative solutions) are found.

Finding a sustainable source of food is a serious issue for many Shan families in Fang district. The meager income of most Shan working on orange plantations is further reduced after having to purchase food; as much as 70% of daily income is spent on rice, vegetables, proteins and cooking supplies. One answer would be to begin a vegetable garden so that families can lower the amount they spend on food purchases. However, this simple answer comes with an equally simple challenge—having the capital to start a garden, although small in our eyes, is inaccessible to workers who are barely surviving day-to-day.

UPLift is helping overcome this challenge by working with plantation owners to provide a small plot of land and supplying startup supplies and training with the ultimate goal of Shan migrant workers being able to maintain their own crops, produce their own organic fertilizer/insect deterrents, harvest their own vegetables and reduce their food costs in the process. These savings can then be put towards their children’s future in education and legal status in Thailand.

Our first project underway involves three families that work for an ethnic Shan who owns an orange plantation in Fang district. Through his generosity to support others in need, UPLift arranged trainings in crop selection, organic fertilizer production and organic insecticide production. We are excited to share the progress of their garden as it unfolds, from its inception to the training to the weekly post-visits. Please continue visiting our journal for updates!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Reaching Out To an IDP Camp

We had the opportunity to visit a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) located in the Shan State, Myanmar, just near the Thai border. Home to approximately 300 people, the camp serves as transition point for those fleeing their homes to find protection in Thailand.

There is a small school there with around 60 students, of which 30 are war orphans. A leading teacher at the school mentioned that because of the high altitude and the cold weather, plants normally grown in warmer temperatures have not yielded much results. However, several types (tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants) have the potential to expand and thrive.
Due to a natural abundance of dok-yaa, a type of straw material, some villagers have previously gained income by harvesting the straw and selling it wholesale to broom-making groups on the Thai side of the border. There are, however, a few barriers to consistent income with this activity:

a) the grass can only be harvested during January and February, which leaves the villagers a small window to collect and sell for any given year.

b) The selling price for one kilogram of grass is THB 20. The selling price of one finished broom, on the other hand, is THB 25.

Reducing their food dependence on outside sources can be a great chance for UPLift to interact with the community at this IDP camp. In addition, if the villagers there were to adopt the entire production process of broom making, find sufficient market demand, and sell brooms instead of the grass, then they could not only improve their income but also sustain cash flows for longer than two months.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Local Community Members Wanting To Help Those In Need

During UPLift's initial surveying period in Fang we were delighted to find a variety of people motivated to assist the less fortunate.  One such example is Kru Nong, a teacher at a Thai government school run by border police in the hills surrounding Fang proper.

Nong is responsible for the school's experimental agriculture project.  This project is run as an informative example for members of the local Lahu hilltribe village to learn about organic vegetable gardening, pig rearing, and chicken rearing.  The following is a short video of Kru Nong explaining the school's project:

Being of ethnic Shan descent, Nong is enthusiastic about helping UPLift with training Shan migrant workers on maintaining their own gardens in order to manage their food costs more effectively. Click here to see more of Kru Nong's school and breathtaking views of the connecting Lahu village.

Reality for Shan Migrant Workers in Thailand

The Shan people, part of the Tai Yai ethnic group spanning from southern China across parts of Southeast Asia, call a northern portion of Myanmar their home.  Their once-independent region having the namesake "Shan State", however, does not ensure their rights and autonomy.  Currently being pushed from their homes by the ruling military junta in Myanmar, many Shan have fled to Thailand in order to seek safety and opportunities for their families.

Being stateless and lacking national identity cards, life in Thailand is difficult for Shan migrants.  Stateless families do not have access to public services and infrastructure, and the children of stateless families cannot attend public school.  Most Shan migrant workers resort to day labor such as building construction and working the fields of fruit plantations.

Fang District, Chiang Mai Province was chosen as an area of emphasis for the UPLift Project due to the large number of Shan migrants (one local estimate was placed at 80,000 people) and the obstacles of acquiring basic health services, schooling, and opportunities for gaining income.

Project Areas for UPLift

UPLift is currently surveying in four areas of Northern Thailand.  Use this interactive map to find out more.

View UPLift Project Areas in a larger map

UPLift Introduction

Welcome and thanks for visiting UPLift's Project Journal!  We will update readers on current activities and project initiatives on a regular basis.

So what is the background of UPLift?  It began in July 2010 in Thailand by Khom Loy Development Foundation, being inspired by a similar project run by BRAC, a Bangladeshi organization with a track record of reaching impoverished families and improving their quality of life.

It was BRAC that coined the term "ultra-poor" to refer to the bottom 20% of impoverished households that do not reap the benefits of normal microfinance activities.  This is due to several reasons--lack of exisiting skills, lack of education, social constraints, and most importantly, inadequate food security.

UPLift is directed towards marginalized communities on the Thai/Myanmar border that have the above-mentioned characteristics of the ultra-poor. Through small grants and skills trainings, these families receive the opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty without having to rely on external aid indefinitely.