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.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Day After the Elections...

This past Monday brought along with it new things, both good and bad.  As you can see above, the good news is that we had our first trial run of the school garden training that we plan to use with migrant schools in Mae Sot.  We were linked with a local Karen migrant school that had interest in starting a new garden as well as an existing budget to do so, so we were excited to try out what we had.

The training lasted the entire morning and into the early afternoon.  Some lessons learned:
-The content of the training was useful and captured the participants' attention
-However useful the information was, the training did not provide the students and teachers a chance to practice the skills touched upon.  For the next training we need to integrate planning sessions into the training itself, so that the students can bride the new knowledge directly to their school, rather than waiting until a later time.
-A full day would be much more suitable than a half day for this training.

Upon finishing around 2:00 we packed up, said our goodbyes and headed back to the office in Mae Sot.  I had to catch a minibus out of town by 3:00 in order to get to Chiang Mai for other work errands, and was in a hurry to leave.  This was November 8, the day after the elections in Burma.

As I was leaving, the bad news of the day reared its head:  a Karen friend mentioned that there was a battle raging in Myawaddy (just across the border from Mae Sot) and that many Burmese and Karen people had crossed the river and were heading down the main Thai highway for help, and that her mother was one of them. Slightly worried, I had a five hour bus ride to guess about what had happened during the daytime while we were at the training and oblivious to the events of the day.

It wasn't until nearly ten o'clock in the evening when I finally had a chance to check the news:  20,000 to 30,000 refugees (estimated) had crossed the river, shells and mortar rounds from the fighting bewteen the Burmese military and a Karen army brigade had landed on the Thai side and wounded several people, and personal friends of mine had family members that they had not yet been able to find across the border.

It may be a while before things return to normal over there, just across that shallow river.  In the meantime all we can do is help where we can and within our own means.  Education and nutrition are ways to fight back, after all.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Agriculture Projects Underway in Mae Sot

After one month of preparation, our two garden sites in Mae Sot are nearly ready to begin!

Together with Room To Grow Foundation, Mark and Paul were able to survey five Burmese migrant schools in the area.  In addition, we are thankful to have had Boon from the Mekong Minority Foundation (MMF) visiting to assist with surveying and agricultural expertise.  Boon is Sgaw Karen, which allowed him to communicate with teachers and students much more efficiently than the rest of us.

Hway Ka Loke is a migrant school roughly ten kilometers outside of Mae Sot city, and about three kilometers away from the Burmese-Thai border.  The students and teachers are mostly Pho Karen, and originate from western Karen State in Burma.  There are over 370 students in attendance at the school, of which 220 stay in the boarding houses adjacent to the school.

Site #2 is also near Mae Sot, and comprises of ethnic Burmese students and teachers.  Due to concerns for security and confidentiality of the students and their families, we've been recommended not to mention the name or location.

By the end of November we have trainings planned at each school.  Our goals from these trainings are:

-Share knowledge, skills and abilities with the teachers and students so that they can have a productive, inexpensive source of food year round
-Improve the problem-solving skills of the teachers and students
-Use methods for more efficient water storage during the dry season, and learn from what goes right/what goes wrong
-Give migrant students a base of knowledge that they can take (and use) anywhere they go in the future, so that they and their families benefit

Over the past month ground has been plowed, equipment has been purchased, plans have been made, and fun has been had!  Check out some photo updates for both Hway Ka Loke and Site #2 .