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.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Article on Water Usage

Found an excellent article on "intermediate technology", or simple tools and equipment that are adapted towards farming and water usage.  Most involve physical labor, but are very cheap and very efficient for a family trying to improve their income.

International Development Enterprises (IDE) , an organization begun by a man named Paul Polak, has been working in Asia and Africa for the past 30 years to create these types of technologies and change the market in developing countries so that the final price of this equipment is affordable for rural families.  This can eliminate even the need for microloans.

Give it a read!


Monday, January 10, 2011

Nicholas Kristof Article: Building Ladders in Haiti


Click on the link above to see a story on how aid money doesn't have to be wasted.  UPLift looks for examples such as these to consider to use here in Thailand.

Have you seen any examples of stories like these?  Feel free to send them to uplift.khomloy@gmail.com along with your thoughts.  Thanks!

Article: Remittances Support Survival

This article is an interesting look into the importance of remittances for families still living inside of Burma, and how serious the issue of food security is becoming at the present: http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=91498&sms_ss=facebook&at_xt=4d1f2aa74c368e8e%2C1

I also found it interesting that their reported estimate for the average amount of income going towards food matches the survey results from our Shan communities in Fang district (70%). 

Ups and Downs

Last week I visited our project sites in Fang district, Chiang Mai to see how they were progressing after four months. What I found was a mix of encouragement and lessons to be learned.

Fang is the first area in which we found the "target group" that fit UPLift's goal...migrant families with no official nationality, little or no land, and very little access to educational and health services.  The people are either Shan or Palaung, most of whom are recent arrivals from Shan State, Burma.

Vegetable plots managed by third graders at Suan Cha School

My first visit was to Suan Cha School, which is home to over 80 ethnic Palaung students.  I showed up during the lunch hour, which meant the teachers had left and the children had recess.  Six students noticed me and volunteered to take me around the garden for a tour!  I was amazed at what they had done:

(Pictures of Suan Cha School project after four months)

-The original project was for a 4x12 meter patch (the blue netted area in the photo album above) in which the 3rd grade students took care of plots of morning glory and mustard greens.  After that first round of crops was completed, they diversified their plots by adding chili, red onion or cilantro to each plot.  They now have much more to sell at the local market!

-In addition, the school has much more farmable land that they chose not to use during the first round.  For this second round, they decided to invite the student's families to use for planting a red onion crop and lemongrass.  This both gives the parents an additional source of income and the students more hands-on experience working with good farmers.

New onion crops for families of the students here!

-The students were very knowledgable about the workings of the garden, the types of vegetables, how to care for them, and even the market prices for each!  With no teacher around they were able to answer questions on all of these subjects (see the above video, in Thai).

-The teacher responsible for organizing the students (Kru Pongsak) has taken the project into his own hands and given the students a sense of ownership.  I had little or no input to give, nor did he have any advice or assistance to request this time around.  From us originally helping with the training and connecting the school to a reputable ag specialist, they now have everything they need to run the project sustainably and without relying on others.  This is exactly the outcome that we want to see for UPLift!  All in all, Suan Cha School is our first successful site, both in the short-term and in continuing their success.

After visiting the school, I headed to an orange plantation to visit another former pilot.  This one, however, turned out very differently.


Lost in the Process

I pulled the car to the side of the road and headed down the hill to the living area below.  The area, now deserted, once was a partial home to three families who also worked in the nearby orchards.  I took pictures of the land around the cement block housing...what once were cleared and orderly lines of crops were now distant overgrowth.  The area was hardly recognizable.

This is an orange plantation, the kind of place that is home to most of the estimated 80,000 illegal Shan migrants living in Fang district.  Given its proximity to Shan State and porous border control, Fang draws a large number of people that have an unstable living situation.

What's left of the migrant families' gardens

A wave of Shan immigration to this area in the 1970s and 1980s was noticed by the Thai government, which gave amnesty and partial citizenship in order to solve what was becoming a humanitarian problem.  These Shan families, now into their second and third generations, can attend school, receive government health care and travel freely throughout Chiang Mai province.  Shan arrivals since that amnesty period have had far less luck.  Lacking both refugee status and official permission to live in Thailand, they instead live the life of the economic migrant.

In July we began working with three such families at this organge plantation.  By working with the plantation owner (one of the "legal" Shans who has since found wealth and stability), local government and Thai border police that were interested in helping with agricultural training, we were able to clear small plots of land for each of the families and provide trainings for organic gardening.  The goal was for the families to have their own consistent source of nutrition, as weekly surveys showed that they were spending up to 70% of their $2.50 a day income on food.

They made considerable progress in August, clearing land, shaping terraces on the steep hills, and growing small but sufficient rows of crops.  When something went wrong, they adapted and continued doing well.  One man in particular had a great series of plots, each terrace looking more impressive than the next.

By September, however, the realities of this kind of life had resurfaced.  The mothers of two of the families ran away with their children during the night, leaving their husbands shocked and upset. Two weeks after, the husbands too left the plantation in search of their families.  The remaining family was then robbed of their savings, and chose to find a new place to live and work.

Afterwards I was speaking with our field officer in Fang, a young Shan who works on numerous development projects for the newer arrivals, and who knows the area quite well.  "I don't understand why the families left in the first place", I told her.  "Is there another job nearby that pays more?"

"No", she replied, "other jobs around here pay around the same. But this is rainy season."

"What does rainy season have to do with it?" I asked, now beyond confused.

She then explained that days of heavy rain prevents daily work on the orange plantations.  The owners of these plantations only hire by the day, and when there's a lot of rain then they choose not to send anyone out to work.  For families making 70-90 baht per day, every day of missed work hurts.

"On some weeks families get no work at all.  Sometimes they have no choice but to move on to any other place where they can find enough money to survive."

While thinking about trying to care for a family of five with literally no money for an entire week, I realized that there are a great many things we do not understand about the area, and how stability is not always a constant.  Poverty isn't just the result of one single issue...it's the result of many.  Sometimes one simple project cannot address the problem.

And in this area, in Fang, we have more learning to do before we can find a way to effectively improve life on the orange plantation.  I thought about this last Friday, as I was looking at the untended gardens now lying in the weeds.

Rows of abandoned bean crops in the distance