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, March 2, 2011

Water Solutions for Burmese Migrants

In January we met a group of four Burmese families in Mae Sot, Thailand.  They live near a red dirt road winding through fields of sugarcane, just past the town landfill.  A Thai farmer was kind enough to give them permission to live on one acre of his land without having to pay rent.  They can also grow vegetables and use water from his pond to do so.

The youngest woman of the group recently had a stroke, leaving the right side of her body partially paralyzed.  She no longer can collect recyclables or harvest sugarcane (two primary job opportunities for the Burmese in this part of Thailand), staying at home instead.  When she expressed interest in growing vegetables both for personal use and for sale, we noticed that this project would not only allow these families to improve their food security and income, but also give her an opportunity to boost her livelihood.
Improved soil leads to improved crops

Our first few visits were spent speaking with them about the water supply, what the land is like, and what types of veggies they have experience growing.  Given that they have a year-round source of water from their pond, we wanted to test a foot pump, a small plastic tank and normal 40-meter water hose.  This will reduce labor by cutting down walking time and distance for using a bucket to water the plants, and benefits the paralyzed woman greatly.

A deep pond near their homes

Their first round of vegetables were planted without much planning on their part, and most of the crops died as a result of poor soil and handling the seeds improperly.  However, by February they had learned much from their first month of practice and began managing their garden plots in a more serious fashion.  By using subdivded square and rectangle plots instead of planting in and around existing bushes, they have more order and control of what they are growing.  In addition, they are now using seeds bought on the Burmese side of the border, which they have more familiarity with.

We also tested our foot pump and explained the need for a tower of some kind to make all of this a "gravity system", which is fairly easy to understand--if the water is put in a high location, then gravity takes care of the rest by pushing the water back down inside a hose.  Two days later when we came back to measure the land, the families had taken the initiative to build their own wooden tower!  Together we gave the gravity system idea a shot, the results (see video above) were successful.

A half-day of work leads to a decent (and cheap!) gravity tank

See more photos of the families' garden, tower and great progress so far, and stay tuned for more updates on how they are doing!