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, November 20, 2013

Economic Development for Migrant Women 3.0

2013-14 Project Activities & Schedule
We are excited to share some additions to our project on Economic Development for Migrant Women.  Before divulging into this years project and community, here's a bit of historical context: 

In year 1 of teaching financial literacy trainings to migrant women (2011-12), we worked with the Mae Sot Landfill Community (see post: http://uplift-khomloy.blogspot.com/2011/07/5-minutes-to-change-world-and-how-were.html) During this time, we also sought to increase income generation and sustainable skills building for women on the landfill. Despite our earnest endeavors with the landfill community, we found that lasting impact proved impossible due to insecurity and uncertainty of the community occupying the landfill space, the landlord's disapproval (and removal) of infrastructure, and police raids.  
Visiting Mae Sot Landfill earlier this year.

Fast-forward to year 2: The Cattle Yard Community (2012-13):  Our staff and 24 Wide Horizon Students (Burmese young adults studying community development) delivered financial literacy trainings with two women populations at the Mae Sot Cattle Yard--a Muslim and Karen Group.  During follow up visits, we noted some women benefiting from the financial knowledge: one woman was able to buy a motorcycle with the money she learned to save, another was able to improve her small shop business and yield higher profits. Later on, our efforts for larger scale change tapered off as we tried to set-up community savings cooperatives without success.  We still maintain contacts and hopes for continuing to develop viable income generation possibilities for the cattle yard community.

Now in the third year of delivering Financial Literacy (FL) trainings to Burmese Migrant women in communities around Mae Sot, Khom Loy's UPLift staff realizes the limits to the financial literacy training as an end goal.  Though, training content is valuable, it becomes irrelevant after a certain point particularly if participants do not have the ability in their current life situation to enact the skills learned during the trainings (i.e. how can a women expect to manage household income and have a savings plan if the family is already in debt and continues to borrow on credit each month? Not to mention, income is not always guaranteed...)

In 2011, we learned that even the right efforts and best of intentions in promoting more income generation for migrant women can be futile if externalities do not allow for sustainability. The Landfill Community women received a huge amount of training and support but could not control the wishes of the landowner or police which led to the demise of our efforts. 

 This year, we address external concerns head-on such as land security as we begin pilot projects with a new community called Paseidan. Additions to our existing project activities for 2013 consist of thorough community needs assessments, increased collaboration with Wide Horizon Students (24 Burmese speaking community development students), and inclusion of pilot projects.  Our goal for adding additional activities is to ensure increased sustainability in our efforts to promote greater, lasting economic development for Migrant Woman.  See our 2013-14 project details below.

2013-14 Economic Development for Women at Paseidan

Community Profile:

After the devastating Cyclone Nargis destroyed infrastructure and communities in the Irrawaddy Delta in 2008 (est.138,366 people died), the people who now belong to the Paseidan Community fled to the Thai border in pursuit of livelihood, food, and shelter.  
  • With fishing as the previous main source of livelihood, limited skills, and non-legal status, men in the community accepted low wage factory work outside of Mae Sot as the main means of household income. 
  • The community is very secluded located on the grounds of the factory; in fact, there is only 1 passageway to reach it. 
  • Factory management allowed worked to move their families into makeshift homes beside the factory which, is how they came to be.  
  • About 100 families/ over 400 people live at the community, which resembles an urban slum.
  • Men work at the nearby factory and most women stay home to tend the children and households.
  • Household income is about 150 Baht/ 5 USD per day for an average family of 5 people. 
  •  Most women expressed that lack of income and debt is the biggest stressor on the household. 
  •  Available clean water is an issue in the dry season as rainwater becomes limited.
  • Some older children stay home from school to care for younger siblings when women seek out supplemental income outside the home—(given this, one of our pilots is a community daycare that can get these older kids back to school.)
  •  Women are mainly afraid to leave the community for fear of being detained, fined or deported by immigration police since non of them have legal identification.
  • Because women are limited to leaving the community and have limited income, access to nutritious foodstuff is compromised.  
  • Other organizations such as Mae Tao Clinic have visited the community to deliver community health trainings and resources. 
  • Upon meeting with factory owners and managers, we have consensus that the community will not be spontaneously uprooted. Therefore, reasonable land security exists.  

Paseidan Migrant Community lies behind this old warehouse--over 400 people live here.  To the left is a narrow passageway.  This is the only entrance to to community from the road.

From right of the entrance, makeshift homes at Paseidan can be seen from the road

Needs Assessment & Pilot Projects at Paseidan
Upon completion of very thourough needs assessments and surveying throughout the community, we came up with pilot project ideas which are designed to help jumpstart women into pursuing more income generation practices. These pilots are a result of both the needs of women in Paseidan as well as what Team UPLift is capable of offering. On November 1, 2013, we presented our findings and pilot recommendations to the women in a community meeting with help from Wide Horizon Students--24 Burmese students who also complete community development projects as part of their curriculum.  

Meeting with Paseidan women and Wide Horizon Students

Household Gardening: Towards increased food security, availabilty of nutritent dense foods, and potential for supplemental income.
Since gardening is one of our main activities, household gardens were amongst the recommendations we gave to Paseidan women for addressing their needs (i.e. need for more sustainable food source). Deriving from this recommendation, our team came up with a community-wide garden training for women.  Eliciting the help of Wide Horizon Students, we conducted this training on November 8, 2013.  During this basic garden training, we were able to observe the women who showed the most participation and enthusiasm for gardening. Afterwards, we completed household surveys on gardening.  

After many observations and interactions, we have narrowed garden pilot project participants down to 20 women. 20 participants to start will allow time to see how women adopt household gardening and test viability to upscale/troubleshoot. On November 21, 2013, we will begin garden trainings and household garden startup with 10 women, followed by another 10 women the week after.  Once trainings are complete, we will visit, observe, and provide support for the development of household gardens.  

Wide Horizon Students discussing soil management with the women at Paseidan

Paseidan women practice making the Indigenous Microorganism: FPJ (Fermented Plant Juice) for natural fertilizer

Wide Horizon Students demonstrate how to set up a bottle garden

Community Daycare Pilot
Based on the needs assessment, another recommendation we presented was to create a formal community daycare for the young children (0-5 years old).  Lack of free time and inability to leave small children were two of the main reasons why women are even attempting to pursue income generation.  Another alarming discovery was seeing school-age children (around 15) stay home to care for younger siblings while both parents went to work. From interviews we know there is some history of informal daycares and parents even paid for childcare in the past. Moreover, we have contact with 3 women who are interested in running a daycare with full backing from other parents.  

To build upon existing interest and informal daycare structure, UPLift Staff will collaborate to initiate a formal daycare. These 3 daycare teacher candidates will undergo formal training on early childhood development and care.  Afterwards, a small structure will be erected to house the daycare.  Finally, UPlift team members will facilitate the startup of the daycare being run like a small business.  Parents have already pledged to pay a small fee to send their children to daycare. The daycare will ultimately free up time for women and ensure older children to get back in the classroom--which we will monitor as well. 

3 Wide Horizon Students caring for small children while women attend the garden training.  

6-Month Schedule at Paseidan

In addition to the aforementioned pilot projects currently underway, KLDF and Wide Horizon Students will still deliver the financial literacy trainings in February 2014.  The idea is to provide the training after the pilots are in motion with several women already thinking about and pursuing income generation activities. With pilot activities in place, trainees will be able to "hit the ground running" when they receive financial literacy trainings in terms of being prepared to upscale pilots and explore their own ideas.  

Keep checking in as our ambitious endeavors with Paseidan continue!

Below is our 6-month activities schedule for Women's Economical Development at Paseidan...

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Highlights and Plans

School vegetable program:
·         Previous year’s projects: We concluded support for repairing flood damages and provided some seeds for the 2014 planting season. Hwe Ka Loke school was kind enough to donate to 13 papaya trees to the TPC garden.
·         Forthcoming year’s projects: Having selected three primary school for this year (Irawaddy, Rocky Mountain 1, and Light Schools), we are now planning the training sessions we will deliver over the next two months. The garden training at Wide Horizon School also moves along as we are halfway complete.

Wide Horizon Students making a type of Indigenous Microorganism called "FFJ": Fermented Fruit Juice

Agriculture Training Center/Farming Research:
·         Sweet potato project: Our team has prepped the soil using compost from the pigpens, rice husk, and Indigenous Microorganism, then planted 100 sweet potato plants, which are developing well.
·         Three Sisters (corn, pumpkin and bean combination): We are currently tilling and fertilizing soil for planting corn. Other plot cultivation will follow once the beans are established.

Natural Farming Pig Rearing:
·         Pig progress: Following the rainy season, our pigs are now re-settled in the newly repaired pen and are growing so well (weighing 45kg from an initial weight of about 7kg), we will move 5 of the 10 pigs to our second pen once flood remediation is completed. We anticipate selling market-ready pigs in two months time.

Our pigs on new (lower cost) food regimen of rice bran and cooked cracked rice along with FBS

·         Production of composted manure: Because we raise the pigs in earth pits, we are also getting an increasing amount of composted manure which we feed into the farm projects to increase soil quality and yields.
·         Pig breeding: We will retain one sow to see whether we can successfully breed our own piglets to reduce input costs.
·         Training: Since August, we have trained 60 Burmese teacher training students (from the nearby Teacher Prep College) and will train 20 more in the coming months. Already, we have students asking us how they can replicate the method in their communities across the border. 
·         Shadowing: A representative from Social Action for Women (SAW) NGO is currently shadowing our farm manager for further proliferation of natural farming method at the SAW garden.  

Economic Development and Empowerment for Migrant Women:
·         The Financial Literacy project is under re-construction: To include more “before and after” activities to the training to promote income generation/self-sustainability practices. 
·         New economic development pilot projects will kick off this month including: efficiency gardening, laying hen raising, and a community daycare (with the goal of freeing older children from needing to stay home and take care of younger sibling—thus, getting them back in school.) 

Meeting with women from a migrant community to discuss needs assessment data

November will bring kick off for school garden projects, more planting, efficiency garden research, and pilot projects with migrant women! Stay tuned for more in-depth details on recent developments and outcomes.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

September Activities Update--Part 2

School Garden Projects & Financial Literacy Training Activities

3. School Garden Projects:

TPC Garden Project (2012-13 & ongoing project): This month, TPS students planted vegetables such as mustard and cabbage. They also prepared other plots for planting using compost from our pigpens.  Most of the plants are growing well but we’ve noticed aphids beginning to eat the leaves.  KLDF will do a half-day pest control and soil maintenance training in October with TPC students to address this issue and ensure their garden is as productive as possible.

TPC garden beds prepped for planting

Min Ma Haw (MMH) School (2012-13 School Garden Project) In communicating with MMH School teachers, we became aware of the flooding and damage that occurred at MMH garden in August-September.  This month, our team will deliver new top soil, cow manure, seeds, and tools to helpe remedy the effects of the flood and ensure the garden remains fully functional and productive.

 School Garden Assessments for 2013-2014 Projects
Uplift staff really hit the ground running this month to finish school garden project assessments at area migrant schools by completing 3 additional mock (practice) garden trainings. We cast our net wide and visited schools near like Morning Glory School just 15 minutes from Mae Sot and as far as “wilderness” areas just eyeshot from the Burma Border.  These far-reaching ventures brought us to Rocky Mountain 1 & Rocky Mountain 2 Schools located on a rock quarry virtually in the middle of nowhere.  Also to Light School, which is often only reachable by foot through a very muddy road, just behind the Cattle yard.  By the end of September, our team completed mock trainings at Rocky Mountain 1 & 2 Schools along with Wide Horizon School (where we already decided to do the full garden project).  We deemed Morning Glory not eligible for the garden project given our criteria for the project and initial needs assessment.  This left us with Rocky Mountain 1, Rocky Mountain 2 and Light School to fill in slots 3 & 4 for our garden project.  In the next week, we will choose 2 out of these 3 schools for the full project.  Given the distance and rough terrain to Rocky Mountain 2 School, we will more than likely end up taking on Rocky Mountain 1 and Light School for our project but we will wait to determine this after the mock garden training this Friday at Light School. 

Irrawaddy Flower Garden School:  Recalling from last month, Irawaddy is the first school (of 4) we had decided to complete a full garden project with.  According to the follow up by our agriculture officer, Sai Aung, Irawaddy students are eager to learn more about germinating seeds. The students sprayed the natural fertilizer FFJ (Fermented Fruit Juice) that KLDF provided. After spraying this fertilizer, students planted cabbage and rosella. Sai Aung noted that a lot of rainfall in September resulted in flooding of the land around the raised bed but thankfully, not the raised bed itself. Since the land is still too saturated, our team decided it was best to start the full garden project in November.

Wide Horizon (WH) School: Last month, we decided to go ahead and conduct a full garden training with Wide Horizon School since all the students are borders and good candidates to proliferate the gardening methods from the training.  This school is similar to TPC in that the students are older (between 18-26) and attend this specialized professional development school for a year.  Just yesterday, our staff completed an introduction to soil management and mock bamboo raised bed training with Wide Horizons Students.  Wide Horizon Students completed the in-class theory training along with making the bamboo bed in record time!  One big difference we noticed right away (from primary students) was how easy it was for the students to understand the material and how they brought their own experiences in gardening & agriculture to the activity.  This was also the first (and only) training we conducted entirely in English, as the school requires only English for immersion purposes. Yesterday’s training kicked off the in class training schedule in which our staff will deliver all the theory garden trainings over the course of 6-weeks.  We’ll keep our readers posted on how our first full-fledged garden project is going!

Heidi & Sai Aung introducing soil management concepts to WH students

WH students collecting green manure

Successful completion of the raised bamboo bed at Wide Horizon School 

Rocky Mountain 1 (RM 1): Team Uplift conducted a garden needs assessment on Sept. 13 followed by a mock garden training with RM1 on Sept 20. While doing the initial assessment, we learned that RM1 houses over 60 boarding student ages 4 to 14, most of which come from inside Burma and/or have parents working elsewhere in factories. From the start the students and headmaster displayed great interest in gardening and agriculture since they have little current knowledge on how or where to grow vegetables on their school compound.  We soon determined that the soil on the compound is sandy and near impossible to sustain plant life.  Thus, we brainstormed about vertical and container gardening options. As part of the mock training on Sept. 20, our team introduced the student to soil management and bamboo raised bed for planting vegetables. We held a 2 hour theory training followed by the construction of one bamboo raised bed.  Even though it down poured rain as we headed out to make the bed, the students were persistent and enthusiastic about completing the task. The headmaster was also active in encouraging students to participate and leading by example himself.  In the end, our mock training was very successful and the students felt very accomplished. Since the mock training, we have followed up and later this week Sai Aung will revisit RM1 to provide vegetables seeds for the bamboo bed. Our team has determined RM1 is a prime candidate for the full 3-month garden project—the only real difference from RM2 is that it is closer and easier to get to— and we plan to start the training later this month.  Thus, we have filled 3 of 4 slots for the 2013-2014 garden project schools.

UPLift staff help RM 1 student move raised bed materials

RM1 Headmaster firming brown manure

Happy faces after completing the bamboo raised bed at RM 1 (see Sai Aung center)

Rocky Mountain 2 (RM2): UPLift staff visited RM2 and meet with the headmaster on Sept. 13.   During our initial visit, we quickly learned that the school/community is rather remote and hard to reach as it takes about an hour one way by motorbike from Mae Sot. We gathered that the school houses about 50 boarding students in similar circumstances to those at RM1.  Our team also discovered the school had a garden project in the past that was shut down because of funding deficiencies and land rent. Another difficulty (aside from funding shortages) for this school is water; there is only one well for the whole community aside from some rainwater.  During the dry season, water supplies nearly run out.  To further assess this school and observe participation and real interest, our staff conducted a garden mock training on September 27.  Fortuitously, we had a volunteer driver help us transport materials to RM2—as it is very hard to reach and our normal driver was resistant to the trip. The theory training and practical application of making the raised bamboo bed resulted successfully. The headmaster, a few teachers and several students expressed great interest and collaborative skills during the training.  Though RM2 is an ideal candididate for our garden project, we hesitate to commit the full project to this school since it is so difficult to reach and the water supply might be an issue.  We are currently postponing our decision in choosing the last school for the garden project until we complete the mock training with Light School on October 4.

Sai  Aung conducting theory training at RM 2

RM 2 Students cutting bamboo for the raised bed

RM 2 Headmaster & students stand by the finished bamboo bed

Light School:  We visited Light School located behind the Mae Sot Cattleyard (community we worked with on Financial Literacy last year) on Sept. 24. Though much closer to Mae Sot, the school is a bit difficult to reach give the abysmal quality of the road leading to the school.  Our staff had to leave their motorbikes and drudge through the mud to reach the school.  Nonetheless, the children were lovely and the headmaster very welcoming when we arrives.  From our assessment, we found out the school houses 40 boarding students including some student swho attend a nearby Thai High school. Outside donors and NGO’s assessed a need for the school after interviewing families living on the Cattle yard and those working as migrant field laborers for nearby Thai landowners. The school was started 7 years ago on a very compact amount of land (literally in the middle of rice/corn fields) and is completely funded by a single international individual donor. Given the limited space of the school, the headmaster told us he would negotiate with the neighboring Burmese resident to gain more space for school gardening. Like RM2, Light School also faces challenges with water supplies since they only have 1 well available for use but as the headmaster put it, they are in relatively stable position to manage if they have a water shortage.  Stay tuned for more updates of our assessment with Light School!

Light School students transport bamboo by foot as our truck could only make it so far...

Light School headmaster helps students push garden bed materials to the school

4. Financial Literacy Training 2012-13 and Plans for Launching in 2013-14

Paseidan Community & Continuing Community Assessments: In September, Ko Lynn continued building the relationship our staff started in August with the community we call Paseidan. As we explained in our August Updates, these migrants organized this community on the Thai Border in 2008 after Cyclone Nargis ruined their livelihoods on the Irawaddy Delta.  This month, Ko Lynn interviewed several more Paseidan migrant women about their daily life, possible business ideas, experience with household saving, household budgeting, cultural/ethnic art, skill training interests which can help us tailor and plan a future FL Training for the women.  While collaborating with Wide Horizon with the Garden Project, we learned they are also working with Paseidan for community service projects. With this connection, we were able to gain even more insight into the situation of women at Paseidan.   As planned, we will pair up again this year (2013-14) with Wide Horizon students to deliver financial literacy (FL) trainings to women in the migrant community and though we are not yet done with our community assessments, it looks like Paseidan is currently the most attractive and appropriate community to conduct our training and launch Phase 2 of FL (income generation ), particularly since WH students already have a relationship with the women there. In the meantime before we begin FL training in Jan-Feb, we continue to build a relationship with Paseidan women.  In the process of expanding our FL project this year, we will start the Paseidan training with the end in mind—the end goal focusing on the women running a successful small business/income generation venture.  With this in mind, we have WH students helping us prep the women  for a business mindframe—providing them with Business Plan Worksheets.
In late September, UPLift Staff visited two other communities for FL project assessments. These communities are very close to Thai-Myanmar Border—not far from Rocky Mountain 2 School. People in this area were significantly affected by the floods in July and August this year and are not only hard to reach but also difficult to meet with since people are scattered about and it is hard to determine who has left for good after houses were ruined by the floods. Therefore, we do not have much information on these communities at present other than knowing they are ethnically Thai, Karen & Burmese and the communities appear destitute for assistance even with rebuilding infrastructure. 

Walking to a community members house to meet with a group of women at Paseidan

A small convenience store at Paseidan

Financial Literacy Phase 2 Income Generation Research:At large, staff continues researching for income generation startups we can incorporate with our Financial Literacy Training this year and include it as regular step of the project. Particularly, we have been looking at mobile selling around the community (for instance, different types of basic hygienic product), small income generation groups working out of a space, home-based work, and small saving groups. In the third week of Sepember Ko Lynn and Sai Aung visited three area organizations for that market migrant products including WEAVE, SAW (Social Action for Women), and Borderline Gallery. WEAVE works directly with refugee women and other women organizations from Myanmar.  SAW only works with migrant women in Mae Sot. Finally, Borderline Gallery works as a cooperative for area artisans.  From each of these places we learned that handicrafts and items made by cooperatives of migrant women are currently flooding the market in Mae Sot which has made it difficult to move inventory.  Our takeaway from these visits is to proceed with caution on viable income generation options and not be so starry-eyed; it’s certainly a tough topic to tackle. In the very least, we made valuable connections during these visits and now have a broader network to work with. Even more, by talking to the General Manager at Borderline Gallery, we discovered Light School and thus, visited the headmaster there to conduct a garden project assessment. 

Cattle yard Community (2012-2013 Project)
Karen Group: Financial Literacy project Phase 2 Income Generation in year two at the Cattle Yard Community continues to move along in the research stage. As you might recall, last year we worked with two specific groups from this community—an ethnically Karen Group and Muslim Group.
For income generation ideas for the Karen Group, we visited the organization called Help Without Frontier (HWF) to learn about a sewing training project they offer). HWF also teaches mop making with left over clothes from the HWF sewing project.  The mop project would be ideal if the women are conducive to it as HWF offers the resources for making mop and materials costs are low. Following the visit with HWF, Ko Lynn revisited the Cattle Yard in late August to talk to several women from the Karen Group. He interviewed one woman from our Financial Literacy training who is selling things and foods such as kitchen supplies, meat, fish, and vegetables around the community. She was enthusiastic at the idea to sell more things including hygiene products and medicine via cart. Other women were receptive to the idea of mobile selling as well. This visit gave us preliminary feedback about small enterprise development possibilities at the Cattle Yard. We will continue to research other skills building/ entrepreneurial organizations in the Mae Sot area including a visit to Youth Connect, an organization reaching young adults through job skills trainings, apprenticeships, marketing, business planning, and market access.  

Muslim Group: We visited one of the women organizations called Sa Na Yar Ti Pan Women Center (SWC) that is currently working with Muslim women in the Cattle Yard community. With them, we discussed possible small business options for the women. In addition we talked about the Community Saving Group (CSG). Through this meeting, discussed the possibility to collaborate with SWC and setup the community saving group in the cattle yard community. We will plan to visit to Cattle Yard with SWC and do meeting with women in the community about the community saving group in November since UPLift will be short staffed in October.  We have also made initial contact with the American Refugee Committee from the Umphiem Refugee Camp as a possible project partner. Currently we aware awaiting  materials on Micro- Enterprise Development MED training that we can offer the Cattle Yard women to jumpstart small business operations.  We can also incorporate the MED training into our FL Phase 2 Income Generation Project if it proves relevant.

We’ll be in touch for the latest from UPLift Projects at KLDF!   -Team Uplift