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.

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

Friday, October 4, 2013

September Activities Report--Part 1: KLDF Land & Pig Project

General Update: Team UPLift picked up speed this month with severe weather receding. By mid-September, we completed Round 2 of our Natural Farming Pig Rearing (NFPR) Training with Burmese Teacher Trainers at Teacher Prep College (TPC)—approximately 60 trainees have completed this 10-day training to date. We continue to remedy flood damage on one of our pigpens as we keep the pigs in a conventional aboveground pen in the meantime. School garden project assessments and practice (mock) trainings move along as we continue to learn about area schools in the far reaches of Mae Sot and crevices of migrant villages. The team will make the final decision on choosing 3 schools for the garden project this week. Financial literacy project preparations move along as UPLift Staff wrap up community assessments and continue to research phase 2 income generation while exploring potential income generation partners in Mae Sot and identifying various marketing channels/product demands.

TPC Students taking notes on day 1 of the Natural Farming Pig Rearing (NFPR) Training

Sai Aung Tun explains the dimensions of a bamboo raised bed at a school garden training

Ko Lynn secures 16 bamboo logs atop our modest truck

Heidi leads a yoga ice breaker with TPC NFPR trainees

Project-Specific Updates

1. TPC Land/ KLDF Agriculture Training Center:
Saturated soil from constant downpours in August made it near impossible to begin preparing the soil, let along begin planting on our land plots during this last month.  We did, however, make progress in purchasing an automatic grass cutter and cutting the long grass on half the land.  Unfortunately, our grass cutter broke down halfway through cutting and is now in the process of getting fixed.  The land we originally planned to begin planting Morning Glory is still too wet and overgrown (no chance to cut the grass) to begin planting. In the meantime, we have begun prepping the land for sweet potatoes by tilling the soil, adding rice husk, manure & Indigenous Microorganisms (a popular organic fertilizer). With the soil prepared, the next step is making mounds to plant the sweet potato roots.  We anticipate having sweet potatoes in the ground by mid-October.  Depending on when the lawn mower is back in commission, we will either be planting corn (for the “Three Sisters” plot—corn, pumpkin & beans) or Morning Glory/ watercress cultivating.
2. TPC Natural Farming Pig Rearing (NFPR) Project:

Pigpen Flooding & Remediation:  Last month we reported our plan to speedily remedy flood damages to one of our pigpen so we can move the pigs from their temporary pen ASAP. As of now, we are still a few days away from relocating the pigs back to their original pen. The process of removing the flooded pen filler and re-layering with new soil, sand, and fresh filler has proven timely, labor-intensive, and somewhat costly.  For example, before we could refill anything, we needed to remove the old flooded pigpen filler, which was essentially compost soaked in water—heavy and smelly. Luckily, we had over 30 TPC student volunteers join our efforts to remove the old filler (which was very labor intensive) for over 3 hours.  Over the course of the next few days, our land manager U Tin Yu removed the remaining old filler on his own time. Subsequently, our team hired 4-day laborers for 2 days to dig filler and start to refill the 90cm deep pen. Waiting for rainless days to complete each step made our timeline even lengthier but eventually we arrived at filling sand and now on to pen filler and finally moving the pigs any day now.  Given the difficulties of flood remediation during the wet season, we will wait until the dry season to remedy to 2 remaining pens.   

 TPC Student Volunteers help our team remove the old pen filler compost from pigpen  1

Ko Lynn and Sai Aung hard at work removing compost/pigpen filler

TPC students transporting compost to their garden

U Tin Yu,  our land manager and his son firming down new sand filler in pen 1

Pig Feeding System, Schedule & FBS (Fermented Banana Stalk): Our pigs are piglets no more!  We estimate the 10 pigs are between 30 and 40 kg in weight.  Each week, our team works to make more and more FBS and decrease the amount of store food.  The ultimate goal of feeding is to reduce the amount of store food to zero or almost nothing.  As our pigs grow, the obvious roadblock to this goal is that the pigs keep eating more and more and we are not able to match their appetites without store food thus far.  Our team works hard to try different type of staple feeding which includes mixing cracked rice with rice bran and leftover table scraps.  Keeping up with making FBS has been bit of a challenge as well since our banana trees are not mature enough to cut; we have had to find banana stalks from elsewhere.  Feeding our pigs requires use of about 15 Banana stalks per week.  This requires lots of manual labor to cut and transport the stalks to our land.  Thankfully, there is no shortage of banana trees in the surrounding area.

Natural Farming Pig Rearing (NFPR) Trainings & Outreach: As of mid-September, our team has trained approximately 60 students on the NPFR method at the Teacher Prep College (TPC) or 2/3rds of the total TPC student body.  Training 2 was completed entirely by our land and training officer, U Tin Yu—his dedication and trainer improvement was quite impressive to the rest of the team.  We were very pleased with the outcomes of training 2 and will continue to work towards improving our training for even more efficiency in the future. We have 1 more round of NFPR training with TPC students (about 20 students remaining), which has been postponed until January given TPC’s busy schedule.  Preliminary results from the first 2 rounds of training are positive and students reflect that they learned many new techniques of animal husbandry and natural feeding they did not know before. Many were able to draw direct links to how these methods could be used in a Burmese village.  In addition, students commented they would have liked even more time for the training to really digest the information and practice new skills. They will continue to visit the pigs as we get closer to selling the pigs and planning the next round—we anticipate including them in our reinvestment process.  Currently the UPLift team is developing a standardized training manual (to be used by U Tin Yu and trainers) that will ensure an even more consistent and effective training delivery.  

Round 2 NFPR Training in Pictures...

Trainees making "Fermented Banana Stalk" (FBS) as a natural, low/no cost pig feed

Students use the banana chopper to cut banana stalks for making FBS

U Tin Yu presents during an in-class theory session

Students learn about Indigenous Microorganisms (IMO's) on Day 3 & 4 of the NFPR training

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our September Activities!