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.