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.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hot Season Happenings

We are happy to share several  updates on UPLift Projects in Mae Sot Thailand. The weather has been hot hot hot but has not slowed down our team one bit. This last month has been a very busy and exciting time--leading us to project ventures we've never explored before.  As Mae Sot is an ever-changing, dynamic landscape of Migrant people & the issues that go along with being Migrants, so too are our projects testing adaptability and development.  Among new ventures, are our small business trainings/ support, laying hen pilot project at Irrawaddy School, and a streamlined garden/pig training at Best Friends-42km School. In addition, we've begun working with a rural ethnically Karen community to explore community development projects.  

Small Business Training & Support:
A new endeavor for Khom Loy is offering small business development trainings and support for Migrant women.  Eligible women are "graduates" of our financial literacy training. Those who show initiative and come up with a business plan work with our staff to understand the details and necessities of what it would take to make their plans come to fruition. Together, we conduct market research, risk analysis, savings goals, book-keeping practice, and feasibility studies. Inevitably, some women just have ideas that when well thought out are not sustainable. But, ideas are a start and about 4 ladies have really taken off with their business plans.

While working with the same slum community as before, Paseidan, we found this first round of business trainings to be a lengthy process of planning, training, and waiting. Yet, however long it has taken, the exploration has proven very educational to us in what a successful small business should look like given the circumstances.  Even more, it has lead us to find out who is seriously committed to starting a business and who is not. Using our experience along with business training tools from Peace Corps Thailand and USAID, we have a "work-in-progress" small business training manual for Migrant women. An exciting new venture for Khom Loy, indeed.

Ko Lynn checks and goes through business plan details.
Last week, we were finally able to bring our training and efforts to life with a small capital loan to one woman making ice treats. Along with this capital support, Khom Loy will visit her business once a week for 3 months to check on book-keeping, inventory, savings, and customer service.  A consensus was made on terms of use and responsibilities. At the time of the loan, everyone signed a contract which states that 50% of the initial loan value in Thai Baht will be paid back to Khom Loy in order to generate an ongoing fund for small business support.  This is the concept for all future small business trainees: We will offer a reasonable capital start-up (given the entrepreneur can chip in at least 20%) that of which 50% will be paid back interest free within an allotted amount of time. We are happy to report that the ice treat business has made over 700 Thai Baht in less than 1 week!

The "Ice" Lady serving a 5Baht sweet ice to a local kid.
Signing contracts with Khom Loy to comply with our terms of support.

Our next entrepreneur is looking to open a Burma "Phone Booth" which offers the service of calling Burma with a solid connection CDMA Phone for 4THB/minute.  Since we recently ironed out all the details of this venture and received approval from the Landowners, we will begin implementing this business shortly! Two other business plans, including that of a sewing outsourcer are also in the works.

"Phone booth" build by the woman (below) and her husband. They paid for materials & labor to set it up.
Cho Sang, Burmese Migrant, sits in her new phone booth awaiting the start of her small business.

Laying Hen Pilot at Irrawaddy School:

Our team has long-since been researching low cost laying hen rearing as a school and community project.  We're happy to report that all our research met a culmination this month with Khom Loy's first chicken rearing pilot up and running!  The pilot is being held at Irrawaddy School where we have a strong and successful relationship with the headmaster, teachers, and students.

In a nutshell, we are conducting a controlled study over the course of 3-6 months testing the effectiveness of a homemade fermented food concoction (rice bran, banana stalk, red dirt, sugar, dry cow manure, cracked rice & a pinch of salt) compared to run-of-the mill cracked corn store feed.  Given our research, we believe little or no variation in health, growth, and egg production will take place between two groups of 10 chickens being fed the two different foods.  Our coop is divided into two sections to perform the study.  Egg production will be monitored each day, week, and month along with weight checks every week and health observations.  Both groups will receive cracked egg shells for calcium supplement. Let the laying begin!

Chicken coop building in progress at Irrawaddy School February 26, 2014
Chicken coop completed March 1, 2014
Chickens arrive March 16, 2014!
Chickens enjoy new rice husk beds at Irrawaddy School.

Best Friends School Garden Training:
About a month ago, we were approached by a Spanish Organization called Colabora Birmania asking us to conduct a garden training at a school they support.  42km or Best Friends School is located exactly 42km from Mae Sot near the hills of Pho Prah. Unlike other schools we have worked with, Best Friends already has an expansive garden and 10 pigs. When we surveyed the school, we noted their unique situation--somewhere in between a full-fledged garden/pig project with a need for ample TLC. We found the garden overcrowded with eggplant & under-tended; the pigs in small concrete beds clearly needed more space to roam & more controlled sanitation.   Since we already met our capacity for funding garden projects this year, CB offered to fund a training & collaboration to help improve their garden & pig rearing.

With a lot less time than we normally do for school gardens, we set out creating a new training using bits and pieces of relevant information from both our garden & pig training.  The outcome was a 4-day training schedule for students and teachers--something we've never done before in such a short amount of time.  Over the course of 2 weekends (March 1 & 2 and March 15 & 16) our team delivered the training, setting the pace for a more sustainable, successful agriculture project. But, we're not done there.  Phase 2 of this collaboration will require our team to lead teachers and parents at 42km in repairing and improving the school pigpens using natural farming methods.

Over 50 boarding students & 5 teachers attended the gardening training.

Making biochar with 42km school children

Children broke-up into groups on the last day & replanted nursery plants on our Big Planting Day

TPC Land Corn Harvest--Simplifying land plots: 

In July, it will be 1 year since we begun farming 2.5 Rai of land next to Teacher Prep College (TPC) on land belonging to Global Neighbors. Throughout the last 9 months, our team has made great strides in remediating very nutrient-poor soil (had previously been a corn crop sprayed heavily with pesticides & grass killer). Granted, it is a slow process to grow things given the circumstances.

We've recently given this long and arduous process (of developing the plots) a lot of thought.  (Refer to the map & details from when we first started this farm project from back in July--see post: http://uplift-khomloy.blogspot.com/search?q=TPC+Land+Map). Keeping in mind the goal of maintaining a natural and sustainable model, we have begun to shift our focus.  Basically this means from growing crops to maximize space (i.e. the 3 sisters) to growing crops to sustain pig and chicken food and also meet the demands of local people's taste. It turns out okra and morning glory are much better sellers than corn and beans. Therefore, in the months to come we will be simplifying the plot setup to reflect the dietary needs of animals we raise, along with suppling vegetables desirable to the local market. We will also proceed with 1 plot testing of SRI--system of rice intensification.

Khom Loy Pumpkin Patch!
Homegrown corn for pig feed

Update on School Gardens:

With the school year coming to an end this week, so too are the last harvests of the '13-'14 school year for our 4 garden schools.  By the end of February, conditions turned incredibly dry which required ample watering and overall attention to the gardens. Though, through the challenges of hot season approaching, children and teachers have shown a lot of effort and payoff (fresh veggies!) in gardening activities.

Before the school year ends, our Agricultural Officer, Sai Aung Tun went and visited each school to meet with headmaster and teacher for contingency garden planning.  When school begins again in May, we'll hit the ground running with refresher garden trainings and activities--ensuring responsibilities carry over into the upcoming school year. In addition, Sai will also conduct extra trainings in composting (school wide) and seed saving.

Okra budding at Rocky Mountain 1 School Garden

Rocky Mountain 1 School Garden Beds & Sack Gardening
Rocky Mountain 1 School Garden Beds & Sack Gardening
Coriander container garden at Wide Horizon School

Students choose what to plant next at Irrawaddy School