On the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, I recently had opportunity to visit a children’s home operated by Samuel Thang. Impressively, Samuel and team are using 20 acres of adjoining land to produce enough rice to feed 47 children five months out of the year. Leftover rice straw provides enough fodder to fuel the home’s four cows, which in turn produce a year round supply of milk.
One other thing that the cows and 15 resident goats produce (with the help of a few pigs) is manure. This by-product fertilizes the home’s three-acre garden, making the operation almost completely self-sufficient in vegetables. Additionally, various types of fruit trees, including guava, banana, and papaya as well as pineapple, are scattered throughout the garden.
Samuel stresses that while the supplemental production of milk, rice, fruit, vegetables and a little meat lowers overall expenses by at least ¼, such an effort requires adequate land, water, labor and management.
The kids chip into the overall effort during daily chore times as well as Saturdays and holidays. Samuel reckons that exposure to appropriate farm activities is good for the children, offering them important life skills. Still, he reminds us that their involvement in such work is auxiliary since the main focus of the ministry is to provide the young people with a good education and a safe place to reside.
A lot of people are working to bring positive change to communities, societies and the world. But in our business it's sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. Working with the ECHO Asia Impact Center, I've been blessed with a certain vantage point. It's my goal to shed light on the good and practical that's being done to improve the circumstances of Asia's poor.
My wife, Ellen, and I have spent most of that past 25 years in S.E. Asia. In addition to earning BS and MS degrees in Plant and Soil Science (University of Tennessee), I spent two years (1985-1986) as an agricultural intern at the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center in the Philippines. Two years after our family moved to Thailand in 1994, we established the Upland Holistic Development Project (www.uhdp.org). UHDP focuses on improving the livelihoods of resource-poor upland families along the Thai-Burma border. Finally in 2009, we opened the ECHO Asia Impact Center in Chiang Mai, extending the presence and efforts of ECHO, based in Ft. Myers, Florida.