Organic Agriculture and Job Skills Training
“Hoya House” is the name of our Bagan training center and organic garden. It’s our “green hub” in the local community, acting as a training center to support local women, youth and agricultural workers to grow organic produce in challenging environments. The goal of the project is to transform the local community from a ghetto to create a “model village” encouraging participatory activities that facilitate knowledge and skills exchanges between participants, locals, and visitors.
The local property suits our modest needs and provides an opportunity to engage with the local community. When we first arrived in Bagan, we were offered several midrange and upscale properties to rent as our local headquarters. We knew that the further away we were from the daily life of local people, the more difficult it would be to serve and collaborate with them. So we chose a simple, local-style compound made of cheap wood and bamboo thatch paneling. There was no water pump, no “western-style” toilet and nothing growing. Yet it was inexpensive and provides an ideal opportunity to bring sustainable practices and training directly to those who needed it most.
The first phase of the project is the establishment of a training center and demonstration organic garden offering environmental education and skills training for disenfranchised locals in order to build our staff capacity and develop our “license to operate” in the community. The training center is equipped with photography equipment, several types of mountain- and electric bicycles, and a small library. On the grounds of the compound, an organic garden system has been initiated to demonstrate composting methods and areas for permaculture agricultural techniques that conserve water, a unique challenge specific to the dry zone climate.
Our goal is to provide a facility in the community for discussion and training in sustainability issues. A “starter” organic garden has been established on site, but will take time to develop as soil quality in the area is very low. However, it is our belief that the educational impact and utility of the site will be enhanced by accepting the local challenges and constraints faced by the community. By providing productive examples or organic household food production and hands-on training, course participants can implement what they learn in their own homes quite simply and at low cost.
Courses planned and executed in 2016 include composting, water conserving home gardens, photography, crafting with recycled materials, community tour guiding and English language. We are currently training newly licensed local tour guides in meditation, basic digital photography, English, hospitality, composting and organic gardening. We are working with craftsmen and women in Na Jo Ai and West Pwa Saw villages to develop scripts and itineraries for classes in bamboo and textile crafting.
The next phase will involve scaling up to expand the demonstration garden to a larger site capable of producing enough produce to supply a small community restaurant for foreign guests. Tours of the permaculture gardens and cooking classes will be offered, using organic ingredients grown on site. We are currently working together with community leaders in West Pwa Saw and Na Jo Ai villages to identify suitable land and are preparing pilot cooking classes with working groups in each village.
In the third phase we will construct a cluster of bungalows from bamboo and other local, renewable materials to create an off-grid “eco village” in Myanmar’s dry zone. The site will provide a location for retreats, courses, and environmental education activities We are in discussions with Na Jo Ai and Kyaukpadaung village communities to identify suitable land and conditions.
Our goal is to establish a training center in the village in order to provide the area households, especially women and children, with the means to grow their own food and develop marketable skills that enable them to secure living-wage jobs in the tourism industry. We aspire to start a new, locally-managed non-profit association, the “Myanmar Green Hub”, as an independent and ethical institution supporting sustainability projects and enterprises. Workshop, meeting and collaboration space to offer residencies for founders, trainees, interns, organic farming students, and producer collectives. Outreach activities through local teams in Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and other cities will coordinate local environmental and sustainability actors from both the public and private sectors and support their efforts through web-based platforms, training events, and extension work in rural communities.