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Living With Family in An Avocado Farming Village

A cooperative farm to become a new income source

Lime, shamrock, and emerald --- the fields in different shades of green colors cover the gently sloping hills on both sides of the road. It looks just like a patchwork. Rice fields are beautifully trimmed and corns are growing higher than people’s height in the field. We get the feeling that this is a fertile land.

The avocado farm of Naung Kone Village is located in the middle of such a picturesque landscape. Approximately 200 avocado trees are planted at equal intervals there. They grow twice as high as a person’s height and are lush with green and thick leaves. Last year, 15 trees among them started to bear fruits. This farm is expected to be a new income source for the village when it produces enough amount of crops to sell in the market. It was the villagers themselves who discussed this project together and built the cooperative farm in 2013. Naturally, they take pride in it.

"This avocado farm is expected to be a new income source of the village"

Acquiring the land, purchasing the seedlings and fertilizer, and building the farm cost the village 1,244,740 Khat (approx. 87,000 yen). This money was covered by the profit raised in the micro-finance project that the village runs since 2010. In this scheme, the village provides loans to the villagers for a period of half a year at a much lower interest rate (2~3 %) compared with the brokers and moneylenders that used to ask for 6~12 %, and the interest collected at the time of repayment is used for the village’s common expense. The avocado farm was constructed using this fund, and the money is also used to repair the windows and doors of the school, as well as to build accommodation for the teachers. “Before, the entire money we got from a year’s labor was taken as the interest payment. Now it is much easier to repay loans.” “I am saving money little by little.” The villagers look quite satisfied with this scheme.

The village school recognized as a formal middle school

It was an NGO named Saetanar that introduced the micro-finance project to the village where people’s life depended on growing beans, corns and rice.

Saetanar has a unique way of promoting community development through supporting school building construction. Instead of constructing the building and donating it to the village, the NGO demands the village to bear a part of the construction cost as well as ask village people to participate in the actual construction work; this way, Saetanar makes it a village-led project. It also sets up a micro-finance project to generate income for the village so that the village will be able to operate the school independently and sustain-ably.

The original building of Naung Kone School was more than 20 years old and badly damaged when the village decided to construct a new building. At that time, Saetanar urged the village to take initiative and the villagers put their efforts together to answer this demand. The micro-finance project that started in 2010 has been going well; it entered the 14th period in July this year. It has been established that the villagers manage the village’s fund and decide on how to spend it on their own.

"Better education will broaden our children's horizon"

People felt their efforts were repaid when the government recognized Naung Kone School as a formal middle school in June this year. This recognition made it possible for Naung Kone children to continue attending school up to 8th grade at this location. This is a step forward compared to the past when the education was limited to the primary level (6th grade). The parents are happy. “Better education will broaden our children’s horizon.”

One person out of two households works away from home

Naung Kone Village has surely taken a step forward, however, a new phenomenon is overshadowing its future. An increasing number of people go out of the village to work. More than 100 persons out of the total population of 1,279 go to Thailand and other neighboring countries to work as housemaids and construction workers. Rough calculation tells us that one person out of two households work away from home. For example, in one family, two brothers are both gone. In another family, the son went away, got married in a foreign country and has never come back; the old parents raise their grandchild in the village.

It is easy to say that this cannot be helped. Many villagers say, “If you work in the village, you can only get 3,000 Khat (approx. 210 yen) a day, but if you go to a big city, the daily wage is more than 6,000 Khat (approx. 420 yen).” “It is a global trend that labor moves for better jobs.”

On the other hand, some young men are determined to develop this village to make it a place for the whole family to live together. For example, they aim to promote Naung Kone School to a recognized, formal high school, as well as to install electricity in the village. ”Better education will increase the number of people who can take initiative in the community development, and if we have industries here, no one will need to go out of the village to look for work.” He speaks passionately about his ideas.

When I saw his big black eyes shining with hope, I was convinced that this village has a bright future.

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