Urban Burmese Refugee Workshop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 2009
The people of Burma face extreme political and religious oppression by the military driven government. Many have fled to Malaysia seeking asylum before being taken in by countries such as the USA. During this time period when they are applying for refugee status, they are there in Malaysia in a grey area legality. They are forced to worked very minimal jobs if they can find work at all. Many come from village or even urban plots with land holding so this new environment really is a concrete jungle for many. While in Kuala Lumpur, the capitol of Malaysia, they are often landless and forced to live in small quarters with lots of people.
Thus our mission with the help of the NGO Tenaganita was to empower this womens group to take control of a small portion of their food production and generation of a small business. The women were a lively group that laughed alot and enjoyed the company of other Burmese despite the ethnic differences within the group.
The 3 day course was highly successful as we were able to teach the participants about seeing wastes as resources. Since they have very little income generation, food production must happen through waste recycling. To get people familar with each other and to stress the importance of community, we did some community building excercises such as Spinning the Community Web. After that we moved into the worm bin construction and maintenance. Since we were teaching people how to farm organically we showed them how they could easily provide high quality fertilizer for their plants. Pottted plants, hanging baskets, and vertical gardening were all discussed as well because of the limited space that people had. Participants got to plant seeds and evaluate soil that they brought in. A flyer was distributed to the participants that was created by Tei, one of our students of the 2 week PDC at Embun Pagi, to outline how to grow plants in a small space.
We also discussed fermentation as a way to imporve health of the people, reduce energy needs, and the possiblity of an income stream. They were also showed how to turn plastic bags into resources for material for making other things. The production of Garbage Enzymes was accomplished as it turns fruit and veggie waste into a cleansing product. We also did break out discussions on how energy, water, and waste could be recycled and reduced. Lastly the course finished by visioning and formulating a small businees plan for saving money in the house and generation of an income. Tenaganita had set aside 50 Malaysian Ringit to donate to the participants to develop a small garden, worm bin, or some other project they felt would improve the quality of life they had. It was a successful mission and the women left feeling empowered to take more charge in their lives.