Mar 26, 2015

3rd Report for Sprouting Seeds Learning Centre

Our new mud brick oven with Kachin students
Our new mud brick oven with Kachin students

Greetings Family, Friends and Supporters,

Throughout most of Myanmar, the dry season is creeping in and beginning to heat things up! Here in Kalaw in the pine forests of Southern Shan State, we are still blessed with cool weather, especially the mornings and evenings. We are getting more settled in the town of Kalaw and plans are moving forward steadily with the Sprouting Seeds Learning Centre.

Last month was most busy with our first official exchange and training program at Sprouting Seeds Learning Centre. Things are really starting to move quickly!

 Our First Exchange and Training with Kachin students from Shalat Education and Resource Center (Myitkyina, Kachin State)

In March we had our first official Exchange and Training with our dear friends from Shalat. 10 students and one teacher traveled almost 30 hours from Upper Myanmar to Kalaw to live and learn with us for 2 ½ weeks. Living together, creating our schedule together each day, doing many group projects, and learning in a holistic, participatory way was a new experience for many of the students.

Baking and Cooking
One of the main focuses of the exchange was baking and cooking. The students from Shalat are also interested in opening a small café as part of their school, and came to Kalaw to learn from us how to start this process. The first project we did with the students was to teach them how to build a mud oven for baking. During this process the students gained more fine skills in mud building and cob finish that they can then put to use when they return to Kachin State; the students are currently building their own campus with mud brick and working to open their own bakery project in Myitkyina.            

It is strawberry season here in Kalaw, so we incorporated the sweet berries into as many baking and cooking projects as we could, and the results were delicious! We tried to cook a balance of Western food and traditional Burmese and Kachin recipes. We taught them French toast, gnocchi, pizza, muffins, cookies and cakes, a variety of red and white sauces, Indian curries and breads, salsa, Kombucha (a traditional Chinese medicine), and much more! They taught us a variety of delicious traditional soups, salads, noodles and side dishes. Every five days a big market comes to Kalaw where we can find many traditional greens, herbs and veggies, which are very inexpensive. The group showed us new items in the market and taught us how to use them to make wonderful traditional dishes.  

Woodwork
Two of the female students did an independent study in woodworking at Shalat and came ready to pass on their knowledge to us during their visit. We invested in woodworking tools, which the two girls taught us how to use. We started a few projects and finished a sturdy, two-person bench that we will use as a prototype for the benches and tables in the café. We hope to be able to make all of the café furniture ourselves by hand, and learn enough to teach woodworking to youth at the Training Centre.

Handy Crafts
A big part of the exchange was teaching a variety of different handy crafts. We worked on friendship bracelet making, scarves, socks and hat knitting, basket decoupage, handmade paper journals, dried flower wreaths, string lights decorated with real leaves, and crocheting. The students gained many skills through these hands on craft sessions, which they can now use for income generation for future projects and trips.

Interview with Grace (Shalat student visiting Sprouting Seed)
Grace is one of the students from the Shalat Education and Resource Center who joined the group for 2 ½ weeks Exchange and Training. We first met Grace through our other program Rural Teacher Training, when we organized a group of students and teachers from Buddhist and Christian backgrounds on an exposure trip to South Korea. It was a transformative trip as Grace explains, “I changed a lot because of that trip…the past year I had been really struggling and I felt like I could not do anything. I had no confidence and I would give up easily. While in Korea, I met with other students who gave me a lot of encouragement.”

Grace wants to open and run her own organic coffee shop made of earth. She has experience making mud bricks with all the other students at Shalat as they are currently constructing their own school. She joined one of our building workshops in Myitkyina where she and the other students helped to construct a kindergarten in which they learned the specifics of building, plastering, mortar, design and more. We will be going back up to Myitkyina in the near future to help in the design and building of their school and with the café when Grace is ready as an ongoing exchange.

While visiting us in Kalaw with the other students from Shalat, Grace told us she has learned a lot about baking; “At first I didn't know anything about baking, I was just interested. Now I can do it.” She wants to open the coffee shop in her hometown of Myitkyina, Kachin State even though it is unstable for business due to ethnic fighting in the region. “I don't know if it will be a success or not,” she told us, “but I want to try it. I am almost 21 years old, I have my own dream and I want to make my dream happen.”

When Grace opens her own coffee shop, she would like to donate some of her income to charity. She is becoming more interested in politics and in working with Internally Displaced People (IDP) in her home state. She has seen the dire situation they face, especially in education. She told us, “I really want to help children in IDP camps. Some of the kids do not want to go to school because they do not have school supplies.” Grace is now finishing her University degree through a distance-learning program, and then plans to do internships and perhaps study abroad in order to learn more about how she can help her community. Grace says she has found what she wants to do in the future, and she told us “I see my hopes and I can achieve anything I want.” We hope to support Grace through internship possibilities not only through Sprouting Seeds but also through the other partners we are working with. We look forward to the next steps and future exchanges with Grace and all of the Shalat students and teachers in support of both the development of their school and the café enterprise they are planning.

Sprouting Seeds Café (Kalaw, Southern Shan State)

Space
We are still looking for a space for Sprouting Seeds Café and Learning Center in downtown Kalaw. The process of finding a rental is proving more difficult than we originally thought it would be, but we have a few leads and are still enthusiastically searching the area. We are very eager to start the process of opening the Centre and we believe with more work and patience we will find our space here.

Recipes
We have been experimenting with cooking different dishes and baking with the mud oven, as well as working to finish a recipe book for menu ideas with a focus on healthy vegetarian meals. We are now exploring the area for local and organic sources of produce. Some ingredients are difficult to find in Kalaw, so we are exploring options of what we can grow and make ourselves.

Bangkok Trip
In the middle of March, Jim, his eldest daughter Aye Aung, and a volunteer/friend Grace flew to Bangkok for a busy three-day shopping and planning trip for Sprouting Seeds. We went to the famous Jatujuk weekend market where we bought many supplies for the café, including our favorite find of the trip: beautiful pottery cups, bowls, plates, and serving dishes which fit the esthetic design of the café we were aiming for. This trip and the purchasing of supplies has helped push the dream of Sprouting Seeds Learning Centre to become one step closer to the reality of supporting local youth in reaching their dreams.

Sharing our home cooked meals with Kachin students
Sharing our home cooked meals with Kachin students
Woodworking making tables and chair for cafe
Woodworking making tables and chair for cafe
Their first knitting projects for the cold weather
Their first knitting projects for the cold weather
Grace baking chocolate strawberry coconut muffins
Grace baking chocolate strawberry coconut muffins
Gracie and Aye Aung in Bangkok for cafe shopping
Gracie and Aye Aung in Bangkok for cafe shopping
Mar 24, 2015

5th Report for Rural Teacher Trainings in Myanmar

Kachin Teachers Training of Trainers
Kachin Teachers Training of Trainers

Greetings from all of us here at Whispering Seed!

Here in the pine forests of Kalaw in Southern Shan State, the weather is changing and it is clear we are just on the cusp of the hot season. It has been another very busy three months here in Myanmar with several trainings to support teachers around the country. We have been working with several groups throughout the country to support the capacity and development of local teachers, in particular to further support a new generation of trainers. We are very excited about the positive energy of the young teachers we work with who are primarily between the ages of 17 to 23 years old.

Training of Trainers (TOT) Teachers Training (Myitkyina, Kachin State)
In early December I was invited to go to Kachin State to work with a group of teachers to provide a Training of Trainers workshop on Holistic Education for teachers from all over the State. The training stemmed from a previous trip in which a large group of Kachin Baptist and Catholic teachers, students and administrators joined a group of senior Buddhist monks from all over the country on an Exposure Trip to South Korea to look at Democratic Education.

Roughly 35 teachers attended the training from all over the state, including Saya Naw Zet, the founder and director of Shalat Education and Resource Center in Myitkyina. He also participated in our Exposure Visit to South Korea. Both of these experiences have greatly influenced the way in which he is running his school, and I look forward to collaborating with him in the future.

Follow up TOT for Teachers (Kachin State)
The 5 day training was a huge success. There was so much information to cover and so much enthusiasm from the group that on our final day of evaluation and reflection we decided to organize a follow up training for the teachers. The second part of the TOT was focused on Child Development and Child Psychology. We continued some of the Life Skills part of the training as well, teaching some handicrafts to the teachers.

Shalat Education and Resource Center Exchange Training (Kalaw, Shan State)
As a follow up to the training, Saya Naw Zet arranged for 10 of his students to come to Kalaw for 3 weeks to learn more about mud house building (as they are now building their own earthen school), baking, cooking, crafts and holistic education. Part of Shalat is a small wood working business that helps train the students and raise money for the school. While they have been in Kalaw they taught us wood working so we can build our own furniture for the opening of the Sprouting Seeds Learning Centre. (Please see our other report for Sprouting Seeds Learning Centre on Global Giving about their visit and our first official exchange and training at the new Learning Centre). We are very excited about this project and the ongoing exchange between Kalaw and Myitkyina that is has started.

Earthen Building Kindergarten (Myitkyina, Kachin State)
Following the TOT in Myitkyina, we stayed on for a few days to start the first earthen school in Myitkyina. We worked closely with our partners who are planning to open a small kindergarten in the city. This will be the first of several earthen school projects that we will work on in Myitkyina. The school was designed with help from our friends from New Zealand and Belgium. The kindergarten is in the shape of a heart with lofts for the children to climb in. The Director of the school along with the community members were filled with joy as the walls rapidly grew each day and the dream of their school slowly unfolded into a reality. We will return to Myitkyina in the next month to teach a final painting workshop for that building and help Shalat School with the beginning of their new school!

Senior Abbot Gathering for all of Southern Shan State
For three days in March a group of 22 senior Buddhist monks from all across Southern Shan State joined together at Naung Taung Monastic School, a Pa-O monastic school located just east of Taunggyi. During the Gathering the abbots were exposed to principles of holistic education and sustainability. On the final day of the training, we took the monks to an organic farm and training centre in rural Southern Shan State. Here during our reflection process, one of the Pa-O (a small ethnic group from Shan State) senior Buddhist monks shared his feelings and inspirations from the training by saying, “I am going to tear down the walls of my school and support the children to grow green like the trees!” This kind of impact and awareness raising, which is the basis for systemic change within their monastic schools and monasteries, was shared with the majority of monks who joined the 3 day Gathering. It was a great transition time for all of monks in the training.

Southern Shan State Teacher Training
Also while working Naung Taung Monastic School, we provided support training in English language and Holistic Education. The Naung Taung staff (young teachers and monks) have started to organize their own teacher training programs. I supported the training for 8 days with introduction to holistic education, child development and child psychology. There were over 40 teachers from Buddhist monastic schools from all over Shan State. The training was to support their development of teachers, promote holistic models of education and begin to create a network and support system among the teachers in Southern Shan State.

The next few months are scheduled full with more trainings all over the country. We are thrilled at the opportunity to be working with the local partners here in Myanmar and amazed at the motivation and passion for holistic education and creating long lasting change to support the youth of Myanmar.

Saya Naw Zet and Shalat students earthen oven
Saya Naw Zet and Shalat students earthen oven
Earthen building kindergarten in Kachin State
Earthen building kindergarten in Kachin State
Happy director of new mud kindergarten school
Happy director of new mud kindergarten school
Ethnic Pa-O monk who will "Green" his school
Ethnic Pa-O monk who will "Green" his school
Team building and networking with Buddhist monks
Team building and networking with Buddhist monks
Dec 23, 2014

2nd Report for Sprouting Seeds Learning Centre

Site of new Learning Centre in downtown Kalaw
Site of new Learning Centre in downtown Kalaw

Dear Friends, family and supporters,

We are pleased to share with you more news about the development of the Sprouting Seeds Learning Centre. After several months of preparation, Whispering Seed finally made yet another big move from Pyin Oo Lwin in Upper Myanmar to live and base in the small former British hillstation town of Kalaw.

Located in the pine forests and cool weather of Southern Shan State, Kalaw is a small town serving as the starting point for hikes into local ethnic hilltribe villages, famous caves in nearby Pindaya and several hike routes starting in Kalaw and ending in Inle Lake. It’s not only a wonderful location, but also quite an strategic one, for it is a place that has experimented a considerable increase in its tourist visits, which means that local people are starting to see entrepreneurship possibilities and others, which turn our project into an incredible opportunity. We’ve been working also in research regarding the needs and priorities so we can lunch our Learning Center as a response to the real needs of local people working together with our partner organizations. 

We arrived in Kalaw around the first of November and began to get settled in our new home, which will also serve as the base for Phase I of the Centre. The house is in a privileged location for our purposes, just at the edge of downtown Kalaw, a 5 minute walk from bus station and central market.

We have only been here about a month now, but we are slowly getting the home settled and we are making plans for Phase 1 to start soon. We have learned that working in Myanmar is challenging at many levels. However, with commitment and support, we are excited about the progress we have made and plans we are creating to move forward. The programs we plan to offer through the center will contribute to the current development of Myanmar.

Short course in Business Training & Designing the Space

Two of the youth who are starting the project are currently receiving a short Business Training course from our friend Natalia, our friend from Chile who has come to volunteer with us. Together they are developing the business plan for Phase I and Phase II of the project. She is working with a few of the youth here to better build their capacity for management of the centre. 

Cooking and Baking Training in Italy

While working with Brighten Foundation we had the pleasure of meeting Gabriella, our friend from Italy who has presented us an opportunity to broaden the classes and teachings we can impart in the center, with a cooking and baking training opportunity in Italy. This is also a great opportunity for our young members to grow and learn a much more diverse base of international skills training, which we will then spread through Sprouting Seeds.

Implementation for the center

As we are starting the first phase of the bakery, we are continuing to gather the basic information so we can launch the project soon. Our local partners have been an incredible support in this area, helping us getting us all the necessary information and supplies, including a bread oven which we are in the process of securing a donation from Mandalay.  

We look forward to your on-going support through our final campaign of this year and as we start into the new year of 2015. 

We are graterful for all of your support!!!

Our dear friends from Mandalay who support our wrk
Our dear friends from Mandalay who support our wrk
Moving some of the plants to the new centre
Moving some of the plants to the new centre
Mud brick oven making at Chin monastic school
Mud brick oven making at Chin monastic school
Monastic school in Bago who we work with
Monastic school in Bago who we work with
Training in Upper Myanmar-Kachin-knitting hats!!
Training in Upper Myanmar-Kachin-knitting hats!!

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