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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
Woodworking making tables and chair for cafe
Their first knitting projects for the cold weather
Grace baking chocolate strawberry coconut muffins
Gracie and Aye Aung in Bangkok for cafe shopping