An Emerging Youth Movement in Myanmar

An Emerging Youth Movement in Myanmar

Organic sunflowers heralding an emerging youth movement for cleaner, brighter environment in Southern Shan State

 Zoe Rasbash, a student environmental activist visiting from London, describes her impressions:

We stand in a field of sunflowers, tall and bright against the rolling green landscape. Their yellow faces drinking in the misting rain, as clouds cling heavily to the forested hills behind them. It is rainy season in Pekhon; riverbanks are bursting, rice paddies are flooding. And the sunflowers are in full bloom, all 8 acres of them organically grown.

They belong to a young farmer called Khun Tin Aung, from Kone Sone village. He tells us, as of this year, he grows rice, sunflowers and corn all chemical-free, indicating to two sacks of Bokashi on the floor. Bokashi is Japanese natural composting system, that Khun Tin learnt how to make as a substitute for chemical fertilisers as part of his 3-month eco-farming training with the ‘We Love Inle’ project.

Khun Tun Aung Sunflower fields
Khun Tin Aung by his sunflower field

The Ecologia Youth Trust and Kalyana Mitta Foundation ‘We Love Inle’ project, funded by the UK Big Lottery Fund, is in its final 6 months. The eco-farming training is one component of the multifaceted project which aims to provide alternative sustainable livelihood options to the young people in the Pekhon and Inle areas of Shan state, Myanmar. Kone Sone village is one of the many blossoming organic demoplots KMF set up in Pekhon. Originally, there were plans for only a few of demoplots in this area, but the project has mobilised an astonishing movement with around 27 natural farming plots and an autonomous network of young farmers in Pekhon alone.

Use of the Bokashi compost removes the need for chemical fertilisers, which pollute the rivers, the crops and the health of villagers. The eco-farming training provides the youth with the skills to develop their communities to be environmentally sustainable, as well as economically stable. Many of the farmers are in debt to chemical brokers, who sell them products with the promise of financial return from the harvest. If the harvest fails from seasonal change or hydrological weather events, the need for chemical products which promise fast and strong growth of crops is extended. A cycle of decline and dependence ensues.

‘Dependency is a huge problem for us’ says Ko Than Tin, from Lwelon village. After attending the eco-farming training, he uses organic farming techniques and has planted long life trees for long term food sovereignty. The family gets a lot of benefits from organic production because we only use our local resources which do not cost a lot of money to buy and make… The primary thing is that we don’t have to depend on others and the food is healthier for us.”

Eco-farming alumni in Myanmar
Eco-farming alumni

In Binnther Village we meet with Jo La, an eco-farming alumni who is now village leader. The community is nestled in the fertile hills of Pekhon; green, luscious and spotlessly clean. Jo La has organised bi-weekly rubbish clean ups with the entire community, mobilising the local school to aid him in his attempt to establish a regular waste management scheme. Binnther village are aiming to start recycling soon.

Jo La represents the journey that many We Love Inle alumni hope to achieve: progressing to village leader, convincing uncertain village elders on the benefits of eco-farming techniques and acting as a catalyst to mobilise the community into sustainable lifestyles. Each household in the community now has organic household vegetable plots with pumpkins, tomatoes, avocados and more. When discussing his hopes for the future, he tells us his plans for his ‘green pension’ of seasonal crops and an agro-forest of long life trees, a demonstration of the ecological, social and economic sustainability the project encourages.

As We Love Inle draws to a close, the team are dedicated to ensuring the youth have stable, sustainable and innovative income generation schemes that will continue well after the project finishes. The We Love Inle eco-café now has 3 paid employees after only a year of operation, and is almost entirely youth run. Using ingredients grown by the projects eco-farmers in the surrounding areas, the café makes a variety of traditional dishes, snacks and beverages for tourists visiting Inle Lake, Nyaung Shwe.  The café is crammed full of personality and creativity, a mix of traditional and modern, with beautiful lanterns hanging from the ceiling, an eco-mantra printed on the wall, a book swap corner and a guitar leaning against a wall for anyone to pick up and play (which customers, volunteers and team members regularly do).

'We Love Inle' Eco Cafe
‘We Love Inle’ Eco-Café

A young man asks me, ‘What do you find most different about the youth environmental movements you work with in England and here?’ I pause to think.

As a member of the United Kingdom Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC), visiting Myanmar to learn from its youth movements, I have noticed many natural differences between the British and Shan State youth environmental movements in strategy, in aim and in policy. Yet, in my time with KMF I have been most struck by the inclusive comradery of the project. Of course, the youth environmental movements in the UK have a great sense of community, but so much is communicated online. Here, in Myanmar, the youth are growing and creating networks through sharing burdens of environmental and political impacts, and learning together on how to build better futures against all odds. Kalyana Mitta means ‘good friends’, and friendship is a value everyone in the project, staff members, youth groups and other participants, holds most dearly. The success and expansive networks this project has established can no doubt be attributed to the warm inclusiveness of this participatory approach.

Despite the many commonalities of the two youth movements (power, energy and creativity), being able to bear witness to this organisation with its vastly different and democratised style has been an educational experience I cannot wait to share with my colleagues back in London. The hard work, sacrifice and energy these young people commit to changing their lives to ensure a safer, greener future, is truly humbling. The difference between chemical farming and using homemade compost, for instance, requires so much more time and labour, yet all the young people I spoke to were committed and determined in their visions for their eco-farms. It is truly a hands-on movement with young people practicing what they preach. I will tell these stories to my friends, peers and colleagues in the UK youth movements, to inspire action and motivation parallel to the young farmers I have met on this trip.

Zoe Rasbash visited Inle Lake and Pekhon in August 2017.

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susie Kemp

Susie has 30+ experience as a creative copywriter, editor, and proofreader, starting out as a 20-year-old copywriter in the Mad Men world of early 1990s advertising in South Africa. Ever since, she’s had a love affair with creative conceptualisation, thinking outside of the box, writing to a deadline, and being thrown in the deep end!

She took an MSc in Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University as a mature student, in 2015, and continues to keep herself busy working as a copy-editor, proofreader and copywriter in book publishing, corporate communications, and publishing project management.

Apart from her love of working with independent authors, Susie has a fondness for working in the third sector and likes to use her corporate communications and marketing experience to support projects close to her heart. She has lived and worked in the Findhorn area for 25 years, and has been involved in a number of third sector projects and organisations, and family businesses.

Working at Ecologia Youth Trust helps Susie to live in integrity with her values of supporting the next generation to be the best that they can be, and she sees it as a way to give back to Mama Africa, the beloved continent on which she was born.

Ellen Shaw

Ellen joined the Ecologia team in June 2018 as Marketing and Communications Manager. Ellen has lived in Scotland for 6 years and has worked for non-profit and charitable organisations across varied fields. She currently shares her passion for helping young people through Ecologia Youth Trust and she works as a dancer and dance teacher in her spare time.

Robyn Cooper

Robyn is the Associate Director of International Projects, having previously worked within the team as a Project Development and Marketing Officer from April 2019 until May 2021. As Associate Director, Robyn is co-leading the International side of Ecologia with Founder and Director, Liza Hollingshead, bringing a new energy into Ecologia as they look towards the future of the charity.

Liza Hollingshead

Liza is the founder of Ecologia and Director of International Projects. She was born and educated in South Africa and worked there as a high school teacher. She moved to live in the Findhorn Community in 1974. She started Ecologia in 1995 after being introduced to Dmitry Morozov, the founder of Kitezh Children’s Community in Russia, and was inspired to support the community in its mission to rescue orphaned children from institutions and give them homes, families and education in a supportive environment.

This led to projects supporting disadvantaged youth and children in South East Asia and in East Africa. TRead more about Liza’s story here.