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Experiential Learning at Grace Garden for IVS and ESP

Friday, Jan 31, 2014

Fourteen American college students from Institute for Village Studies (IVS) and seven Karen post-secondary students from Engineering Studies Program (ESP) in Mae La refugee camp visited Grace Garden in January for experiential learning.



IVS and ESP students work together on Grace Garden site development projects. 


IVS offers a unique study abroad experience through Western Washington University, USA, that combines enriching cultural experiences, opportunities for exploration and adventure, and service work on local community development projects. IVS has been visiting Grace Garden annually as part of the course since 2011.  ESP is a specialized school in Mae La refugee camp teaching engineering principles from mechanical engineering to CAD computer drawing. BGET has maintained a strong relationship with the school since 2004 with ESP students participating in BGET renewable energy installations including micro-hydro, solar, bio-gas, and solar cooking. ESP students have visited Grace Garden three out of the last four years for hands-on engineering for sustainable living workshops.


These two student groups stayed together at Grace Garden for one week, January 20 – January 26, 2014, to learn by doing - interacting with the students from the other group, contributing to work projects on the Grace Garden site, and witnessing the efforts of other local organizations.  After the IVS group departed, ESP stayed on at Grace Garden for another week for practical engineering projects for sustainable living.


Working on nursery

"My favorite work station was the nursery. It was really cool learning to work with a machete and seeing everything bamboo can be used for. I also just felt like a ninja boss chopping up the bamboo."


Over the courser of the first week, IVS and ESP students worked together at Grace Garden to make adobe bricks to be used in constructing the dormitories, set up a cane ball sport court, construct a tree nursery, and make a natural fertilizer called bio-char. "My favorite work station was the nursery. It was really cool learning to work with a machete and seeing everything bamboo can be used for. I also just felt like a ninja boss chopping up the bamboo," one student shares. "My favorite work station was the adobe," another student explains, "becuase I know our work is going to be used to make something amazing."



"My favorite work station was the adobe...because I know our work is going to be used to make something amazing."


IVS and ESP students also visited other local organizations to learn about the diverse efforts being conducted in the region to address the needs of the people fragmented by 60 years of civil war in Burma. In addition to hearing the testimony of BGET and SunSawang, students worked with natural building non-profit, Gyaw Gyaw, visited local Blessed Homes Orphanage, met with students from Noh Bo Teacher Training College, and toured Noh Bo Academy.  IVS students especially were both inspired by the great work being carried out but also daunted by the challenges of the situation slowly revealed to them. “Some of the things I’ve heard are lying heavy on my heart because of the Burmese government and how the Karen people are treated, but I’ve been channeling that for inspiration,” an IVS student admits.


Blessed Home Orphanage

Students hear from Ole Jorgen Edna, founder of local Blessed Home Orphanage.


The overwhelming highlight of the week was the opportunity for the IVS and ESP students to build friendships by working, eating, sleeping, and hanging out side by side.  “I really enjoyed getting to know and spend time with the ESP kids,” an IVS student shares, “We laughed, sang, played games, and learned about each other’s cultures which is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”


eating together

"Getting to know and spend time with the ESP something I will cherish for the rest of my life."


The IVS students departed from Grace Garden after one week, but the ESP students stayed another week for a workshop in practical engineering for sustainable living. The ESP students completed two engineering projects over the course of the week for local beneficiaries. The first project was a specialized charcoal gassifier that is used to create highly porous charcoal for use in water filtration systems and also for bio-char. The gassifier was fabricated for a new high school across the border to enable the school to build their own water filtration system. The second project was constructing a solar water heater for a local family.



ESP students fabricate a specialized gassifier, a device used to make highly porous charcoal for water filteration systems, for a local high school.


ESP students were eager to use their classroom engineering skills on hands-on engineering projects. They were almost equally eager for any excuse to leave Mae La refugee camp. These students have lived in the camp for up to seven years and only one admits to leaving more than once since arriving. For Paw K’ Paw, coming to Grace Garden was her first time leaving the camp since her arrival three years ago. She shares her excitement of venturing outside the camp after so long, “We are like birds in a cage [in Mae La refugee camp], but now we are flying!” she explains, emphasizing her words with flapping arms.


solar water heater

ESP students construct a solar water heater for a local family.


Most of the students chose to move to the camp for the educational opportunities, leaving their families behind in Burma. These students live in large dorms with up to 150 other students who attend one of the dozen or so schools in the camp.  One student, who lives in the camp with his family, fled to the camp seven years ago for safety after some family members were killed by the Burmese army.


Next steps are unclear for many of the students. Two students quietly expressed a desire to return to Burma while others vehemently declared they will never go back. “I want to go back to Karen state, but I lost my Karen state. Karen state only [has] Burmese soldiers,” an ESP student laments.  But, without UN registration, opportunities for remaining in Thailand or settling in a third country are limited.


Overall, the combined IVS and ESP training at Grace Garden was a great success. Capturing the sentiments of training, one student summarizes the experience, “I really enjoyed this last week at Grace Garden and Noh Bo village. It was enriching, fun, moving, and inspirational.”



"I really enjoyed this last week at Grace Garden and Noh Bo village. It was enriching, fun, moving, and inspirational."

2013 Sustainable Living Workshop, supported by UNESCO and Presbyterian Hunger Program

Friday, Nov 29, 2013

Grace Garden hosts its largest workshop to date, the 2013 Sustainable Living Workshop, for 21 students from Wide Horizons (WH) post-secondary school and 34 students from local Noh Bo Teacher Training College (TTC). Both lecture and practical instruction, as well as lunch, was conducted on the Grace Garden site using the new Learning Center building built by local non-profit, Gyaw Gyaw. Instructors from BGET, Gyaw Gyaw, and SunSawang provided training on sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and natural buildings, as well as on special topics including social entrepreneurship and water filtration. Naw Wahnaymoo Kay, a student from Wide Horizons, writes about the experience:          


On October 14th to 18th 2013, we WH students including two teachers had a great opportunity to attend Sustainable Living training at Grace Garden in Noh Bo arranged by Border Green Energy Team (BGET). Noh Bo is a small Karen village which is located near the Thai-Burma border surrounding by the mountains and close to the bank of the Moei River. It was the first time we got a chance to go outside of Mae Sot. It was a very exciting trip and all of us were full of happiness. BGET welcomed us and provided a place to stay and food for us.


Visiting Grace Garden was the first opportunity for Wide Horizons students to ve

Visiting Grace Garden was the first opportunity for Wide Horizons students to venture outside of Mae Sot


On the first day, when we arrived we stayed in Blessed Home boarding house. The same day at night we had games, activities and fellowship with BGET staff. The training was set in the Grace Garden belonging to BGET. The training took three and half days and three organizations BGET, G’Yaw G’Yaw and SunSawang participated in giving the training to us. The training was about sustainability, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, entrepreneurship and adobe natural buildings. The goals of the training were how to live sustainably, how to convince our community that sustainability is important. The training was divided into both theory and practice.


Students practice collecting effective microorganisms (EM)

Students practice making EM (effective microorganisms) for natural soil enhancement


The first day, we started to learn about sustainability and sustainable agriculture. We learned how to make natural soil enhancement, compost, bio-char, and effective microorganism (EM). In the afternoon we practiced all these. The second day, we learned about renewable energy and how to use micro-hydro and solar energy. The third day, we learned about entrepreneurship. After that we had group presentations about social entrepreneurship and how to make projects beneficial to community. The last day, we learned about adobe buildings and after that we applied how to make the adobe. We were not the only participants. Teacher Training College (TTC) students attended the training with us for two days.


When we stayed in Noh Bo village, we had time to make strong relationships with the orphanage children and TTC students. The children were incredibly polite and friendly. We made friendship with them by playing games, singing songs and doing activities together. TTC is focusing on teaching skills and management skills. That was a great opportunity for all of us to build our relationship between WH and TTC and also including BGET staff there.


Students discover that making adobe bricks is messy business

Students discover that making adobe bricks is messy business


The Noh Bo trip brought us a lot of brilliant experiences and practical knowledge about sustainable living. This training is very useful for our community in the future. The training information that we got, we would like to share and apply it to our community because it is helpful for our community to know about the sustainable living and sustainable agriculture. Everything that we learned from BGET not book knowledge.  

One of our friends said “It was a wonderful trip and I would like to visit there again. I enjoyed swimming in Moei River and having exchange with TTC students.” In conclusion, we would like to say thanks to BGET, G’Yaw G’Yaw, SunSawang, TTC, and the orphanage children. It was a meaningful trip for all of us and we gained a lot of practical knowledge and experiences.


A total of 65 students attended the 2013 Sustainable Living Workshop

A total of 65 students participated in the 2013 Sustainable Living Workshop

Grace Garden Hosts Inaugural Workshop in Newly Constructed Learning Center Building, Supported by UNESCO and Presbyterian Hunger Program

Monday, Jul 29, 2013

Grace Garden hosted a Planting Workshop for 24 orphaned refugees from local orphanage, Blessed Home, over three consecutive Saturdays, June 29th, July 6th, and July 13th, 2013. This is the first workshop conducted entirely on-site using the newly finished learning center building. The center was designed and constructed by Gyaw Gyaw, a local natural construction non-profit, which works with and for migrant communities along the Thailand-Burma border. Gyaw Gyaw employs skilled Karen workers, many from here in Noh Bo Village, where Grace Garden is located.  Groundbreaking for the learning center building began in January of this year and final touches were completed in June.  Built from natural materials including abode and bamboo, the center is beautifully designed to be both functional and aesthetic while demonstrating the many benefits of natural buildings.


learning center

The learning center is built from natural materials and beautifully designed to be both functional and aesthetic.


The Planting Workshop balanced classroom activities with hand-on learning opportunities and also involved a healthy dose of fun and games.  The first weekend session introduced the importance of sustainability, comparing the sustainability of conventional farming methods and natural farming practices, and also included a module on agro-forestry principles. Students braved a downpour to explore the Grace Garden facility and witness the various sustainable technologies used on site.


In the second session, the students learned about soil enhancement including how to make and use compost, EM (effective microorganisms), and bio-char. After practicing by making a human compost pile in the classroom, participants prepared an actual compost pile. The students also got a chance to release their inner pyromaniac while making charcoal for bio-char.     


The third session covered swales and their important role in water management and erosion control. The culminating activity, planting trees and vetiver grass along the swales, combined what the students had learned about agro-forestry, soil enhancement, and swales. 


Vetiver Grass

A student plants a row of vetiver grass along the swale for erosion control


Nick’s Guide to Tree Planting:

1. Dig hole

2. Add bio-char

3. Add soil

4. Add bio-char

5. Add soil

6. Add EM

7. Gently pull plant out of potting bag, loosen roots, and place straight in hole

8. Add soil and biochar

9. Top with EM


tree planting

The students learn a process for planting trees


As the first workshop held in the on-site learning center, the Blessed Homes Planting Workshop was a great success. Thank you, UNESCO and the Presbyterian Hunger Program for financially supporting both the construction of the learning center building and the workshop!



Participants pose with their certificates in the new learning center classroom

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Border Green Energy Team

P.O.Box 66
Mae Sot, Tak 63110 Thailand

Office: (66) 55-534-464