Institute for Village Studies and Engineering Studies Program (ESP) visit Grace Garden (training supported by UNESCO)
Monday, Mar 04, 2013
Students participating in the Western Washington University course, Discover Asia: Field Program in Northern Thailand & India, lent a hand at Grace Garden January 22nd through January 28th while visiting Noh Bo as a cultural exchange.
Institute for Village Studies is an organization dedicated to facilitating learning experiences for students and communities through service field studies. Students participating in the program conduct an independent research project while visiting communities in Thailand and India and supporting local community development opportunities. Institute for Village Studies has been bringing students to participate in efforts at BGET annually since 2004 and to Grace Garden specifically since 2011. BGET much appreciates Village Studies’ continued support for our projects.
This year, the group of seventeen assisted Grace Garden in getting a jumpstart to the New Year by accelerating such projects as expanding and beautifying the nursery, transforming our vacant composting pig pen into an occupied chicken coop, preparing the ground and collecting sand and gravel for pouring the concrete foundation for the new classroom, constructing the north perimeter fence to protect the fragile pioneer nitrogen fixing trees from grazing cows, painting bamboo shingles for the new buildings, and reinforcing the vegetable garden fence with mesh to keep out roaming chickens, pigs, and goats. The students worked so diligently and efficiently that by the end of their visit, Grace Garden had been worked clean out of materials from paint to bamboo to fence mesh to zip ties! Thank you for the fantastic work!
At the same time, seven second year engineering students from Mae La Refugee Camp’s Engineering Studies Program (ESP) came to Grace Garden for a two week hands-on workshop building a solar water heater. In addition, the ESP students got a chance to learn about natural buildings through trying their hands at making adobe bricks and pouring concrete foundation. Other minor projects included repairing swales, a rainwater management strategy for hilly terrain, and leading the American students into the jungle on a bamboo foraging expedition.
For all of these hardworking and driven students it was their first trip out of the camp since arriving up to six years ago. The students admitted to feelings of restlessness and boredom while living in the camp but also demonstrated inspiring hope and determination for a brighter future. Most insisted that living in the camp presented more opportunity for education and employment and, contrary to what I had initially assumed, were not eager to return to Burma. The more I learn about the plight of the Karen refugees, the more I realize how complex the situation is and I never cease to be amazed by the resilience of the human spirit.
Thursday, Dec 13, 2012
Grace Garden reached an important milestone this month by hosting its first training, the 2012 Grace Garden Sustainable Living Workshop! The training was held November 24th through December 7th for 20 students from the Network for Environment and Economic Development (NEED) school in Chiang Mai. Two Saturday workshops were also held during this time for 18 children from Blessed Home Orphanage, in part as a teaching exercise for the NEED students.
Instructors were recruited from exemplary organization to cover different aspects of sustainable living; Instructor Tui from Upland Holistic Development Project (UHDP) covered sustainable agriculture, Line Ramstad from Gyaw Gyaw taught a unit on natural buildings, and instructors from BGET presented on sustainable energy.
Lecture and discussion style class sessions held at the Blessed Home Orphanage were broken up with practical sessions held at the Grace Garden land. In the classroom, students discussed everything from sustainable agriculture to sustainable energy and on the land they built a composting pigpen, repaired a swale, harvested indigenous EM (effective microorganisms), made over 200 adobe bricks for the construction of the new Grace Garden classroom, and more!
The composting pigpen design implemented on the land by the students results in happier pigs, a regular production of maintenance free compost, and without the ordinary pigpen stench! The composting pigpen is based on a Korean design and is fundamentally different from traditional pigpens by building the floor with, instead of concrete, layered compostable materials infused with EM. The composting pigpen thus has a soft, springy floor which is much more comfortable for the pigs and the pigs are able to happily satisfy their instinctual desire to dig. This process of digging mixes the pigs' manure in with the rest of the floor materials, and EM, and after about 3 months you have a pigpen full of ready compost to disperse in your garden beds. Happy pigs, ready compost, and no obnoxious odor. What more could you ask for?
How to make a composting pigpen:
1. Mark out an appropriate sized area for the pigpen - about 1.5 square meters per adult pig.
2. Dig down 90-120 cm
3. Fill the hole with repeating alternating layers of leaves, rice bran, and salt. Water after each layer with EM infused water.
4. Construct the pig pen fence and roof with bamboo and teak leave shingles (or whatever materials you prefer)
5. Build a berm around the edge of the pen under the eve of the roof so that water cannot run into the pen.
6. Get some pigs!
Source: Instructor Tui from UHDP
In the natural building practicum, the students made over 200 adobe bricks which will be used to build the new Grace Garden classroom. To build adobe bricks, first a large shallow pit was dug in the ground. Next, water and rice husk was mixed with the mud to make adobe. The adobe was packed into wood forms and finally the wood forms were removed and the adobe bricks were left to dry for seven days. After diligently working through the afternoon, the practical session devolved into a very fun, very messy, and very satisfying mud fight.
The course culminated in a design and teaching project. The NEED students designed a garden bed for an uncultivated patch on the Blessed Home Orphanage campus. Implementing the garden offered the opportunity for the NEED students to share with the orphans what they had learned including how to prepare garden beds, supplement the soil with compost and EM, protect the soil with mulch, and care for the plants.
The workshop was a fantastic success and BGET wants to make sure to thank the instructors for inspiring lessons, Blessed Home orphanage for great meals and wonderful hospitality, Gyaw Gyaw for providing extra housing, and UNESCO for funding the workshop. Thank you everyone for making this workshop such a success!
Friday, Nov 23, 2012
The rainy season has come to an end and there has been a lot of activity at the Grace Garden! Here is a brief rundown of what has been happening on the land these past few months:
Swale Maintenance: Over the rainy season the swales partially filled with sediment and weeds took over, threatening to choke out the planted NFTs and vetiver grass. First, we slashed all the weeds. Second, we dug out about a half meter of sediment from the swale and buried the slashed vegetation. Third, we covered everything with rice husk as a protective layer to suppress the weeds for a bit, provide organic matter, and also shield the soil from the sun and keep the moisture in. One swale repaired, one more to go.
Weed Whacking: In preparation for building the classroom and kitchen, an area approximately 30 meters by 30 meters was cleared. In the process of cutting back the 5 foot tall prickle bushes that had taken over the land, we uncovered and liberated many teak trees! The process was demanding on our equipment and we had to re-handle our machetes multiple times. The re-handling process involved trekking through the jungle to harvest the appropriately aged bamboo, fashioning it to the proper length and end thickness, attaching the tool head, and finally securing it with a nail. I must say, there is something deeply satisfying about swinging around a machete and attacking weeds.
Material Accumulation: Ponchai, aka Miracle Man, has been a wizard in gathering materials for Grace Garden. One day we mention a need for rice husk and later that afternoon we traveled to a nearby town and collected 18 rice bags worth all for just 200 baht, the price of the bags. Another day we mention an interest in gathering cardboard, Ponchai promises to inquire in town, and later that afternoon we are carrying a truck load up to Grace Garden with the knowledge of a reliable local source of cardboard. We have also made friends with our neighbor who keeps a heard of cows and now have an endless supply of manure. Lastly, as the cold season begins, we have been diligently collecting the newly fallen teak leaves to be used in mulch, compost, etc and as soon as the rice harvest concludes we plan to buy another few truck loads of rice straw.
Water Spigot Construction: As the dry season is underway, we have added a water point next to the nursery with easy access to the nursery, compost pile, and vegetable garden space. First, we dug up the water line at the approximate location we wanted the water spigot. We then cut a portion of the pipe out and inserted a T joint. We cut the pipe again a few inches downhill of the joint and inserted a ball valve so we will be able to shut off water to the house and direct it instead to the spigot when needed. From the T joint we ran another section of pipe off to the side to where we wanted the spigot. A few elbow joints, a tap, plumbing tape, a stabilizing post, and some zip ties and we've created the spigot. We placed rocks and chunks of concrete at the base to prevent a muddy mess when it inevitably leaks. The 30 meters of soft pipe reaches all the way to the bean fence. Perfect.
Bean Fence Maintenance: A beautiful curved bamboo fence was built near the staff house with a few beans planted to wind up around the fence. It had since fallen into disrepair and the beans, and weeds, had gone wild. To bring the fence back to its former glory, first, the weeds were slashed along the fence. Second, new bamboo posts were strategically placed to support the listing fence and force it upright. Third, we retied each fence joint with bamboo ties. This last step involved trekking thought the jungle to harvest some bamboo, cutting it up into the proper strips, and finally using the strips to secure each joint. Using the word "tying" is misleading; to secure joints with bamboo strips, you simply wrap the bamboo around the joint and then twist the ends to together until it twists in on itself and becomes a sort of knot. The next step will be to mulch the area and plant some new beans and other vine plants to crawl up the fence.
Tree Rehabilitation: An integral part of a forest garden are trees. The trees planted near the upper south swale by the water tanks were being choked out by weeds. To give them a leg up we mulched an approximately 3ft x 3ft area around each tree. This involved slashing the weeds, watering the ground, then circling each tree with cardboard, watering the cardboard, covering the cardboard with rice straw, then watering the rice straw. For much of the watering we took water straight from the 2 in diameter black hose that connects to the well and solar powered water pump. In the process, Jobwa got more than a little wet.
Land Survey: Dave, a recurring BGET volunteer, spent another few weeks at Grace Garden. During his brief visit he was able to survey the land and create a 3D map of the property. The survey was conducted with very simple tools: two equally tall bamboo posts, a tape measure, a compass, and a scope. A data point included the distance between the two posts, the degrees from north from point A to point B, and the vertical angle from point A to point B. After these measurements were taken and recorded, the post from point A leapfrogged point B to a new location, point C, and the measurements were taken again, this time from point B to point C. A single survey ran full circle back to the initial position for quality control. In all we recorded over 200 data points over three days. The data points were converted to a 3D map via some trigonometry and fancy computer programs. We will use this 3D map to design and build the classroom and dorms and also for designing other systems, such as additional swales or a catchment pond.
Volunteers: We had two volunteers, Kwan and Tudtoo, come help out at Grace Garden for three days in October. Kwan and Tudtoo did a fantastic job helping with the swale maintenance. They also donated many seeds to Grace Garden. In addition, they spent time at Blessed Home conducting afternoon activities for the kids including coloring, story telling, playing games, leaf painting, and singing songs.
There has been a lot of activity here at Grace Garden and more projects are in the works!
- 2013 Sustainable Living Workshop, supported by UNESCO and Presbyterian Hunger Program
- Grace Garden Hosts Inaugural Workshop in Newly Constructed Learning Center Building, Supported by UNESCO and Presbyterian Hunger Program
- Aqueous Solutions Hosts Water Filter Workshop at Grace Garden Supported by UNESCO
- Institute for Village Studies and Engineering Studies Program (ESP) visit Grace Garden (training supported by UNESCO)
- 2012 Grace Garden Sustainable Living Workshop supported by UNESCO