Physics major Preston Burnett and Pattanarak staff shovel sand to make concrete for a walkway for the Pattanarak training center. (Photo: Laura McCready)
Sarah Cox, left, listens to a FIPAH training on seed production for bean plants. Cox is a doctoral student at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. (Photo: Mary Craig, Brown University)
Bryanna Foote, who is majoring in international studies at UNC, teaches children in a primary school to plant chilies. (Photo: Laura McCready)
UNC student Ann Suk, left, collects stones with Pattanarak members. Suk is majoring in environmental health sciences and anthropology. (Photo: Laura McCready)
Partnerships to end poverty
The assumption is that people my age tweet, text and use Facebook rather than send postcards. I try to send postcards from everywhere I go.
It was a challenge to find vendors who carried postcards in Sangklaburi, Thailand, the small town on the Burmese border where I spent six weeks this past summer. The post office attendant seemed confused when I asked for international postcard stamps – Sangklaburi, though gorgeous and welcoming, is too remote to be a major tourist destination.
I was lucky enough to spend my summer in Sangklaburi to co-lead a project run by Nourish International and the Pattanarak Foundation. Nourish International is a student movement addressing global poverty and inequality. We raise money through business ventures on campus, then invest the funds in community-based organizations around the world.
This past summer we had three international partners. One was Pattanarak, a Thai non-governmental organization that supports people who have been displaced from Burma with food production programs, savings groups and income generation activities. Savings groups allow non-Thai citizens who cannot borrow from banks to save and borrow money without official financial institutions.
We partnered with Pattanarak to invest in two programs: the creation of backyard gardens and construction of a pig feed co-op. Raising animals is a great way for these communities to generate income because most non-Thai citizens cannot own land or work legally.
Seven Pattanarak savings groups came together to found an animal feed co-op that to sell pig feed at a price that makes raising livestock affordable. Nourish invested the funds for the co-op building, and our team of eight Carolina students helped construct the building.
One day, we ran out of gravel . . .
One day, we ran out of gravel to mix with cement to make the concrete floor of the building. Our team of Carolina students walked to the river to collect stones. We worked alongside staff from Pattanarak and women from the village. It was hard, dirty work, but that afternoon turned out to be the highlight of my experience.
Even though we don’t speak each other’s languages, we didn’t need words to generate the cultural exchange and sense of community that made our project worthwhile. We spent the whole afternoon laughing.
International service work demands important conversations about ethics, power and privilege, and Nourish embraces that dialogue as we attempt to create a new paradigm of responsible service. What often gets left out of that conversation is the unquantifiable value of the moments of connection like the one I had wading in a river in Thailand.
The project in Thailand was one of three that 23 representatives from the UNC Chapter of Nourish International were involved with this past summer.
A second project was run in partnership with a Honduran organization called FIPAH that conducts research with small-scale, subsistence farmers. The Nourish students led English and computer literacy classes with FIPAH youth.
The UNC chapter also supported an organization called Juvilus in San Pablo, Ecuador. The project team worked with a Franciscan village for orphaned children with HIV/AIDS. Nourish students also helped the community expand a guinea pig farm to help JUVILUS achieve financial sustainability.
By Laura McCready, a sophomore majoring in sociology and economics.
Published Oct. 31, 2011.