I interned with BGET for three months, from 24 February 2014 to 23 May 2014.
My work was split between the main BGET office in Mae Sot city and in the village at Grace Garden Sustainable Living and Learning Centre in Noh Bo, near the Thailand-Myanmar border. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience where I was able to learn about sustainable living and agriculture, most of the time against the backdrop of the lush green landscapes of the mountainous Thailand-Myanmar border. The work was meaningful. I learnt a lot from the people of BGET / Sunsawang, who were all very accommodating and kind to a high school senior from Myanmar.
This patch of land that now makes up Grace Garden used to be nothing but prickly thorns back in early 2012. And then the grasses and weeds were hacked away in the wet season and completely burned off during the dry season. Solar panels for now only pumps the water, and BGET wants to turn it into a hybrid system soon, so that the whole place will run on sun energy alone. We have a solar heating system, so there is warm water for showering. The water we drink is filtered through gravel, rocks, sand and charcoal. There are composting toilets.
The dormitories and the learning centre at Grace Garden are natural buildings. Both the structures are built with Adobe, which is basically the earth, water and rice husk left to dry in the sun. I got to mix the mud with the rice husk to harden the mixture. The hard ones get made into bricks, while the softer mush becomes the glue that sticks the bricks together. And then we make them into the shape of bricks with the help of a template that looks like a horizontal ladder. We sun them for about 2 days so it dries. The structures are protected from the rain by metal roofs. This natural building (construction with natural materials) is contracted out to a local company known as Ga Yaw Ga Yaw that hires Karens in the region.
When I first arrived at Grace Garden, there were two huge containers which used to carry oil but now held charcoal to the brim. I asked Kara, my mentor, what they were for, and she said that it was a mixture of manure and charcoal called bio-char, a form of natural fertilizer.
Throughout my internship, we extracted seeds from legumes so we can start planting more nitrogen-fixing trees in our food forest. This took a while because the seeds were encased in long, hard shells. We had to hit on it with pestle and mortar. All our trees start out in the nursery. We have our own vermicompost where decomposers break down organic matter such as egg shells and onion skins, the nutrient-rich compost that results is used when we plant the seeds in our nursery. Kara taught me what makes sustainable agriculture and components of healthy soil. In addition to bio-char (as an alternative to chemical fertilizers in the market which degrade the soil in the long run), I learnt about the action of Effective Microorganisms (EM) and Organic matter (OM) in the soil.
At Grace Garden, there is the gasifier (makes bio-char) and a huge food forest which strives to simulate a real forest in diversity and distribution of trees. Every tree has a reason to be there (i.e. nitrogen-fixing legume, desirable fruit, medicinal properties).
We have many banana trees at Grace Garden, which I learnt are not only excellent buffers against forest fires, but the soil that surrounds them can be used to breed Effective Microorganisms as well. In addition, I learnt about using swales and vetiver grass to prevent soil erosion in the wet season, among other things. This internship allowed me a glimpse of what sustainable living entails and I hope to introduce such earth-friendly methods in Myanmar as well.