For the past several months we have been working with 13 families in a migrant camp a small distance outside the town of Mae Sot. We’ve been providing training to them in several ways, looking to build this community, that is vibrant and tight knit with strong leadership, into a pilot program for models that will help to sustain families and empower them to be strong and care for their own children. We knew this community was poor, and survived on the meager and intermittent wages that migrant day laborers collect. But it wasn’t until we brought someone in to teach them a course in basic budgeting that we realized how dire their situation really is. When the teacher laid out on the board all of their expenses, beside all of their earnings, they came up short by almost half.
It became apparent that step one for helping these families is simply to provide them more work. It made the most sense to start a farm, since that is the kind of work that they are already skilled at doing. But this isn’t just any farm.
First, we are employing the best organic farming techniques that we have access to, protecting our worker’s health, and providing a higher value product for market. Our laborers will learn how to work with the land to produce an abundant harvest, rather than relying on poisons and engineered seed.
Second, this is a joint business venture. Usually these laborers do back breaking work for very low wages and the landowner makes all the profit. We will share the profits. We put up capital, they put up labor, and all will share in the proceeds. One day’s labor would equal one share in the profits from the harvest with a guaranteed daily wage of 200bht/day. That’s almost double what they are paid for a day’s work by anyone else.
At first, when we approached them with this idea they were excited, and everyone wanted to work for shares. We were not surprised when a few days later their risk averseness kicked in and they asked if they could just work for wages instead. We told them that yes, they could work for wages. We would pay them 150baht/day, which is still a very good wage, but no more. We want to keep an incentive there for them to work for shares instead.
Rather than teach business and accounting in a classroom, this farm is our hands on business school. The books are open to our workers. They will be able to see the expenses, and the profits, and we will teach them, over the course of the season, what they can gain from venturing into the unknown territory of business ownership, rather than farm laborer.
We found a beautiful 5 acres of land, for $750US/year, to begin planting rice on this rainy season. There are 2 reservoirs for raising fish in, and watering the fields, also great for swimming in. There’s a large wooden farmhouse on stilts surrounded by mango, banana, and jackfruit trees, and stands of bamboo.
It’s such a beautiful spot that we’re looking into making it available as a retreat center too, something there is a bit of a demand for around here. A beautiful, peaceful space, walking or biking distance from town, no electricity, let alone wifi, it would be a perfect place for people to come for a day or two to rest, meditate, and pray. We’ll need to fix it up a bit more to make it something we could charge people to use, but the elements are all right there.
So welcome to the Charis Farm. There’s a lot of work to do, but it’s the kind worth doing.