hope2-850x481At nearly two thousand metres above sea level the air was pleasantly cool and a welcome change from the heat of the fl at plain far below. But the land was still parched and the rocky hills brown and dusty.

The expected rain had not arrived and the small plots of potato and corn scattered across the steep slopes were stunted and failing, helped into ruin by the larvae the headman now held in his hand. "The insects come when the rains don't," he explained, looking for water in the roots.

And the dry season was only just beginning.

He was showing us this small farm near his village, a row of rough-hewn one or two room homes set on either side of the narrow road that snaked its way up through the hills. We had sat on low stools in his home as he told us his concerns and his dreams for the future, his words translated from the local dialect to Burmese, then into English for my benefi t.

We drank tea. We ate together. We prayed. And he took us to this section of hillside where he grew the crops which had to sustain his family through the year.

I came here to northern Myanmar to see what conditions were like in these remote rural villages. Until recently the area was off limits to outsiders. There were few young people and even less in middle age. Most leave to fi nd work in the cities to the south, or go to India, Thailand or Malaysia.

These are the poorest people in Myanmar, itself the poorest country in Asia. And while recent economic freedoms have led to a profusion of cars, mobile phones and businesses in Yangon, we found that it had not lessened the number of children being sent from poorer areas to "orphanages" near the city.

While some children were without any family, many had been sent from rural villages where relatives were either unable to provide for them, or felt that the city would offer them more opportunities.

Some Bright Hope World partners have made successful moves toward being self-suffi cient with gardens, small shops and even dairy cows to offset costs and provide food. They provide vocational training and support some students into tertiary study. Two new micro-loan programmes have helped in this area.

Other good people we met were struggling to provide food for the mouths in their care.

All risk becoming victims of their own success as more people ask them to take on their children.

While the needs at the city end are obvious, we wondered what could be done to address the root cause and enable rural communities to provide a future for themselves.

A local friend and partner offered his help, so two fl ights and an eight hour motorcycle ride later we were in the mountains, asking leaders and pastors in villages along the only road about their problems and resources, their hopes and fears.

Farming is their livelihood, and most sought ways to improve their productivity. A few organisations have passed through with occasional hand-outs, but we heard complaints that none gave them the knowledge to help themselves. Everyone was happy to tell us how they worked and expressed a desire to try something new.

As a result, next year's goal will be to facilitate a conservation farming initiative which has been hugely successful in Africa with signifi cant yield increases. Based on biblical principles with universal application, it empowers local farmers to use what they have been given to work themselves out of poverty and apply the gospel to their lives. Our hope and prayer is that this will help make a lasting change in their lives.

Mark Stokes, Bright Hope World

 

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