PGE Holds Its First Ever Household-Level Workshop in Myanmar

In November, the Partnership for Gender Equity launched its first household-level training workshop, “Happy Coffee Family and Social Equity” in Myanmar. This workshop is part of the USAID/Value Chains for Rural Development program, in partnership with Winrock International. Participants included farmers from Mya Ze Di, Nyaung Shwe, and Pway Na Paw villages, in Southern Shan state. Eighteen inspiring male and female coffee-farming champions attended the innovative workshop. During the workshop, each participant created an individual plan for achieving their 3-year vision, focusing on 3 or 4 main goals. This included a detailed plan for the first year, and 3-6-9 month sub-goals. These goals include things like saving money by reducing expenditures, cutting out unnecessary expenses (drinking, smoking, chewing beetlenut), building drying tables, increasing the number of coffee trees they have, saving for education expenses, defining who they will share the planning methodology within their family and community, etc.

img_8046During the workshop, each participant made a commitment to carry the work forward in his or her local village and share lessons learned with other community members. In this way, each participant becomes a sort of ‘champion’ for the work in their communities, which helps to ensure that the new learning is integrated into broader community activities and processes over time. In a sense the role of the champion is to ensure the sustainability of the work.

Among the many highlights of the week were the lively songs that the participants created and performed. These songs told their stories and vision for a more prosperous future and better life for their families, farms and communities. The use of song is a powerful tool to aid in learning and sharing the different tools in their communities.

The purpose of the 5-day workshop ‘Happy Coffee Family and Social Equity’ is to share innovative farm and household planning tools that focus on fostering more equitable relationships among family and community members, with a particular focus on gender and youth. These tools help participants create a shared vision for the future of their family and community, and design a path to achieve that vision. A key element is the consideration of social dynamics at the household and community level that impact the ability of families and communities to achieve the goals they set. These social dynamics include: balancing of income and non-income generating activities, ownership and decision-making control over assets, understanding income and expense flows within the family, among others.

img_7911Participants began by considering for themselves, “Where do I want to go?”, “How do I improve my life?”, and “What do I need to have to reach my goals?” By asking these questions, participants are able to identify obstacles and, in doing so, find tangible solutions to move toward success. Often the solutions they identify involve creating more balanced dynamics at the household level, and greater inclusion of diverse voices in leadership and decision-making in their community organizations.

As part of the workshop, Coffee Corps Volunteer Juliet Han of Blue Bottle Coffee, conducted several cupping sessions to acquaint participants with coffees from different countries and distinct flavor profiles. These cuppings also included samples of Myanmar coffees so that participants could understand how their coffee compares to quality coffees available in the international market. A final session included a coffee conversation with Juliet and Charlie Habegger also from Blue Bottle Coffee. Charlie discussed Blue Bottle’s business model, buying practices, their customer’s preferences and social concerns and their green coffee buying practices.

img_7822After the main workshop, the participants hosted community events in their own villages; Mya Ze Di, Nyaung Shwe, and Pway Na Paw. The newly trained champions led these events, practicing the skills they learned in the workshop. They took turns helping village members create their own visions as a way to get them excited about how the workshop tools can benefit every one in the village. In each community event, village members were clearly engaged in the process and enthusiastic about continuing the work. In Mya Ze Di, 113 participants came to the event, which was initially planned just for a half day but continued through the afternoon. Once they understood the power of the tools, they voted to continue with another event that same evening.

Charlie believes that “the link between coffee quality and gender equity is in the aspirations. We are talking about two people, man woman together, whose aspirations are not only commercial, focusing on productivity, knowing their cup score, (which are already extremely aspirational for a one hectare farming family) but to see that there are equity aspiration as well. Not only do they want to see commercial success, but also that they want to feel that they have equal partnership. It’s inspiring to see people express their desire to have equal decision making. Because, from my experience, collaborative decisions are always better decisions.”

This workshop laid a foundation for continued work in Myanmar through the end of the project, with a focus on ensuring local capability to lead future workshops. Six trainers from Winrock’s local partner, Shwe Danu (a local NGO) were trained in these tools. These trainers will also keep track of the progress of the community champions.

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