25 May, 2016
Gazing upon the plains of Old Bagan, Myanmar in the early morning is breath-taking. While intricately designed temples and pagodas dot the landscape, it is the vast canvas of the master craftsman that stirs me. The sky awash with pinks and blues of every shade, the distant mountains a deep purple. Our world is truly beautiful, but with the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, I know that it is terribly broken.
Two hours drive from this historic site, Thein Paing is herding his goats in the dusty plains near his village in Myanmar’s infamous Dry Zone. It is only eight o’clock in the morning and already the air is dry and hot. Goats and cattle graze among the tufts of hay-coloured grass and near-bare trees scatter the landscape. All natural water sources, it seems, have long since dried up. It’s hard to understand how anyone could make a living out here. Thein is a generous-spirited man. He smiles easily, showing his toothy grin.
The father of four boys didn’t finish school because he wanted to help his parents with their successful farming business – a family business that is anything but successful now. Changing weather patterns have had a devastating impact on this community.
“About 10 years ago the weather was really good so we could survive from farming,” Thein says. “But now the weather is different and we can’t grow enough to live. It makes it very hard for us to continue as farmers.”
One villager who works with Thein in the field remembers what it was like when he was a young boy walking to school. “I used to cross a small field as I walked from my village and I could see and feel some moisture on the grass and trees,” he says. “But now I cannot feel or see it, even in the winter time.”
After a recent bout of poor health, Thein is no longer able to work on the farm. His wife says: “We have little income so life is very hard but my husband is a good man and he is trying hard.”
Like many other villagers, they made the difficult decision to borrow a large sum of money to send their 22-year-old son overseas to work as a labourer. They now have a large debt to repay before he can return home. “Thinking about him makes me feel very sad. It is very hard for him there,” Thein says.
Last year, Thein and his wife joined ADRA’s Dry Zone project to learn sustainable agriculture and farming techniques. The project is improving food security and livelihoods for communities in the Dry Zone while reversing land erosion and desertification brought on by unsustainable land management practices and changes to climate. Thein is now grazing goats using techniques that aim to regenerate and restore the land.
While he is well aware of the significant challenges he faces, Thein remains hopeful. “ADRA helped us gain more knowledge and now we feel hopeful that life will get better. It may be too late for my sons to have a better life,” he says, “But I have hopes that other children in the village will benefit from the ADRA project. I hope we can create jobs for them here instead of sending them away.”
By living simply, you can help restore God’s creation to its intended beauty. And by giving generously, you can restore hope for people like Thein.