“This is your farm and also this is for your kitchen for your food.”
Bya works in the Kay Htoe Boe Social Development Association which serves 100 Kay Htoe Boe villages in Kayah state, villages recognizable by their tall ceremonial poles called Tobo. The Kay Htoe Boe are a group within Kayah State that identify themselves according to their tradition of animist cultural practices that dates back thousands of years. While there are some who continue to follow these practices, many have become Buddhist or Christian, yet still identify themselves as part of a Kay Htoe Boe community and participate in two yearly festivals.
The Kay Htoe Boe Social Development Association has a staff of 20 working in five departments: Agriculture & Livestock, Education, Capacity Building, Environment, and Income Generation. The association’s complex consists of 27 acres, with 23 being used for agriculture. One of the projects that Bya started after ARI was to raise pigs on fermented flooring. Unfortunately she chose a site that frequently floods and so after two rounds of piglets they moved the pen and set it up in the traditional style. Structures on the grounds include public platforms used for the festivals during which men dance, sing, and pray around the Tobo while women provide food and local wine as well as throw water on them. There is also a community center, a traditional Kay Htoe Boe house, and a hostel for 58 elementary and middle school students. Bya teaches the students to make soap which can be sold to support the hostel. She has helped them make a small farm in the rainy season, sharing the concept of Foodlife she learned at ARI. “This is your farm and also this is for your kitchen for your food,” she tells them. Bya gives a similar message about the importance of self-sufficiency when she visits the villages to do livelihood projects. “I can put the idea of how we can promote the local – local seeds, also local people…also local resource.”
One of the villages served by the Kay Htoe Boe Social Development Association is called Tani Lar Le. Before the ceasefire it often found itself caught in the middle of fighting and the village head constantly had to negotiate with both fighting factions. However, with the recent cessations of conflict, many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have returned and the population has grown from 80 to 150. Life has improved greatly with new roads constructed by the government and there are hopes for electricity in the near future. In 2010-11 the association ran a farmer field school, but wrapped up that project after the farmers started adopting the new practices.