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Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Two shining beacons of hope
Feeling fed up with the rife misconduct of rogue monks? For a glimmer of hope, meet Phra Maha Supap Buddhaviriyo, abbot of Na Kham forest monastery in Kalasin province.
Losing hope about getting out of suffocating debt? Meet Granny Khai, a farmer with only a Prathom Two education whose debt relief formula has made her a model not only for her village but the whole town.
Don't let the political nightmares of these past few years make you believe that the country is facing a dead end.
Don't let the war of words between the red shirts and yellow shirts over what is more important, good people or good system, dilute your faith in goodness itself.
Phra Supap and Granny Khai are two living examples that there is still hope for Thailand. Not because they believe in goodness, but because they believe in change. More importantly, they believe that in order to effect change, one must start with one's self.
True, the country is plagued with a myriad problems. Apart from the political mess, the clergy, instead of being our spiritual anchor, keeps feeding us with endless scandals. The latest one involves two rogue monks in Chachoengsao who coldbloodedly shot a young woman in the head, poured gasoline on her body, and burned her to death. They were reportedly incensed at her threat to reveal their drug business within the temple and their sexual affairs, to which she was party.
Indebtedness is suffering, teaches the Buddha. Yet, the majority in this predominantly Buddhist country are buried under piles of debt. According to the National Statistics Office, more than 60% of farmers are chained by the vicious debt cycle because chemical rice farming is a losing business.
The situation is worse among government officials. The statistics office reported that more than 80% of government officials are, on average, more than 800,000 baht in debt.
Though a monk, Phra Maha Supap knows what it is like to suffer from debt. His temple serves as a rehabitation centre for patients with drug addiction. The astronomical food bills have left his temple in the red. So he started experimenting with growing banana, vegetables, herbs and a fast-growing tree in one square metre of land. Seeing how different plants offer food all year round, with the long-term promise of valuable timber, he filled the vacant temple land with this all-in-one, one-square-metre planting spot. In no time, the temple's food bill was cut by half.
That started Granny Khai, a debt-ridden rice farmer living adjacent to the temple, thinking. She'd never before thought how much she had to spend on food, not until she joined the temple's household expenses accounting group. She came to realise that by spending 30 baht for each person for each meal every day, she must spend 164,250 baht a year for a family of five.
Shocked to her senses, she adopted Phra Maha Supap's planting model to cut food expenses. Within a few years, she had not only cleared up all her debts, but her family now has over 100 chicks and ducks, and a herd of cattle, in her attempt to ensure food sufficiency.
Through detailed accounting, she has also discovered that one square metre of mixed planting gives her 55 baht of earnings while it is only 7.5 baht for rice farming. Without any hesitation she reduced the size of her paddy fields and increased mixed farming plots. Now the authorities in Kalasin are also using Granny Khai as a model to increase the number of farmers who use household expense accounting and Phra Maha Supap's mixed, organic farming model to free themselves of debt.
As for the monk, he is busy teaching the farmers financial discipline while trying to connect the farmers' network with local and provincial administration bodies to better influence public policies. This is part of democracy, he said enthusiastically.
Politics at the apex of power may be distressing. But on the ground, there is still abundant hope. The lesson from the monk and the granny is that when we begin to change within ourselves, the momentum for change catches on, and hope returns.