By Mark JH Klassen
** This story was written 12 months ago, before the military coup in Myanmar. We thought we would post it anyway. To date this coffee community is experiencing remarkable commendation from government leaders. Stay tuned...we've got more to share
The problem was access.
The villagers who lived on the mountain could only access the closest town, and the closest hospital, by travelling through the rice fields at the bottom of the mountain. The existing road was made of dirt and was best negotiated by two-wheelers, which made it difficult to transport anything, whether people, produce or supplies.
In the rainy season when the rice started growing, the rice farmers would not allow the coffee farmers to pass through their fields, so they were forced to travel an additional two hours to get into town.
It was a community problem, but a man named Isaiah had a solution.
Isaiah had been working with the villagers and farmers on the mountain for years, developing the land and building community. He was making good progress, even while the local government was suspicious of him. They were Buddhists and he was a Christian. Despite Isaiah’s most sincere efforts to serve the community and build good relationships, the Buddhist leaders were still unconvinced that they should trust him.
However, one advantage that Isaiah had was the recent success of coffee farming. His company was not only successfully helping local farmers to grow high quality beans but, through his network, Isaiah was also finding foreign markets where the coffee could be sold for a good profit.
It was some of that profit that was fueling his latest community development idea, an idea that required many more people and resources than he had previously organized.
The idea was, essentially, a road that would be built on land purchased from the rice farmers. This road would give the coffee farmers on the mountain easier access to the nearby town. But such a road would also require a bridge, because during the rainy season there was enough water to thoroughly flood the route.
First, Isaiah went to work to purchase land from five different rice farmers in order to create a corridor through the agricultural land. Fortunately, all five farmers agreed to sell a portion of their land. Isaiah was overjoyed to announce to the mountain villagers that his company had purchased the land and was immediately donating it back to the community.
Second, Isaiah started enlisting help for the building project. Again, he found favour as the whole community came together. In the end, over 600 people from seven different villages came out in the pouring rain to volunteer their time. Isaiah organized shifts of seventy workers at a time, and the crews worked for nine days straight to complete the project.
Isaiah said, “Many of our opponents became our friends when they saw the sacrifice we were making for the community.”
When it came to purchasing the steel beams for the bridge, it was the local government that said they would gladly donate them in order to see the project completed.
Louise Sinclair-Peters, a Canadian business consultant in Myanmar who works closely with Isaiah, said, “This construction project has brought everyone together in a great way. It’s a story of transformation. Those who were accusing Isaiah of trying to steal land and exploit people were working shoulder to shoulder with him on the bridge. They saw his love for their community and his readiness to sacrifice to improve the lives of farmers. Government officials who had personal issues with Isaiah are now thanking him for helping their community.”