Torii Gate on the way to ARI farm shop

Torii Gate on the way to ARI farm shop

Monday, October 21, 2013

Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration at the Asian Rural Institute

by Bob and Joyce Ray, Global Ministries Short-term Volunteers

Fall has arrived, but without the color in this region yet. The sun is warm by day, but nights are chilly. Without heat in the buildings, we wear hats, scarves and coats to supper. However, Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration weekend, October 12-13, was spectacular.

An estimated 1,500 people came to this annual event to enjoy both organic food from many cultures and stage performances showcasing ethnic dance and song. A bazaar with donated items from ARI supporters is very popular. HTC is ARI’s invitation to the public to celebrate the harvest given by God and also a major fundraiser for scholarships.

Weekly planning meetings began the first of September. Chakura team organized food, Shalom (Bob) planned two worship celebrations and handled logistics, Tree of Colors decorated an indoor and outdoor stage and organized musical performances, and Tano-C (Joyce) planned and constructed children’s games and decorated the game area.

The whole planning process is part of the participants’ leadership training. Some committees worked smoothly together, others had difficulties. Remember that most people are trying to communicate in a language that is not their first language. Ideas need to be repeated, even sketched out, to be understood.
Eventually, the week long preparations began. Vegetables were harvested for all the dishes, and a pig was shipped to the butcher.

Committees gathered materials for decoration, cut bamboo for huge gates and began creating signs and origami flowers. Tents were set, tables and chairs distributed. Two kitchens were busy from Friday night until early Sunday morning as participants prepared curry, dahl, momos, black beans, Japanese vegetables, rice, rice pudding and many more dishes. 130 volunteers came to help with parking, ticket selling and serving food.

The weekend arrived with gorgeous weather. The worship opened with the participants processing and presenting the harvest on the altar. We participated in both worship services by ushering and reading scripture. Throughout the day, Joyce enticed visitors to dress up in the participants’ traditional clothes and took their photos. Bob pedaled popcorn, checked recycling stations and emptied trash. We made our stage debut with other Americans singing “Country Roads.”

We offered an international fashion show, tours of the campus, Thai and Japanese massage, drumming, gospel singing, face painting and a children’s game called yo-yo fishing. The atmosphere was one of celebration. Everyone had worked so hard to make it a successful weekend. During all of this, the animals still had to be fed and the crops harvested during Foodlife work morning and evening.

Now at the end of this week, fish have been harvested, seed corn cut, and participants are readying their Reflection Papers.
  In their remaining seven weeks, they will have a Tokyo home stay, a Rural Western Japan Study Tour, including Hiroshima. They will graduate in early December and life after ARI will begin.

For us, one more week with these courageous, beautiful people.

We are blessed.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Asian Rural Institute HTC Activities

by Bob and Joyce Ray, Global Ministries Short-term Volunteers
I had to fill the role of Uncle Sam for the ARI Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration. Had my picture taken with many Japanese children this weekend to give them a positive memory of Americans. Popcorn was 100yen, The picture was free.

 Our German friend and co-volunteer Donata suggested we do a photo version of the American Gothic painting. American Gothic is a painting by Grant Wood in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. So this is our rendition in traditional ARI garb straight from the ARI boutique, ARI rice recently harvested, and ARI tools refurbished at least once. Enjoy!
Photo by Donata

But we also did an ARI version, Please note the happy faces filled with the joy of sharing foodlife work together with friends from many nations and trying to live out the ARI motto "That we may live together".

As Gandhi once said, "Live simply, So others may simply live."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Asian Rural Institute Harvesting and Farming Activities

by Bob and Joyce Ray, Global Ministries Short-term Volunteers
Bob’s foodlife work until now has been in the Denmark pig pens, mostly mucking out the pig manure for compost enrichment. This is NOT a favorite chore for participants or volunteers.

However due to the earthquake damage, ARI has constructed new Korean pig pens that significantly reduce the effort to care for pigs.

So recently we had pig moving day to move the sows to their new facility which has two foot deep organic floors. These floors are a mix of sawdust, cedar shavings, rice husks and other organic materials, and utilize the pig’s natural tendency to churn up everything near them. Their dung is simply mixed in, composted in place and removed when the floor needs to be refreshed.

Moving pigs is a BIG job since a 300 kg sow does not easily change her direction once she starts moving. The picture shows one of the smaller sows that we moved first who was very reluctant to be the first pig in the piggery.

We got the hang of it with pig sized boards that kept their view of the world focused in the direction desired and moved all five sows. Moving the later sows were less of a problem once the piggery was occupied.

Joyce is very carefully checking out mama pig while the two pigs were seeming to have a very animated conversation that could have been something like, ”Hey, sister, how do you like our new digs?” Even on a very soft floor, a pig stomping on your foot is very undesirable.

ARI corn is grown mostly for silage for the pigs. We had a community harvest day to cut the corn from one of the fields. Everyone was armed with a very sharp Japanese hand sickle and worked side by side in adjacent rows. It was a rather harrowing experience, not for the faint of heart.

Joyce is giving fast moving Abe-san wide berth. However everyone was careful in spite of flashing blades and the harvest went without accident.

Bob found that clearing corn for Kalpana-san was the fastest and safest way to proceed up the rows. Then all the corn stalks had to be loaded into trucks and moved to the silage bins near the men’s dorm.

A second team of strong young men were feeding the silage cutter with corn silage flying into the concrete silage bins.The pigs are surely happy to have full silage bins for the winter.
As always, ARI ends the day with a group picture and a celebration tea break.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Asian Rural Institute in High Gear

 by Bob and Joyce Ray, Global Ministries Short-term Volunteers

The weather has changed. The Hokkaido Express (like the Montreal Express) seemed to blow in, and everyone is bundled up. Enet from Malawi has been crocheting colorful hats for all her African sisters. Of course, we are enjoying the cooler temperature.

It’s been three weeks since the ARI class of 2013 returned from their Rural Community Study Tour. There are 14 women, 17 men and one male Training Coordinator. They come from Brazil, Ecuador, Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Cameroon, Malawi, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, India, Philippines, Nepal, Japan and Sri Lanka. Through working together in the kitchen, cleaning eggs (Joyce), caring for pigs (Bob), harvesting rice and working on planning committees together, we can call each other family. To some, we are Auntie and Uncle. For Joyce, that’s a promotion. The first day she tried to hoe and make planting beds, the young participants told her to “Please take a rest, Madam!”

We are no longer eating cucumbers three times a day, and the tomatoes are about gone. We’ve moved on to squash, pumpkin and soybeans now. Eating in season is very ARI. It makes sense, and of course that’s what people used to do, but even when we resolve to eat what’s in season back home in NH, we can’t resist lettuce and salad veggies in the winter. At that time, the ARI community eats root crops or vegetables preserved through canning or freezing, rice, eggs, pork and fish produced on the farm.

ARI’s 40th Anniversary Celebration has now come and gone. We even welcomed a typhoon as a guest! Despite the wind and rain, it was an amazing time with over 50 graduates returning, some for a week or longer. Jerome from Bangladesh represented the very first ARI Class of 1973! We were thrilled to renew friendships with Hoshi and Manar from the Class of 2010.

All these graduates have been either working for non-government organizations that help women, children and disadvantaged or indigenous people, establishing their own NGOs, preaching and caring for congregations, or creating demonstration farms to train others in organic farming, food preservation and sanitation. Our event was a true international symposium with seminars, panels and breakout sessions. The grads shared their experiences and generated ideas of how ARI can further support future graduates. You can imagine the powerful impact their presence made on this current class about to graduate in December.

About ten AFARI (American Friends of ARI) members from the U.S. and Canada attended the celebration. One night we prepared the meal - pasta and soybeans tossed with basil pesto, roasted vegetables, pumpkin curry soup, rice, chocolate chip cookies, and rhubarb cobbler. All ingredients except pasta, wheat flour, and chocolate chips were grown at ARI. We cooked for 150 people. On the main celebration day, the ARI kitchen served 300 people.

Community Rice Harvest Day was a first for us. Most ARI paddies are harvested mechanically, but rural South Asian participants usually harvest by hand. After songs and a prayer, we sallied forth in a line and cut bunches of rice stalks with a sickle. Others constructed a bamboo drying rack, bundled the stalks with twine and hung them upside down on the bamboo pole. Joyce harvested in an experimental non-tillage paddy, meaning the rice was allowed to grow naturally with no weeding. Therefore, weeds had to be extracted before bundling - a nice sit-down task! Walking on the banks of the paddies to participate in the usual group photo, Joyce stepped in a hole, twisted her ankle and fell. After some rather painful stretching massage by an Indian guest and acupuncture by a Thai participant, her ankle healed quickly.
There is such a spirit of caring here. If anyone becomes sick, someone is there to help. We sing and pray (in many languages or silently) before each meal and community event and at weekday Morning Gatherings which are led by community members in turn. There is a strong awareness of God’s grace throughout each day and many opportunities to share our faith. On Monday evenings, a prayer group prays for community concerns. On Wednesdays a gospel choir, practices and attracts local Japanese community members. A Lectio Divinia group meets for Bible study on Thursdays. One can choose to worship at several churches on Sunday morning. Enet’s strong voice praised God one Sunday at the Nishinasuno United Church of Christ. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Asian Rural Institute Orientation

by Bob and Joyce Ray, Global Ministries Short-term Volunteers

We have been at ARI almost two weeks now. The buildings are new, sturdy and lovely to look at due to tremendous global support after the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011. The same ARI spirit of acceptance and love remains! Our re-introduction has been more relaxed because the participants and three staff members are away on a Western Japan Rural Study Tour. They are visiting organic farmers to learn additional farming techniques, so only remaining staff and volunteers have been running the farm. The participants are arriving Sunday night, and we are planning a welcome home party for them. We are eager to meet these dedicated people from South Asian, South East Asian and African countries!
There is so much work for a few people while the participants are away – feeding chickens, pigs and fish and cleaning their areas, harvesting vegetables (think cucumbers!), preparing meals, preparing materials for ARI’s upcoming 40th anniversary and screening materials for the 2014 applicants. We have been blessed with Japanese young people from universities and student fellowships coming to volunteer for a week. One group invited us to a barbecue where we sang together and watched a fire dance! Now there are long term young volunteers from Germany, America, Malaysia, Korea and Japan. We’re in the name learning process, but working and planning together and listening to individual Morning Gathering presentations helps us become familiar quickly.

Due to regulations, we are not allowed to work in livestock areas until we have been in the country for two weeks. It’s been breakfast and supper kitchen duty for us. With from 16- 30 people to prepare meals for, the kitchen is a more relaxed place than it will be when 60-80 is the norm. The third week in September, we are expecting to be cooking for 150! Each meal we serve rice, soup, main course and a side dish or more. The produce, eggs and pork all come from our farm. At ARI we constantly think about our connection to the land and the food it produces for our bodies to use. We eat only what is in season, but it is all delicious, and the cooks are so creative. One day we had soybean falafel with fantastic cucumber yogurt sauce! Another night we enjoyed a traditional Malay cake with a rice base and a yogurt blueberry top layer. Tonight we are having a pork and fish barbecue, so I prepared good old American potato salad. I learned how to make mayonnaise for the first time!
During the weekdays, we both help in the office. Joyce is learning the process for managing the incoming travel documents of graduates returning for the 40th anniversary in just two weeks. Profiles have to be written about their activities since graduation. Bob and Joyce are creating booklets with pages on each 2014 applicant. Staff will start the screening process this week.
The new couple’s room in the just completed men’s dorm is beautiful. It was lovingly prepared for us by JeenHae, complete with flowers and a tea set. There is a private shower and toilet area for our own use. Our balcony has the required clothes pole so laundry can hang even if it rains. If you want to volunteer, you’ll have a great space to call your own!

And today we had a 9 sec shake of the building due to a 6.5 earthquake off Tokyo.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Greetings from Singapore

Hi, Everyone. En route from Kathmandu to ARI, we have been gifted with one night and day in Singapore due to a flight cancellation!

On August 7, we reached our first destination in Nepal after five flights. Over two days worth of traveling is perhaps a bit much for our age, we have decided! We have learned so much about rural life in Nepal and the challenges ARI graduates face. Their leadership skills are being put to good use as they work to help provide basic education, raise awareness about women’s issues and encourage indigenous people to claim their rights. We have seen the many challenges a developing country faces, such as load scheduling of electricity, sanitation and road improvement.

Our first reunion was with 2010 ARI graduate, Sandeep Lamsal from Taulihawa in the Dang District. This is the Lower Terai, or plains of Nepal bordering India and is rice-growing country. It’s approaching the end of the rainy season and in the temperature hovers around 95 degrees. Sandeep guided us all around Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, on a scorching day. Of course we got seriously sunburned. The next morning our driver dodged goats as we drove along lush green paddy fields. We visited the ruins of the palace where the Buddha grew up as a crown prince. Later, we collapsed from either jet lag, sunstroke or both! We managed to meet and share meals with Sandeep’s family.
Breakfast with Shanta, Ammar and Simon Chaudhary

On August 10, we traveled to Ghorahi in the Upper Terai, a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains. It resembles the location of ARI! We were welcomed by Shanta and Ammar Chaudhary and their son Simon. Shanta is an ARI grad who also returned to be a Training Assistant. She works with BASE (Backward Society Education, an NGO that helps provide education, works with women’s groups and advocates for the now freed bonded laborers to get land promised to them by the government. We kept hearing echoes of our own Civil Rights Movement.

Ammar and Shanta are members of the Tharu caste, indigenous people whose property and rights were taken away by a higher caste. Ammar works to educate all indigenous people about their rights and lobbies the government to recognize these rights in the constitution. In addition to their social work, the farming family grows rice, corn, vegetables and keeps three cows. They have a well but no tap water. Shanta cooks rice, potatoes, green beans, pumpkin leaf, chicken and soup (Joyce was thankful her dishes were not too spicy) on a two burner propane stove. Dishes are washed outdoors, and we enjoyed bathing in the stream after a hot day! If the sun had not shined, we would still have Simon. His joyful disposition kept us smiling, and he insisted that Bob Uncle and Joyce Auntie see him off on the school bus!

Siddartha Academy

We visited three different schools. Each time we rode buses stuffed with passengers and crossed rivers where water flowed over concrete pads instead of under bridges! Joyce closed her eyes and prayed. Sister Home Boarding School was started by ARI grad Sayni Chaudhary. Primary students are taught Nepali, English and Social Studies by young teachers who either have their Bachelor’s degree or are working toward it. There is also a Women’s Learning Center where women meet to discuss their concerns and are trained in skills such as sewing.

Siddhartha Academy is a private school, both primary and secondary levels. The principle gave us a tour of the secondary school, where chemistry, biology and physics labs are still under construction. We spoke to two groups of 10th graders where everyone seems to want to be a doctor or an engineer.

Rural Government school

In Tulsipur, we met the principle who started the government school twenty-two years ago with support from Shanta’s organization, BASE. He will retire in two years but dreams of a computer lab and a library before he leaves. Here, the children recited their lessons for more seasoned teachers.

We attended the 19th Indigenous People Cultural Program and enjoyed the local Tharu folk music.

Folk music at Indigenous People Cultural Program 

We’ve had the privilege of being the first foreign guests in Ammar’s family home, the challenge of walking narrow foot paths through rice paddies, and an arduous 13 and a half hour bus ride from Ghorahi to Kathmandu. Tomorrow, ARI!


Friday, February 22, 2013

Planning for August trip back to ARI

We are beginning to plan for August trip back to ARI