I knew things would probably change about this trip, I didn't realize how much.
You may recall from my January Update that originally the option to come to Thailand and Bali was to come with an aquaponics expert named Bonnie Hanszen to help build and tweak several aquaponics systems. Regrettably, Bali fell through and Bonnie herself is now unable to come to Thailand while I am here for various reasons. While to some that may be disappointing, I am quite accustomed to change. Bonnie referred me to several people in-country who were able to show me what they are doing with aquaponics. Particularly useful was seeing how things have to be done somewhat differently in such a hot climate. For instance, in the states we need greenhouses, but here shade cloth is needed to protect young plants. I also got to see firsthand some of the complications that can happen when a system starts out. I have a lot of good ideas now about how to make this an easier process for starting up systems in rural areas where the locals will not enjoy the system if they have to babysit it constantly for its first months of operations. Also of great interest to me was seeing a very large Tilapia fingerling operation. I got lots of good tips on how to breed and raise Tilapia, one of the key areas my knowledge is lacking. Here in Thailand, fingerlings (fish one or 2 or 3 inches long) are a huge business because people buy them to raise in netted areas in rivers to then consume or take to market. It is always key to remember that while things may not go as planned, God will always come through when we step out, and I want to say thanks again to everyone who made this trip possible.
The biggest change of all...
The EARS school is I feel an amazing, cutting edge school that allows people to be equipped to undertake projects in the field wherever a missionary may find themselves. It also helps give the tools needed to communicate the reasons to ears that would hear why social dynamics, paradigms, and ideas often contribute to an unnbreakable cycle of poverty in many places. Unfortunately, it is not a very popular school. There were only 3 students interested in doing the EARS school in Salem, so it was decided to move the school to the summer. Since I have already been waiting six months for the school, and it is very likely the school still will not run in the summer, I will be doing a similar development-focused school at a different base. YWAM Montana offers the Foundations of Community Development school. It is a good school with a lot of good material and useful worldview study that goes into why there is poverty, and why development programs often fail. Craig and Jen Woodring, my EARS school leaders, also are in Montana due to various circumstances beyond their control. Since they are there, not only will I be able to continue picking their brains, but they will be helping to include some modules in the FCD that will cover some of the key things that make the EARS school special, so that I am getting the best of both schools and the most bang for my buck. While it means going to a new base, I am excited to finally be getting the training I have been looking for. The school is the same price, so I have the funds for it, but I do need to try and raise the money to get out to Montana from Salem as that is a new expense.
I will keep you posted as to when I get to Montana and how the school is going. Now for some pictures!
This is an aquaponics system made of concrete block, concrete, and pre-fabricated concrete rings (making up the fish tanks). The idea here is to showcase the two main styles of aquaponic growbed. On the left, sheets of Styrofoam with holes drilled in it form floating rafts that plants are placed into. The roots grow down into nutrient-rich, oxygenated water and healthy plants grow speedily. On the right, a media bed with a bell siphon. These beds are simpler to get established, have more capacity for nitrifying bacteria (the little workers that make the whole thing possible) to live and work on the surface of the gravel, and they are less complicated to maintain. Each has its own pros and cons, but the media beds are more what I am looking at trying to do in rural communities. I feel like it is easier to explain and teach how to set these up in places where growing plants without soil is a less accepted way of gardening. Each fish tank had 100 Tilapia put into it. They are finding that this may have not been the best course of action, because the bacteria in the system didn't have time to get established before the fish went in, so a lot of them have died. If you are going to build yourself and aquaponics system, patience is a virtue!
These fat, happy little critters are the engines that drive a thriving raft bed system not far from the location of the new system pictured on the left. As you can see, though there are a couple of hundred fish in this 250 gallon container, the water is nice and clear. You can see straight to the bottom, and there is no sludge at the bottom because of water circulation and lots of aeration breaking up particles to be taken out to the raftbeds where the plants remove all the waste. One pump drives this whole system. I was very impressed by it. This was the first established good size aquaponics system I have seen. The gentleman who designed and built it is an engineer from Texas. He was able to give me a lot of helpful information on what works and why. His goal is very similar to mine. He wants to use aquaponics as a way to grow valuable, nutritious vegetables without needing to have perfect soil, and also get some fish in the bargain. Some people view aquaponics as a way to farm fish commercially as well as to farm vegetables commercially, but I am of the opinion this pushes the system too hard to be something useful in a rural community in the care of one or two trained people.
Second leg of my journey
As I mentioned in my previous post, I would be getting to reconnect with some people we worked with when I was here with YWAM Denver last year.
As I have followed up with one of my contacts here, he's been picking my brain about the possibilities of aquaponics benefitting the hill tribes that live in the mountains near where I am at right now in Phetchaburi, Thailand. He has taken the bull by the horns and at his house are now 3 small demonstration aquaponics systems, one good size fish pond, and plans for a much larger aquaponics system in the works. He has a contact with a local hotel that would buy his organic vegetables that he grows here. I am hoping that in the days I am here with him I can help him solidify his plans, as it would be of great benefit for the boys who live here while they go to highschool to learn this as a trade. I am very excited for the possibilities opening up for these young kids who grew up in refugee villages without much opportunity to even get an education.
I am really loving the opportunity to apply what I have learned here, and to fill in some of the gaps in my friend's knowledge. In turn, he has shown me how much can be done when you take however little you know and just start experimenting. He even took a small aquaponics system to the school he teaches at to show the science classes there how it works.
Even though I will not be getting to work with Bonnie specifically while I am here, I am still getting to see lots of different peoples' experiments and accomplishments in aquaponics. I am also able to better guage how much I actually know about this. I want to be quite knowledgeable before I try to plan and execute any sort of larger system.
The added perk of getting to come here is that I get to reconnect with some wonderful people who we met the last time and hopefully continue to show them the love of Christ and nurture the seeds that were planted the last time we were here. I also get to further explore God's heart for reaching people who have grown up outside of a basic knowledge of the Judeo-Christian worldview. It is a challenge, but something I want to be able to equip people to do throughout the world.
Some prayer requests: Finances, Wisdom, continued opportunities to learn here. I am down to less than a week in Thailand now. Please pray for my travels back to the States.
When I got to come to Thailand with YWAM Denver last year, one of the things my team was able to do was sponsor 10 piglets to be sent up to the village where we stayed. In true developing world form, bureaucratic red tape kept us from being able to deliver them while we were here. About a month ago, the pigs (not the same piglets, a new batch) were finally able to be brought up to the village. It was fun to see that even though it took a lot of time, our team was able to contribute something of lasting value to the schoolkids in this village. The pigs will be a source of income as well as food.
It's a great example of how things operate on a different timeframe than we in the west operate on. It's these sorts of things you have to take in stride when you do development work, or you will wind up frustrated very quickly.
As always, thanks so much for reading. Thanks for your prayers and contributions. Thanks for believing in what I am doing and what the Lord is doing through me! I couldn't be doing any of this without such a supportive cloud of people around me. God Bless!