Sustainability: A Story of a Monk and His Machine
June 2, 2018

Here’s a story I love sharing – especially given our Foundation’s commitment to creating sustainability in those organizations we select for support.

Meet U Vimala. (Oo-wee-mala) He’s the head monk at the Guiding Star Monastery located a short distance outside Hpa-an, Myanmar, the capital city of the Karen State. Now 42 years of age, having been a monk since he was 14, he operates a boarding school for 175 disadvantaged high school students coming to him from far distant villages.
When Treasure (our Myanmar Country Director) and I met with U Vimala to explore possibilities for better serving his kids, he already had an interesting idea. Because of the severe labor shortage in this large rice-growing region (many able bodied young people are now in Thailand for better jobs) he suggested he would like to be in the rice harvesting business.
We explored this notion in some detail. The more we dug in, the more we analyzed the numbers, the better it looked. Satisfied with the economics, we funded a brand new, state-of-the art, Kubota rice-harvesting machine for $35,000. Here we are at the dealership taking delivery. Treasure on the far left.
Yes, that’s a lot of money. But, the potential was there. In just his first two months (as a late entry into this year’s harvesting season) he made $9,000 – all the while learning some important lessons as he worked his way up the learning curve in this new business. (Shortly thereafter his earnings exceeded $15,000, plus more than 500 large bags of rice.)
When we asked U Vimala what he was going to do with the $9,000 he replied: “I’m saving my money to buy a tractor”. Once we understood the local demand for field preparation – and the amount of land left fallow because of the labor shortage – we suggested he use his money to complete the construction of his new school building (we helped fund that also) and that our Foundation would donate the tractor for him.

U Vimala now has both a rice-harvesting machine and a new tractor. Currently, the tractor is hard at work earning money out in the fields, while the harvesting machine is spotlessly clean, in storage, and all ready to go when the next rice harvesting season begins later this year.

Looking ahead we see annual earnings of at least $30,000; most likely quite a bit more than that. Clearly, this represents financial sustainability for Guiding Star. Now they have sufficient reliable funding to pay teacher salaries, reduce class sizes, and take good care of the 175 students and related staff living on the premises.