A BIG thanks to Sarah Medlin from Seventh Generation for contributing this blog post.
Adventures in Hope
by Sarah Medlin
I work for Seventh Generation, one of the founding members of Whole Planet Foundation’s Supplier Alliance for Microcredit. So when I had the opportunity to begin working with Whole Foods Market in my current role, I was thrilled to begin working with Whole Planet Foundation as well.
Each year, Whole Planet Foundation (WPF) invites its top donors to go into the field (3 cities in Thailand, in this case) to visit microcredit clients and see how a simple investment in their lives has generated abundant results and prosperity for them and their families and villages. This was my first big international trip (and certainly my first time to the other side of the planet!), so I wanted to share a bit of what I saw and experienced while I was in Thailand.
The most incredible experience from my trip was my time spent with the microcredit clients. We drove into these villages and as we did, what I saw out of my window was some of the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen – which stood in stark contrast to the abject poverty that many of the villages live in. As we unloaded in the first village, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We unloaded and what I saw was that we were guests of honor for the day! We filed into the community building and the village leaders and credit clients shared stories with us about how the investments they had received had been used and how their lives had been changed. Some of the women had been able to invest in beads and as a result were making beaded crafts that they were then able to sell in local markets or in the large weekend market in Bangkok. A few of the clients had been able to move into farming (and several of us ate their rice and bananas – delicious!). One woman had built a loom and begun weaving silk into cloth. Regardless of what category of commerce they were engaging in, the common thread was that they were now able to manage their own small businesses and the resulting income was beginning to change their lives.
Some other stand-out experiences
The FOOD! I had read horror stories about people falling ill while travelling, so I packed a bunch of Clif bars and braced myself for the worst. However, the food was amazing! While the restaurants we ate at were great, the best food I had was prepared for the team by our local hosts. The rice and fresh vegetables and curries were delicious – and I even tried a new fruit (like the rambutan pictured below). It opened up and tasted a little like a fleshier version of a grape inside ̶ yum! Tamarind and lychee were also new favorites.
The HIKE! On our last day in Chiang Mai, we went as a team on a hike up to a village. The hike was quite an adventure, through cornfields, across thatch bridges and logs. It got even more exciting when we discovered that the road we were supposed to walk along had washed away in the recent rains! So we hiked along (and sometimes THROUGH) the river to an incredible village on the side of the mountain to meet some of the most gracious hosts I have even encountered.
The SILK! I have to be honest – I had never given a moment’s thought as to how silk was made. In one of the villages we visited, one of the clients not only wove incredibly beautiful fabrics from silk, but also made the silk herself. They raised the silkworms (the yellow pods), harvested the silk, washed and dyed it and then wove it on a massive loom that they had made themselves. Talk about scrappy ingenuity!
The ELEPHANTS! I can’t begin to tell you what a wild experience it was to see elephants “out and about” (read: not in a zoo). We saw a few walking along the side of the road – and I even got to climb atop one of the villager’s pet elephants.
The FRIENDS! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed-up to travel with a group of people I had never met before. It really felt a bit like freshman orientation week before you go off to university. We shared some incredible experiences together and became “thick as thieves” by the end of the week.
Thailand is truly a developing nation, a place where families live in simple huts (often on stilts) with livestock milling around. It is a place where even the locals won’t drink any running water they have access to and bathrooms are… rudimentary at best. They live very simply in most of the country in what most Americans would consider impoverished conditions. However, the work that WPF is doing (supported by an entire network of Whole Foods Market supplier partners, stores, team members and customers) is changing lives. In Surin, for example, we spent time with a few different clients. In the first village we were able to meet with several clients who had used their funding to create several different business, including beading craftwork, weaving and farming.
What I saw that was the most amazing (and what I still see when I remember my trip) is the hope in the eyes of the adults and children – something that really resonated with me as a parent. These are people and parents who were not sure how they would be able to care for their families. Now they have businesses and are able to sell their wares and improve the quality of life for their families. These mothers and fathers were grinning ear-to-ear as they told us (through translators) about the changes that had taken place in their families and villages and their hope for even better futures for themselves and their children. The children looked at their parents with smiles as we were introduced to them which really added another layer of richness to this experience. There is no greater treasure that can be bestowed upon a child than the gift of hope – hope for a better life and maybe even more opportunities.