While in Bangkok I received an email from a friend in Burma inviting myself and an architect friend to accompany him on a visit to a monastery, when we returned to Burma in the near future.
The head monk at the monastery was an inspiring man. He had won a National Environmental Award for his project of collecting seeds from the jungle, germinating them and then giving away trees to villages and other monasteries. He was driven and made things happen in no time, so had already achieved a lot on his compound.
Once our visas and flights were in order we flew to Mandalay to meet our friend the educator and organised another friend with car to take us to this isolated monastery in the dry zone.
It was one days travel through lovely country dotted with traditional villages and despite being called the dry zone, in fact it has a good smattering of shrubs and trees.
The head monk was able to acquire Government permission for us to stay at the monastery. The compound was in a beautiful setting with views of Mt. Poppa in the distance and the visual
effects of its eruptions could be seen in the land.
In the compound was a monastic School, two orphanages and many monks and dogs. I always see the monasteries and monks as the welfare of the country, providing homes and education for the less fortunate as well as a place for climate victims and stray animals to be cared for.
We were welcomed by the head monk and shown around the property.
Already there were many plantings of trees for timber and firewood interspersed with leguminous trees commonly seen there such as acacia. There were large nurseries for propagation and beyond them were productive trees under-planted with herbs and pumpkins. There was also an area of Dragon fruit which is an interesting crop of cacti with delicious edible fruit.
We went up hill to a site where the monk wants an echo training centre, with accommodation built from bamboo. Here my friends' skills came to the fore as they are keen to use bamboo for building etc. and are setting up training areas to teach the local people to preserve the bamboo so the buildings will last a lot longer.
The day was closing in and so was exhaustion but it was time to sort out sleeping and bathing areas.
A kind monk gave up his private bedroom for me and I was given two cute little girls to take care of anything I needed. They also slept with me and kept me tucked up through the night.
We had a wonderful feast cooked on site and then followed more discussion of what we had seen on the land and suggestions on more sustainable practices and zero waste goals which would automatically affect the community who make donations to the Monks.
After a restless night with hot winds blowing through the grilled windows, it was a 4am rising and later a delicious breakfast and another walk over newly planted areas outside of the compound.
This land had been left exposed to the elements, with no growth on top, the top soil has washed away and the sun has parched the land making it lifeless and difficult to work with.
Machinery had been brought in to dig holes for tree planting but this has added to compaction making it difficult for plants to grow. We had more discussions on composting, growing bio mass and mulching, building designs, as well as a filter system for recycling grey water which runs freely on the compound. Ways to resurrect the barren land and plans for future plantings were suggested. We left the compound and headed to the nearest town to check out the bamboo available for building. Then it was onto another town where friends have a restaurant and we stayed up into the night recording ideas and writing reports. We have since sent our client designs and information on some systems to put into place. There is a possibility that there will be more design work for eco-schools in monasteries in the future.