Soutsada Chanthasiri post blog on 26 May 2014

Economic Empowerment Fellows Program(EEP)

My name is Ms. Soutsada Chanthasiri,

I live in Vientiane Capital, Laos responsible to day 26 May 2014.

· I’m the team leader of the Development Environment Community Association (DECA), which is a local non-for-profit organization. Our organization is aiming for empowering community development through building-up capacity and skills. We support the environmental preservation and sustainable development. Also, DECA is promoting income generation activities such as agriculture, livestock, non-timber forestry products, handicrafts and organic farming with environmental friendly practices.

· This is my first time being here in Montana, but it is my second time being in the US. Previously I had visited relatives in Washington, DC. As per my understanding, America is a country of democracy, rules of law, diversity of ethnicities, beliefs, cultures and lifestyles — living peacefully together. All American people are equal by law and constitution. The people are mutually respected. This is what I expected to find, and I did.

· Montana is a state that has approximately 1,000,000 citizens. Missoula is city of approximately 109,494 people and is well developed in terms of economy and environment. The city map is well designed, the buildings are not too high, it is very clean & beautiful city. The people are kind, with good hearts as they are always keen to assist the foreign visitors in whatever the needs are such as answering the questions, giving the advices, etc. After leaving Missoula, we came to Helena, the Capital City of Montana. To me, it appears very similar to Missoula, with nice clean buildings, friendly people, and good environment. But it is different because of the state capital – we visited many state government offices and toured the old capital buildings.

· I’m learning so much from my journey within this program. Generally, I better understand the gaps between the United States and Laos (well developed and underdeveloped). Here there are well-developed systems, and management is organized and good. These are good examples that I can use, through the programs at DECA, at home to help our rural community development.

· I see the importance of strengthening the small scale economy. I learned so much from my visits to small businesses. For example, there are many organizations here to help small businesses start-up, grow and succeed. They offer loans, technical support and business planning and management ideas.

· I also learn so much from Kelsey, Heather, Deena, and others from the EEP. They are great examples for us – showing how to be excellent managers. I really admire the skills and knowledge of the EEP Manager – specifically communication with the fellows. We are always well-informed (providing details about all aspects of the program, host families, etc.). Everything is so organized and prepared for us. We get information every day, always knowing what we are doing and why. These are skills we can develop as good managers of our programs.

· EEP provides a great learning opportunity for me (both as the leader of DECA as well as the development learner from the poor country) to exchange knowledge/experience with others coming from around the world. EEP has connected me to the network of experts from Southeast Asia, with solidarity with these Asian countries and the United States.

· EEP provides me ‘added value’ knowledge, professional capacity, and enriches my thinking/ideas to better understand about young business and to know that the learning with foreign friends and multi-cultural exchanges are so important for the American people.

On 13 of May:

· We met with the business resources team (10 people including Heather, our professional fellowship host). We discussed/shared the opportunities & challenges we have faced in our work places.

· After that we visited Elementary School to present our project. I was happy that many students asked very interesting questions related to their daily life experiences and that are excited for me to reply because I used to be the kid, who was keen to know and learn everything. Their questions are as follows:

· How do you come here?

· What kind of animals are you having in your country?

· How many boy go to school?

· How did you build your house?

· What kind of Job are you doing?

· Do you have a pet?

· How do you decorate your jewelery?

14 of May:

· In the Park Avenue building, we updated the presentation about Lao culture for elementary school in Helena city. We had observed that the children in this school are very active and eager to learn from us, that they asked many questions related to their real life activities. So we added these kinds of details to our presentations. In addition to that, we believe that this EEP is very well designed to provide open forums for learning — not only for us ‘adult’ but also for the younger generations as well. Some of their questions are also addressing the social and political issues such as:

· Why your country call Laos?

· Any impacts from Vietnam War are affecting Laos?

· Does your country interface with any natural disasters like typhoons, hurricanes, and so on?

· What kind of wildlife does your country have?

· How/who do your build your house?

· What kind of food that your community do like most?

· What should we do before taking the food?

· Do you have pet? Do you have or play video games?

· In the community where do they get the water? In your country, is the water clean?

· What kind structure of the government do you have or state leaders?

· State Capital tour in Helena, with a group of high school students. I learned many things from this activity that included the history as well as to the younger generation sharing the history values with us — the visitors.

· With Pro Fellows: Visit Ms. Nancy Matheson Special projects coordinator, Agriculture Marketing and Business Development. With this visit, we learned that the project can provide support to agriculture ‘organic agriculture’ sector, small and medium enterprises, and provide grants from USD 2,500 up to USD 100,000. We met with Ms MARLEE IVERSON TRAVEL TRADE MANAGER, who mainly provided all necessary travelling information, marketing database, etc. to the agriculture businesses.

On 15 of May:

· Meet Executive Director of Montana Business Assistance Connection; Mr. Chris Shove. They support loans for business and technical support. He receives the financial support from the government, charity & foundation, and then gives loans to other interested groups/agencies (business people, NGOs, small factory). MBAC charges 2% of interest rate per month from the borrowers. The loans released amounted 4 to 5 million US dollars per year. As of today, this microcredit institute/bank has about 100 clients/loans, among this about 80% of them have been succeeded. Mr. Chris makes the borrowing/lending process very easy for the small business. Keeping it uncomplicated helps these small businesses to be successful.

· Meet Mr Tom White — Lender Relation Specialist for US Small Business Administration, Montana office. they are support loan for running business in Montana. We only had a short meeting here, because we had another appointment

· Meet Ms. Lora Behlmer, Nature’s Topicals and Tea. This small business packages and markets organic products. She is very active to be running business and she has an extensive network with international businesses, because she orders supplies from all over the world.

Host family.

· During the summer in Montana, the day time is longer than the night time. It means that about at 10:00pm, the sun will set, which is behind the time in DC about 2 hours. I personally observe that this family culture is beautiful and warm. The parents and children talk a lot and respect each other. The parent and kids are mutually consulted on many issues and concerns related to daily life activities. All questions are always found the answers. Similarly, I can see that the learning process is taking place not only in school but at home as well, where the parents are the teachers. The daily reflection discussion takes place just after the meals, in which, all are equal and have a chance to express their feelings, thinking, appreciations, and learning experiences gone throughout the day.

· Before 7am in the morning, everyone gets ready for travelling with one vehicle/car to drive the 30 minutes into town for work and school. Furthermore, I also noticed that the kids below 15 years old do not have or use the mobile phone, no Facebook, no external social medial relationship to take the time and focus outside the family. The family culture is to be together, talking face-to-face, playing games together, and spending time doing activities together. This atmosphere is essential for everyone at home, especially the parents; they are always striving to be the ‘role model’. At home, all have together prepared the food, washed the plates, clean-up the tables and say ‘Big Thank’ before taking the meals. After meals, everyone is free and do what they want privately, but usually in the home and reading real books, playing board games – not so much technology.

· For the week-end/holiday, the family members are used to wake-up quite late at around 10 am. And then each of them has to complete their daily activities/chores as planned earlier. There is a lot of joking and laughter. Even when the parents are asking the kids to do activities, they try to make it fun and interesting. Activities around the home are mainly about the physical exercise like walking to the mountains, gardening, house cleaning, and feeding animals.

· Lesson learned: Personally I do really admire this family preserving the beautiful culture and disciplinary. And that is the core of making family happiness.

On 16 of May:

· At the Department of Commerce, we have met with Ms. Lonnie Stimac, Senior Marketing Officer, International Trade and Relation Bureau and Ms. Sue Clark-Jones CMP Made in Montana Membership Coordinator, Business Resources Division. Today, about 2,500 people are the members of Business Resources Division, and these people receive the helps with promoting (logo designing, advertising the products for customers). Additionally, the Business Resource Division also provide other support services to their members that include advice, ideas of the enterprises, product design and marketing brand names, client services, setting-up fairs and events in different places, such as Airport, Trade Fair. All these services are free of charges for the members. One remark that I can add that Ms. Lonnie Stimac is also helping Saoban shop (PADETC’s alliance) with business concepts and implementation. She plans to visit Saoban Shop in Vientiane Laos on 21st May 2014. For sure, she will meet with the executive director of PADETC to discover the further possibilities of cooperation and business development with the potentials in Laos.

Lesson learnt: I have learn that to do any good business, we must have deepest knowledge about the interconnected between the products and its quality, marketing, and trade mark, and network.

· Meeting with Ms. Ann Desch SBDC, State Director Montana Small Business Development Center Network and Ms. Lori Gilliland Montana SBDC, Associate Director Small Business Development Center Network. The center network provides loads for start-up and running businesses, and it currently supports 63 projects operated in Montana and providing the loans with technical supports lasting period for 7 years. At least once per year, the staff/officer of the center network will conduct field monitoring visits to support and assess the progress of businesses.

Lesson learnt: I do see that the operations of DCN are fully in line with the banking system, which provides not only the loans to the entrepreneurs, but also technical supports. But the unique/difference is that DCN received the funding support from the government, while for the others it has to write-up the proposals and submit with the request for funding support. That will take at least 7 years for government approval prior to receiving budgets. In regard to the M&E, DCN will undertake M&E on annual basis, but for the database, DCN has to update the database system on quarterly basis. With these information and databases, DCN will use for further development/improvement of the businesses of the entrepreneurs.

· Meeting at the Tentative Energy Resource (TER). TER is promoting the resource consecration and local economic vitality. Currently, it has 10 projects and 550 members are under it responsibility. TER is operated as civil society organization, and estimated 50% of TER’s operational budget is supported by various foundations, and other 50% is realized on the contribution for its members (each member has compulsory to pay 40$ per year). TER has a sound monitoring system in place providing regular supports to the small entrepreneurs in the communities. TER has the governing board committee with 12 board members, who also contribute to the TER with an amounted of USD 100 up to USD 1,000. As part of their duties, the board members are engaged to attend the annual meetings organized 4 times per year, if not the telephone calls are to be alternative way of communications between the board and TER. All TER’s benefits/incomes are equally shared with its members and staff

Lesson learnt: Good governance and management structure/system are crucial for leading to the success. Fair with equal sharing benefits are important to leverage the ownerships of staff members.

On 17 of May:

In host family Ms. Cheri Long is the pottery/ceramic producer for over 25 years. All the pottery/ceramic products are handmade, out of them 30 different styles of products are on sell in various shows and galleries.

· I have learned how to make the cup and plate and also I made it successfully.

· As part of physical exercise, we have cycled with the two kids of the host family and we have enjoyed very much!

· On the next day we had to continue step two of the pottery. We decorated our cup and plate.

And we are also Together went to cathedral/church located about 20km far from our home

Returning home at about 7:30pm, we all are hungry and we are quickly preparing the dinner,

that include Hamburger, fried vegetable

Last activity in the day is to view the photos of the wildlife in that area.

Lesson learnt: For my idea this activity is part of income generation and helps the family to be sustainable. This is useful for my work.

Again thank you for give me opportunity to learn more from EE program.

Creating good and friendship environment is needed for a healthy/happy family. The knowledge transfer/learning activity within the family can shape future of the kids whom to become.

On 18 of May:

· After the breakfast, we continue to do the step two, that is to decorate the pottery, caps and plates.

· Together with Nadine & Levi, we worked in the garden and after that we come back home to cook for our lunch. The last activity of the day is walking up to the mountain, and there we played with snow and skated-down to lower land of the mountain. That was very good and enjoyable exercise activity.

Lesson learnt: I do feel that I’m one of the members of the host family. I appreciated very much to learn about family life style with family culture and responsibilities of each family member. In addition, the family has also earned the good incomes from selling the pottery, and ceramics. More importantly, all family members have a very spirit that is mutual respects, mutual helps and supports others.

On 19 of May:

· We travel to Bozeman and met with the Director of Montana Women’s Business Center. Ms. Amanda Schultz. Historically, the WBC established in 1985 as the Gallatin development corporation, the key services were to provide the assistance starting with business planning, financing, marketing and other. Today, WBC has 10 board advisers and 175 members, and WBC receive the membership fee for each member about 250$/person/year. Currently, WBC also provides good supports to women businesses.

Lesson learnt: WBC has strong HR management system and that apply for all staff, including the seniors and managers. For the new start-up businesses, WBC will be playing an important role in providing the advices, business planning, knowledge and good courage to run the business.

On 20 of May:

· We had visited with Lil Erickson, Rob, and Margi of the Western Sustainability Exchange in Livingston. Many wise words from Lil who has built her organization on finding and preserving and incentivizing common ground in agriculture and livestock. They established their organization for about 20 years and faced so many challenges as such, convincing the people’s interest to join the activities and lacking of sources of funding, etc.

· Among of the WSE’ activities, I’m interested to learn on how to support the communities with promoting their product and good quality, packaging the products, and marketing. The school children have also participated in WSE’s activities after the school hours, as these activities are interlinked with the work they do.

Lesson learnt: There are a number of similarities with my current work related to community development with participatory process. It means, we must spend times with the community, learn from them, building the trust through consultations and discussions with them etc. More importantly, as part of learning process, WSE has provided the space for children/parent to come in and play their roles in the business process.

On 21 of May:

· We visited the Montana fish company. A lot of food products are in the stock of company such as: cow meat, pork meat, fish, seafood, and the farmer products. All these food products are available on sell in the public markets, schools, hospitals, universities, and other public places.

Lesson learnt: I’m better understood about the market supply chain (between the producer groups and markets), keep good contacts with the producers and the techniques on how to keep good quality of products until the selling stage.

On 22 of May:

· We are working in Montana Department of Commerce , Ms. Heather office and at the lunch time We have Basi ceremony for Ms. Heather and her team and also we had big lunch together about 15 people came to join. We are all enjoy with simple ceremony, some magic came and sing a song together the name song meaningful solidarity.

· The meaning of ceremony make people solidarity, happiness and also wish people have good luck.

On 23 of May:

· We had visit Ms. Linda Micure, she run business of 7 mile creek farm, Ooh La La goat milk soap. He made hand product and get so many materials from he farms such as goats milk and some equipment from wild noe chemicals. Her products are more than 10 species, up to the season she have equipment. The Key customers it is market, individual and children.

· Afternoon we had visit two store they sale product recycle and handicraft is very useful for my work.

I have learning from this: the antique/old material they use and decide for sale is very interesting and that good Idea for save natural (save life and save world).

· We had visit library. That is comfortable, facility and discipline a for the public who need to use time for relax. Some place can set and some place for the kid. I take a lot of picture will shear with my project.

On 24 of May:

· In host family. We traveled to Montana Jackson hot spring for the swimming, lunch and Play shuffleboard board. And also we when to BANNACK park. We had learn a lots about the histories of BANNACK.

· Mr. Levi Long read and expand more about Guide book. Help us understanding about a rich and colorful history. Since the first gold was taken from the gravels of the grasshopper creek to the present day.

On 25 of May:

We have finish step 7 of the make cup and plate(color paint) and also finish to plant some of vegetable and the last activities we have small party and together with dinner in the host family.

On 26 of May:

We have finish step 8 of the make cup and plate(to burn) and also We have Basi ceremony we had big dinner together about 8 people came to join. We are all enjoy with simple ceremony, Lao dancing and American dancing. The meaningful, thank you host family, solidarity and say goodbye.

Best regard,

Soutsada Chanthsiri

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