Agricultural & Community Development

OUR GOAL: to reduce hunger and poverty for hundreds of farming families in Asia by increasing agriculture in a sustainable way and bringing greater access to markets.

An Unlikely Location

The residents of the tiny village of Desa Kecil are unlikely employees. They own no property and earn a paltry amount of money by working other peoples’ land and driving for an informal motorcycle taxi service. It is unprecedented for them to have a consistent fair paying job within walking distance. Maryam is one such villager. She married in her teens as many do and now has two children. Her husband makes pennies by shuttling people in and out of the village to the main road on his rickety motorbike.  For several years, Maryam has struggled to find ways to supplement their family income in order to buy rice, not to mention clothes and books for her children who are now school age. When Solbon arrived and began engaging her community about working together to make Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO), she was busy working daily from dawn until dusk spinning rope for a wealthy businessman, making around one-third of minimum wage. Being the only employment available for women in her village, no one made too much fuss about the hours or pay.

A Model Employee

When the VCO facility was finished and it was time to find employees, Maryam arrived early to the meeting and was front and center, ready for anything.  During her first shift, Solbon personnel and their local partners quickly took notice of Maryam’s initiative.  She worked with a spring in her step, caught on quickly, and confused her employers by being back to work within ten minutes of being let off for lunch break! Now after two months of work, Maryam has become a vocal leader among employees and brings an infectious energy to work which makes others around her better.  Never had she dreamed of having a consistent, fair-paying job in her own village close to her family, and she is taking full advantage of it.  She has taken a step that will likely change the lives of her children, as she is now able to afford the education and nutrition they need to have brighter opportunities than she had.  She is grateful for the chance at a better life and exhibits it by never complaining and always remaining positive.

Our Solbon worker describes all of the employees of the VCO facility as “grateful, good workers, and fun people.” Most never went to high school. The method of VCO production being used in the village, direct micro-expelling, is quite simple – almost anyone can be taught. Furthermore, it integrates into a village as opposed to a factory, and empowers women.  Our Solbon workers anticipate that the smaller scale and relatively low capital will allow them to expand into a network of village facilities, supporting one another and marketing together.

Long Term Rewards

However, providing employment for impoverished people from the lowest financial and social class does not flip a switch that changes them and solves their problems.  They have little to no knowledge of health and hygiene, they have no bathrooms in their homes, many of their children die young, they don’t get educated, and they have no confidence with which to break the cycle of poverty.  Also, they are not used to having disposable income and, therefore, often make unwise decisions with their newly acquired wages.  Our Solbon workers have seen people using the money for things like gambling or switching to a more expensive brand of cigarette.

They are working to obtain the resources necessary to focus on some of the bigger social issues, not just provide villagers with work.  After all what good have we done if we just create a new market for expensive cigarettes, instant noodles, and candy for crying children?  In the coming years, Solbon would like to hire two national people who are trained and experienced in community development. These people would be free to invest in the community full-time, walking alongside villagers to educate, identify problems, and work with people toward creative and sustainable solutions. Solbon hopes that the VCO facility is only the beginning of the transformation that will happen in the lives of Maryam, her family, and the hundreds of other needy people in her village.