After nearly half a century of intermittent isolation, Burma is now open for business. Can Burma learn from the mistakes of other countries as it rapidly emerges onto the global commerce stage? Doing so would help it avoid the environmental degradation and social inequality issues so easy to spot in other rapidly developing countries. A fundamental hope is that a gentler, more inclusive form of capitalism will take root, one that enables the larger desperately poor population to gain a foothold into the middle class.
Techtona is engaged in this kind of localized Corporate Social Responsibility. The first example relates to our employees. Everything we sell is made in Burma by local designers and carpenters who understand how to work with reclaimed teak and ironwood better than anyone else. We are not loading the wood into containers and shipping around the world to be milled elsewhere-we do that in Burma and thereby support real artisans and their families. But beyond creating jobs in our own industry which directly helps our business, there is more that we are doing that has nothing to do with our business.
COVID-19 Update: To date (June 2020) Burma, much like Vietnam and Cambodia, has been spared catastrophic human loss of life from the pandemic. Nevertheless the human and animal suffering caused by COVID-19 grows by the day in Burma. Millions have lost jobs in the garment, tourism and other industries. Our elephant camps in upper Burma are closed for the time being and our mahouts and elephants are focused on other temporary employment. Because Burma’s secondary forests are still largely intact elephants can forage as they have always done and there is no danger of starvation. Thankfully Burmese elephant related tourism is young and because of this elephants and mahouts only rely on tourism for part of their yearly income. Yet poaching of wildlife has spiked in Burma and elsewhere due to economic hardship many are experiencing due to the pandemic. A joint effort by the Gov of Burma and international NGOs is underway to address this. This highlights the need to insure that tourism never becomes more than one of several tools in a larger toolkit that local people employ to insure life sustaining income. The carved jenga sets, carved dolphins and carved teak tiles -all sold on this website made from reclaimed materials is one of the ways Techtona is insuring we are able to continue to support Burma’s fragile economic rise.
The Irrawaddy Dolphin
Techtona is deeply committed to the environment of Burma. In the rush towards capitalism, the environment and low-income people are often the first casualties. Burma is bisected by two great rivers, the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin. These rivers are the source of life and livelihood for many local people. They make their living fishing these rivers and anything beyond what they need to feed their families, is sold to local fish markets. They are forced to compete will illegal fishermen who use damaging drift nets and illegal electric shock methods to catch fish in large, unsustainable amounts. This has taken a massive toll on fish stocks of both rivers. One of the largest mammals that has been brought to the brink of extinction by these illegal practices is the Irrawaddy dolphin. These dolphins grow over six feet in length and have one of the most endearing facial expressions of pure joy ever to occur in nature. Tragically, they are often caught in nets or the victim of electric shocks methods of fishing catching mentioned above.
Reclaimed teak driftwood dolphins
We have been working with these fishermen to help preserve their way of life and the symbiotic relationship with the dolphins in a number of ways including direct donations via a local NGO focused on this issue called Grow Back for Posterity and addressing their livelihood needs. These villagers, located in known dolphin areas along the Irrawaddy River, are master carvers and we have begun a small cottage industry with them wherein they use teak driftwood to carve small dolphins figurines and the decorative sticks they use to call in the dolphins. We assist in getting them to market. All profits from the purchase of these are given directly to the local village co-op that creates the items. This income is more than token-it goes a long way to enhancing the lives of these people who live hand to mouth. This also greatly reinforces their interest in protecting the Irrawaddy dolphins which of course preserves the delicate relationship their ancestors created with this incredibly smart mammal. If you would like to order these reclaimed teak drift wood dolphins and have your purchase tax deductible through a partner US based Charity, it is possible. Please click here for more information.
Today there are perhaps 5,000 timber elephants in Burma. Of these as many as 2,500 are out of work. The much-needed moratorium on logging old growth forests is the cause of this unemployment. It will be years, if ever, before timber elephants at that scale are needed again. It is costly to care for an elephant. Up to 600 lbs. of fodder a day are needed to feed a full grown Asian elephant. Elephants need near constant care in the form of health check-ups and medicine. Perhaps most importantly, daily interaction with their mahout (person who rides, guides and cares for the elephant on a daily basis) is also critical to keeping the elephant from going feral. The government of Burma has limited means to pay for furloughed elephants and salaries for their mahouts. The burden of financial care increasingly falls on mahouts who must care for the elephants and their families. Many of these mahouts are young and the temptation to leave this ancient way of life as elephant steward is strong given the promise of work in the cities. Abandoned elephants quickly get into conflict with humans because they are not afraid of humans. They eat crops, upset farmers, trample houses and sometimes people. This can only be averted through stewardship by mahouts.
Our goal has been to help local entities create alternative income strategies for both the unemployed timber elephants and their mahouts. This has been done through assisting in the creation of elephant tourism circuits in which elephants and their mahouts accompany tourists on circuits through the forests sleeping in traditional bungalows and tented camps. A portion of all proceeds from these trips goes to the mahouts for elephant care.
Reclaimed Teak Jenga Sets
Asian elephants have for generations hauled teak and other hardwoods from the forests of Burma. There is little in the way of this kind of traditional work left in Burma. Another way we are helping support both Mahouts and their elephants is through selling unique reclaimed teak jenga sets. These 54-piece, 15-inch tall jenga sets are hand made in Burma from old growth, reclaimed teak cut-off ends. The salvaged timbers used to create these sets is stunning and ranges between 50 and 150 years old. 20% of profit from the sale of these sets go directly to Mahouts in northern Burma in order to help them cover the daily costs of elephant keeping. This is an immediately tangible way to help these Mahouts in upper Burma continue to look after these captive Asian elephants. For more information on how to order these jenga sets from our US office, please contact us.
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