That We May All Live Together
Asian Rural Institute (ARI) Women Farmers Share their Wisdom
Three of the ten United Methodist Women supported-delegates to the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations (CSW), Naw Lee Myar from Myanmar, Judith F. Daka from Zambia, and Tomoko Arakawa from Japan, attended the international meeting through the United Methodist Church partner, the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in Japan.
First International Gathering
A highlight for the women was the location of the side events, the Church Center of the United Nations (CCUN). “The [United Methodist] women own this building, [the CCUN], and the women have big power,” marveled Ms. Myar. “This has impressed me.” Hundreds of workshops, panels and discussion circles on topics related to rural women were held at the CCUN.
This was Ms. Daka’s and Ms. Myar’s first time traveling to the US and to the vast international women’s meeting. “We have so many things the same,” Ms. Daka said, surprised. “We didn’t know there was poverty in so many countries.”
Ms. Arakawa learned about the “effect and impact of migration around the world. And I learned about the strength of civil society in the U.S. The young people and the women need to learn this in Japan. We need to motivate, especially young women.”
Awareness of Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence
Ms. Myar mentioned that one issue that needed further attention at the international forum was the widespread destruction of communities through substance abuse. Community farmers in Myanmar have replaced crops of traditional fruits and vegetables with poppy for opium production, sowing poverty, conflict and addiction in the fields, rather than nutritious foods.
Ms. Daka agreed that widespread substance abuse is a problem in Zambia as well; unemployed men guzzle small and inexpensive bottles of beer that have a high content of alcohol. The escalating alcoholism leads to the disintegration of family life and an increase in domestic abuse.
“In rural communities, a man can beat a woman and it’s okay,” said Ms. Daka, who advocates for government policies to protect women, create awareness and cultivate a community-wide culture of sharing and caring. “Women are caring for the men and for everyone else,” Ms. Daka said.
The ARI Community and Equality
The rural community leaders, Ms. Daka, Ms. Myar and Ms. Arakawa, who attended as part of the United Methodist Women delegation were prepared to lead because of their training at ARI in Japan.
“Love God, love nature, love one another, love the soil,” said Ms. Myar, who quoted ARI’s theme: “That we may live together.”
An impressive outcome for Ms. Myar from her nine months of working and studying at ARI was the “gender-balanced” chores. Men and women shared equally in responsibilities – whether they were housekeeping or caring for livestock. Everyone at ARI works, eats and studies together.
“Farm work is often harder on men than on women,” Ms. Daka said, “Everybody must put their status in their pocket when they arrive (at ARI).” And the challenges and joys of rural living is often a new experience for people of all ages. “Many young people touch the soil for the first time when they attend ARI,” Ms. Daka said.
All three of these women farmers expressed the joy they felt, living and working in rural communities. “A lot of people love the simple life - no stress, no competition. There’s fresh air and happiness in rural life,” Ms. Arakawa said.
The United Methodist ARI Connection
Ms. Daka and Ms. Myar look forward to reconnecting with Ms. Arakawa and one another in 2013 when ARI celebrates its 40-year anniversary. The United Methodist Church was a founding partner at ARI through UMCOR, (the United Methodist Committee on Relief). The connection with the United Methodist Church remains strong. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, “UMCOR really, really helped with tremendous support,” said Ms. Arakawa.
“And United Methodist Women is supporting international leaders; we look forward to receiving two women farmers from Haiti who will soon be traveling to ARI,” Ms. Arakawa said.
Another United Methodist connection to ARI is through the work of the General Board of Global Ministries missionary, Jonathan McCurley, who helps train and support organic farmers, as well as connects with local Japanese interfaith organizations.
ARI trains farmers from all over the world in Northern Japan in a nine-month course to hone their leadership and agricultural skills. ARI is a grassroots community that values and nurtures small-scale farmers as they seek to build peace on behalf of poor, hungry and marginalized communities the world over.
Mary Beth Coudal is a writer for the Women's Division.