Mushrooms a weapon in Samaritan’s Purse’s battle against human trafficking

September 29, 2015

Samaritan's Purse is equipping local village leaders, pastors, school principals, and business owners with knowledge and providing livelihood projects for poor families, like growing mushrooms or raising chickens, at-risk communities are better able to protect themselves.

Water for Kids Teams trip participants often learn, if they are building and installing water filters in northwestern Cambodia, about some of Samaritan’s Purse’s other work in that part of the world.

That can mean visiting communities near Cambodia’s border with Thailand where residents are so chronically poor (earning only $2 or $3 a day) that many are forced to go to Thailand in search of work to feed their families. When crossing the border, many Cambodians are exploited and trafficked by unscrupulous traders.

In response, Samaritan’s Purse is training Cambodians to avoid being trafficked, and helping them generate more income locally so they aren’t forced to leave Cambodia in search of work.

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One of the income-generating enterprises is growing mushrooms for sale at local and regional markets and restaurants.

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The first step in mushroom farming is laying down a waterproof tarp and raising up the sides so it forms a basin.

Pov Chae and her husband Yeung Ha are one of 992 families so far in northwestern Cambodia that Samaritan’s Purse has trained to grow mushrooms. The enterprising couple has discovered that a $5 investment in mushroom spores and water, combined with some hard work, will generate a $25 to $35 harvest every two weeks, which nicely supplementing their other income from raising chickens and pigs.

A Water for Kids Team provided free labor recently to help the quiet-spoken couple plant another mushroom crop—and to help the visiting Canadians learn exactly what’s involved in growing them.

The first step, team participants quickly learned, is to lay down a waterproof tarp and raise up the sides so it forms a basin. Then the team filled it.

Into the basin the Canadian volunteers dumped lots of nutrient-rich rice straw, then mashed and saturated it, using their feet.

 

Then the team rolled the rice straw into small bundles.

 

And laid them down to form a long growing bed.

While the straw was being mashed, rolled, and laid down, a couple of team members were mixing the mushroom spores (similar to seeds) with moist soil.

Some Canadians spread the mushroom spores and soil across the top of the straw bed.

 

Then the team formed more rice straw into rolls and laid another layer on top of the mushroom spores.

 

Chae and her husband Ha, who’d been watching and encouraging the team throughout the entire process, covered the straw bed with thatch to help retain moisture and minimize the sun’s glare.

They invited us to walk a short distance to another mushroom bed, and temporarily removed the thatch covering to show us how mushrooms were already starting to poke their way through the straw. 

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The thatch covers the mushroom beds.

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Mushrooms are already starting to poke their way through the straw.

Some Cambodian families have been so successful at growing mushrooms that they’ve been able to “call people home from Thailand because they’re earning enough income here in Cambodia,” said Barry Jessen, who leads Samaritan’s Purse’s anti-trafficking efforts in the region.

“There will always be human trafficking,” Jessen concedes. “I don’t think we’ll ever stop it completely, but the work we’re doing here in Cambodia is equipping this generation to empower their children so they won’t be trafficked.

“And when we empower people materially, we also share Christianity with them so that no matter how difficult their life is for them here, they can still look forward to Heaven someday.”

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