A Thai Girl’s Chance Encounter With An American Nun

One can never tall what can happen after a chance meeting between two strangers inside a bus. Like the chance encounter inside a bus in Bangkok in 1980 between an American nun and a young girl student.

The two were seatmates and engaged in a converstion. The nun, Sister Francis Xavier Bell of New York, told her seatmate that she was from Zonta Internationl, an NGO that was helping poor farmers in Thailand. The girl got excited and told Sister Francis that she was taking up agriculture in college. Could she work for her after graduation?

Cows raised by members of the Zonta Chombung Dairy Cooperative.
Sister Francis Xavier Bell of Zonta International who recruited Jum to help develop the Zonta Village.
Jum, holding a copy of Agriculture Magazine, is the girl who sat beside Sister Francis Xavier Bell inside a bus in Bangkok more than 30 years ago.

Sure. The nun was simply too glad to hear the offer. And so in 1981, the girl, Supaksiri Pholkunakorn, started to work for Sister Francis. Her assignment was to develop a 400-hectare land allocated by the government to resettle landless families from Bangkok.

The girl who was later simply called Jum by everyone who knew her, reported to Sister Francis that the soil was unproductive. Only a few bushes and lots of grasses grew. The good sister then suggested that since there were grasses, the settlers should raise cattle. To which Jum protested. She said that most Thais were Buddishts and would not kill the cows.

Jum and her assistant pose with grass harvested for feeding her own dairy cows.
Milk collection being delivered to the processing plant.

Sister Francis retorted: โ€œThen they should raise dairy cows. And that was the beginning of the Zonta Chombung Dairy Cooperative in Tatchaburi province, some 130 kilometers southewest of Bangkok. Jum helped the first three landless families from Bangkok to settle in Chombung.

We visited the settlement in May 2011 together with a delegation from the Department of Agriculture. We were impressed by the developments. Twenty five of the 50 settlers have become successful dairy farmers. The co-op members were producing between 2,500 and 5,000 liters of milk every day which was processed in a small but well-equipped processing plant right inside the village. On the average, the monthly production was worth the equivalent of P1.4 million in Philippine money. Thatโ€™s a significant amount of purchasing power in a village of once-landless families.

The processing plant makes ice cream.
Jum and Asst. DA Sec. Davinio Catbagan, one of the participants in the tour of dairy farms in Thailand in 2011.

To equip Jum with adequate dairying know-how, Zonta International sent her to Australia and New Zealand to train on dairy production, animal nutrition, artificial insemination, pasture management, milk processing and other things related to dairying.

Now you see, it pays to talk to your stranger seatmate while traveling in a bus, or any public transport system for that matter. (Zac B. Sarian, Memoirs of an Agri Journalist)

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