Sometimes it is breathtaking when you meet certain people who turn your way of looking at the world upside down. This is exactly what happened to me on my recent due diligence trip to Thailand.
I have been talking with Joe Demin, CEO for Yellow Leaf Hammocks www.yellowleafhammocks.com operated out of Thailand and the U.S. for some time now, well over a year. When Joe first approached GIF for grant consideration, we opted to take a wait and see attitude. We wanted to see a tighter P & L. We wanted to more fully understand the Yellow Leaf customer base, both new ones and those that were reordering. We wanted to more fully understand the potential impact Yellow Leaf could have on those in greatest need. We wanted to pin down the enterprises approach to metrics and reporting. Joe did not disappoint. Even though we initially said, “Later!” Joe stayed in touch and diligently kept us abreast of Yellow Leaf’s progress on all fronts. Joe acted on all of our questions and over the year convinced us that on-the-ground due diligence would be worthwhile.
Now, Joe is a great guy, but this is not unusual. In fact, we expect the leadership of social impact enterprises seeking support from GIF to all act this way. Joe took a deliberate, reasoned and patient approach and proved that Yellow Leaf was worth deeper consideration. What truly was remarkable is what we discovered while conducting due diligence in Thailand.
The Yellow Leaf people, better known as the Mlabri were forever a nomadic, hunter/gathering indigenous tribe living in the hills of Northern Thailand. They got their name from the yellowing banana leaf shelters often discovered abandoned in the jungle as they moved in continual search of food.
Over time, civilization encroached on their habitat. Two examples. Teak harvesting was and still is shrinking their territory. Combined with slash and burn maize fields from hilltop to valley floor, they were gradually destroying the jungle, further shrinking the Mlabri territory. Eventually, they were forced to relocate to a permanent settlement. Life for a nomadic tribal people in Rong Kwang of the Phrae Province was becoming more and more difficult.
In 1978, two missionaries, Gene and Mary Long with their two-year-old son, Allen, arrived. It took quite some time before they discovered the Mlabri. Even in their shrinking habitat they were still somewhat elusive. But they did. And they quickly learned that as missionaries the notion of leading the Mlabri or Yellow Leaf to the pathway of Christ was highly unlikely. But, as missionaries they also know that their role was to help as much as possible in whatever way they could. So they dug in and out of an unforgiving environment they slowly worked in whatever way they could to help the Mlabri. As they shared with me, they really did not know what they were doing or what was the best way to help. More so, they didn’t realize that their two-year-old son would grow up alongside the Mlabri, learn their language and eventually become the critical link to the outside world that would create a pathway out of poverty for a gentle, marginalized people who otherwise might never have made it.
This blog is not supposed to be long. So sharing with you the details of what Gene and Mary, along with Allen and eventually Joe did would consume too much space, but suffice to say that today the Mlabri produce some of the most beautiful hammocks available on the market and each time one is sold the Mlabri woman who wove it earns about $17 USD. And I am going to share just a few photos that visibly tell the story of just how two faithful missionaries and their toddler son, along with one enterprising social impact pioneer have helped changed the Mlabri’ lives.