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Small Beginnings Bear Fruit

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

By Katie Nicholson, Associate Country Leader, Indonesia

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step,” Lao Zi.

I have reflected on this many times after hearing it 30 years ago from Doug Sparks, an REI founder. This idea has helped me process when I am overwhelmed as I look around and see the vast needs.

My husband, Chuck, has worked as a consultant, project manager and business leader in Asia for 25 years now, and we have navigated interesting paths with a million lessons learned. Pigs, corn, vanilla, tomatoes, rice . . . and mangoes. If you measure success by what is enduring, then we can point to mangoes as that “success.” But, we will never forget our small – very small – beginnings with this tangy fruit.

This is why we came to East Java - too many small podang mangoes rotting on trees while villagers suffered high unemployment.

It started in a hot West Java village called Indramayu. Jobs were few and mangoes were abundant. Chuck had experimented with mango drying at Brawijaya University in East Java, where we now live and continue to benefit from those early relationships.

Chuck took what he learned, the new dehydrator he designed and Indonesians created, and he went back to West Java to install it in the village leader’s house. Sleeping overnight there gave Chuck the opportunity to learn how the machine functioned and eventually how to train others to use it.

That first mango drying season did not produce the best results, but it set us on a path. We took the plastic pouches of mangoes, slapped stickers on them and began selling. Our customers, our discerning friends, told us they had a “smoky” taste, which was not what we were hoping for.

Some of the crew processing mangoes

The dried mangoes improved so much over that season of dehydrating, though, that when it came time, nine months later, to begin dehydrating mangoes again in that village, the village leader took the dehydrator hostage, bringing an abrupt end to further collaboration there. Suddenly our “small beginnings” seemed snuffed out in West Java.

However, we had more “success” in East Java over the last ten years, leading to the creation of a “mother ship” for both training and production close to home. Small beginnings have gained momentum, leading to bigger influence as we see growing evidence of “building people to build a nation.”

Our crew now works here in the cold storage building while we await the finishing touches on our big dehydrator in the new factory to the left.

For example, just yesterday I met Bu Melly, an Indonesian that lives in Bahrain and has been tasked to increase commerce and cooperation between Indonesia and Bahrain, aiming to increase Indonesian trade into all Middle Eastern countries. It was a providential meeting the day before my own trip to Bahrain to explore opportunities for exporting mangoes there. With an immediate connection around a common vision to export to the Middle East, Bu and I plan to meet again and discuss working together. Another small beginning that could lead to great impact for potential and growing livelihoods for more families and villages.

What unexpected small beginnings can you be thankful for today that led to much more than you could have imagined?

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