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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dracut farmer carries on the mission of 9/11 pilot

This Sept. 7, 2011 photo shows farmer Dave Dumaresq at his farm in Dracut.
DRACUT — Born and raised in the same community, they shared a love of agriculture. Farming the land was the road less traveled that each would choose. Along that road they became friends.

One would use his own land to reach out to immigrant farmers who needed a little guidance. The other would temporarily leave his busy agricultural business to travel to another continent to lend his expertise to farmers who also needed a little guidance.

Though each made a difference to farmers in need from another culture, the tragic consequences of a decade ago today would mean that one would do so in the other’s name.

American Airlines pilot, Capt. John Ogonowski, used his expansive White Gate Farm in Dracut to improve the lives of Southeast Asian immigrants who had fled the terror of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia. But he did so quietly. It was not until after Ogonowski became a victim of terror himself as the pilot of American Airlines [AMR] Flight 11 — the first to crash into the World Trade Center — that others learned of his compassionate work as part of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project.

"Many were farmers in Cambodia and they knew how to farm, but not in New England," said Dave Dumaresq, owner of the 90-acre Farmer Dave’s in Dracut and Tewksbury.

All Ogonowski was asked to do was to lease his land, but he "would till the land for them and talk to them about crop timing and New England growth cycles, which are very different from Cambodia," Dumaresq said. "He would do some plowing, help them with irrigation, spread compost; and he established a greenhouse so they could start transplants and get a jump on the season."

The Cambodians "came from a rural area with lots of space, but ended up in small apartments in Lowell. They would bring the entire family up to John’s farm, and it gave them something they missed from home. They were back to nature, back to agriculture, and back outside, which brings happiness back," he said.

Many Cambodian immigrants were well educated but often were relegated to assembly work, Dumaresq said. Through Ogonowski’s guidance, "they could go out and farm and it gave them that sense of being."

Because of Ogonowski’s contributions to the immigrant farming community, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Farmer to Farmer program was renamed the "John Ogonowski Farmer to Farmer Program" as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

Providing for the transfer of knowledge from U.S. volunteers to farmers, farm groups, and agribusinesses in developing countries, it has benefited 1 million farmer families representing 5 million people.

Dumaresq also has roots in the program, though under a different name. While he was in the Peace Corps in Ecuador in 1996, he "hosted two American volunteers from the Farmer to Farmer program. I was very interested in it but at the time didn’t realize I’d be going into agriculture."

Ninety acres, 15 years and countless crops later, Dumaresq had the expertise himself to volunteer in the program. His greenhouse vegetable growing experience was needed in the Republic of Georgia, which has struggled agriculturally since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"I feel I have a God-given talent, and I have found that it can be effective and life-changing if there is a need," Dumaresq said. "Someone was asking for help, and I thought I could help."

It was a "surreal" experience, he said, to arrive in March and see plaques and literature bearing the name of his friend from home.

"It puts a closeness to the work. Rather than going to the other side of the world to help someone you don’t know, you are helping someone under the name of someone you know very well," he said. "This was a continuation of what John was doing here in Dracut. I felt that he was looking down and was happy with what I was doing in his name."

Dumaresq spent three weeks educating, through the use of an interpreter, local farmers how to properly use greenhouses. They had, he said, "been making a lot of mistakes. They were very grateful for this American who was helping them."

Dumaresq returned a month later, at their request, but this time as a consultant with Economic Prosperity Initiative. He and an American economist designed a system to encourage banks to more readily provide loans for agriculture.

His experience taught him that it’s all about the "personal connection. Where I was is not far from Afghanistan, where the 9/11 terrorists were trained. By helping these people, as American volunteers, rebuild their economy and bring them a happier life, I like to think that someday if they hear of anyone planning harm to America, they would crush those plans. If so, then someone like John doesn’t have to lose his life needlessly."

Dumaresq says he will treasure the "connection between the cultures, the sharing of knowledge and experience, and how it strengthens the connections between the nations. John made that same connection between cultures and nations. Our lives and their lives are richer for it, and in the end, we’re all better off."
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Thaksin gives economic lecture in Cambodia

The fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (L) speaks during an economic lecture at the Ministry of Economy and Finance in Phnom Penh, Sept. 17, 2011. Thaksin Shinawatra on Saturday afternoon gave an economic lecture to approximately 150 Cambodian economists and high-ranking officials. The lecture was under the theme "Strategy for Sustainable Growth and Poverty Reduction in the Context of New Economy and Finance in Asia: Policy and Option for Cambodia." (Xinhua/Phearum)

PHNOM PENH, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) -- The fugitive ex-Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Saturday afternoon gave an economic lecture to approximately 150 Cambodian economists and high-ranking officials.

The lecture was under the theme "Strategy for Sustainable Growth and Poverty Reduction in the Context of New Economy and Finance in Asia: Policy and Option for Cambodia."

Describing Cambodia is like his home, Thaksin said that Cambodia's economy has developed well in the last decade, but the country still needs to invest more in infrastructure such as roads, bridges and railroads, and in the sectors of education and vocational training in order to create more job opportunities.

He said that in order to build trust among foreign investors, Cambodia must have "a clear economic policy" and "the law system must be strictly respected."

"It is also necessary to modernize the country's financial system such as the establishment of security market and bond market in order to mobilize sources of capital for economic development," he said.

Meanwhile, Thaksin said that for the development of ASEAN's economy, ASEAN must be integrated as a community as soon as possible if it wants to gain steady growth for a long-term period or it will not be able to keep up with countries like China and India.

Speaking at the opening of the lecture session, Cambodian deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon, who is also the minister of economy and finance, said that it was a great honor for Cambodia to share Thaksin's knowledge and experience on economic development.

He said that Cambodia's economy has seen a steady growth since the post-global financial crisis - the 2010's growth was six percent and it was predicted at seven percent this year.

The lecture was held at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Thaksin Shinawatra arrived in Cambodia early Saturday to give two lectures in two separate conferences. During the stay, he has meet with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and a group of Pheu Thai's members of parliament.

Thaksin was deposed in a bloodless coup in 2006 by a powerful group of Thai army. He has been living in Dubai to avoid a two- year jail term for violating a conflict-of-interest law.

He is a close friend of Hun Sen and used to be the economic advisor to the Cambodian government and Hun Sen from November 2009 to August 2010.

This is his fourth time to visit Cambodia since he was toppled.
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Cambodian leader welcomes Thai ex-PM Thaksin


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Cambodia's leader welcomed exiled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for talks Saturday, just two days after hosting Thaksin's sister, Thailand's current prime minister.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thaksin hugged and addressed each other as "brother" when they met Saturday morning at the Cabinet offices. Thaksin, who arrived late Friday night, is also scheduled to deliver a lecture on economic development and play golf during his scheduled weeklong stay.

The warm relationship between the two men contrasts with frosty ties between their two nations since Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup. There have been several deadly border clashes over disputed territory, and Hun Sen's embrace of Thaksin was sure to irk the former Thai leader's opponents, who point out that he is a fugitive running from a corruption conviction.

Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister in August after leading a pro-Thaksin party to victory in a general election, and her installation is expected to restore closer relations between Thailand and Cambodia. During a visit to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, on Thursday, she and Hun Sen agreed that troops along their disputed border should meet regularly to ease tensions and withdraw from a temple area as ordered by an international court in July.

Yingluck is also expected to attempt to rehabilitate Thaksin by obtaining a pardon or amnesty for him so he can return home without serving time in prison. Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 before being sentenced to two years in prison on a corruption charge. The billionaire ex-leader maintains a home in Dubai and frequently travels in Asia and Africa on business trips.

But Thaksin's opponents strongly oppose such a move, and high-profile activities such as his visit to Hun Sen serve as a lightning rod for criticism that he is acting high-handedly by interfering in foreign affairs.

The true depth of Hun Sen's affection for Thaksin is hard to gauge, but his very public backing of the former leader was clearly meant to irk the previous Thai government of Thaksin opponents. At one point in 2009, Hun Sen appointed Thaksin a government adviser, but Thaksin soon resigned the position.

Hun Sen said Monday that the purpose of Thaksin's visit was not to talk about the countries' border dispute around the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, competing claims to offshore oil reserves in the Gulf of Thailand or the possibility for an early release of a pair of Thai nationalist activists serving jail terms in Cambodia for spying.

Thaksin is scheduled to fly to the northwestern city of Siem Reap, site of the ancient Angkor temple complex, on Tuesday, and leave Cambodia on Sept. 24.
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