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Rich in oil, gas, timber and gemstones and renowned for its fertility, Myanmar was once called the ‘rice bowl of Asia’.
But today one in three children in the country are malnourished and one in five people lack access to safe water, according to the Human Development Index.
Thousands of people work as unpaid labourers, and the marginalisation of minority ethnic groups has led to half a million people being uprooted from their homes and hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Thailand and Bangladesh.
A military junta has ruled Myanmar for nearly five decades. Despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy winning elections in 1990, her party never took power. Before her joyful release in November 2010, she had spent many of the intervening years under house arrest.
The same month, Myanmar saw its first elections for two decades. A partial return to civilian rule ensued, but the impact on ordinary people remains to be seen.
Myanmar is disaster-prone, suffering cyclones, floods, droughts, earthquakes, landslides and food shortages – the latter sometimes caused by infestations of rats.
In 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated the Ayeyarwady delta region of south Myanmar, killing at least 138,000 people and laying waste to countless livelihoods.
The goal of Tearfund Ireland’s programme in Myanmar is to empower 20 villages in the Labutta region of the Ayeyarwady Delta to have improved food security, sustainable livelihoods and the ability to mitigate negative effects of disasters. The main target groups are the vulnerable and landless households, pregnant women, infants (0 – 23 months) and people with disabilities.
The objectives of the project which is in the early months of implementation are as follows:
• Increase access to land and landless people by restoring traditional share cropping systems
• Restore and protect paddy land cultivation by rebuilding farmer embankments to prevent salt water intrusion
• Producer groups formed to improve farmer access to inputs
• Increased food production from homesteads through promotion of home gardens and animal raising
• Improved nutrition of under 5 year olds by promotion of breastfeeding, training on nutrition and food support for underweight children
• Reduction in the number of people falling into a debt cycle by establishing member-owned rice banks and Health Insurance Funds
• Communities and households prepared for the next disaster and improved ability to respond.
If you would like to contribute to the rebuilding of Myanmar (Burma) at this time click on the red Donate Now button above and select the ‘Rebuilding Myanmar (Burma) fund’.
Hear the latest news & prayer requests from around the world – famine in East Africa, conflict in Myanmar or HIV in Malawi and learn how Tearfund and the local church are transforming lives. Tearfund’s Niamh Daly talks to Noel Shannon at Spirit Radio. Listen to it live every Thursday at 9.30am on 89.9FM or 549MW.
Hear the latest news & prayer requests from around the world – famine in East Africa, conflict in Myanmar or HIV in Malawi and learn how Tearfund and the local church are transforming lives. Tearfund’s Niamh Daly talks to Ronan Johnston at Spirit Radio. Listen to it live every Thursday at 9.30am on 89.9FM or 549MW.
As relief workers battle overwhelming need in the parched lands of East Africa and other parts of the world, former Tearfund disaster response worker Ed Walker recalls the ups and downs of life in ‘the field’.
When you arrive at your destination your emotions are all at sea. The last few days or weeks have been difficult: waiting to hear if you will be deployed, wondering where you will go, what your role will be. Then you finally get the call – you are excited, anxious, nervous, emotional, scared all at once.
During the briefing stage in London, I was always trying to keep the lid on these emotions – at times struggling to keep tears at bay. When you are feeling vulnerable, even something tiny can tip you over the edge: suddenly you learn you can only take 20kg of luggage onto the plane and that a vital bit of field equipment also needs to go in your belongings.
By the time I got in the car for the airport I was a mess.
I would always try to get an overnight flight: while I love flying I find airports tiring, and often the emotions of the day and the late night in the departure lounge meant that by the time I got on the plane I was exhausted and would fall asleep – often before take-off.
I would wake early and look out of the plane’s window at the sun rising. With nobody disturbing me, at last the joy and sanctuary of ‘me-time’.
With the Bible open I could read through some Psalms (Psalm 91 was a favourite if I was going to a hot country) and bring my worries and emotions to our mighty and loving God. By the time I landed I’d be more excited than worried. Bring it on!
Then sensory overload: new climate, new vegetation, funny accents – I realise it will take me a while to tune in to this one: ‘Can you really carry all that on one bike?’ ‘That’s a pretty big gun,’ ‘Blimey, it’s hot,’ ‘No, my name is Ed, not Aids.’ New town names to remember, new faces to recognise; more importantly, will I get along with them? Briefing documents, project information to digest, meetings to go to. Where am I going to sleep tonight? Should I be scared by that spider?
During the first two weeks it’s hard to take everything in – setting up is always more stressful, as things aren’t yet fully in place. You are making decisions on what projects to run, writing proposals and trying to get to know and organise a team.
I would try to bury whatever emotions and stresses I was feeling and mask them with a face of calm. I rarely succeeded, but the following emotions were my constant companions in the field – on certain days I felt some more keenly than others, but they were always there:
JOY: What an amazing privilege to serve some of the most materially poor people on the planet and to work in such far-flung corners of the world and meet such a range of people groups.
LOVE: When I looked into the eyes of the local people and saw beyond the cultural, linguistic and wealth differences, I could see into their heart and recognise them as a human equally loved by God, just as deserving as me and you. No longer were they a pastoral nomad I could not relate to. They became my brother, my sister, my mother, my father, my daughter – alike in every way.
ANGER: At the injustice that in the 21st century a child can still die from lack of healthcare, that a mother has to walk eight hours to get assistance during a difficult pregnancy, that powerful people can wantonly bomb or attack an innocent and struggling people group.
STRESS: The demanding workload – often covering for other people, often in tough physical environments with very basic infrastructure.
DREAD: That something terrible might happen to one of my colleagues working in a volatile area of a war-affected region.
SADNESS: At missing key moments in the lives of friends and family back home.
ENERGY: Because – I loved what I was doing and felt passionate about it.
Please pray for Tearfund’s relief teams across the world who are currently responding to humanitarian crises caused by conflict, injustice and natural disaster. Pray for their protection and that God will use them to save lives, reduce vulnerability and bring hope and dignity.
Ed worked for Tearfund in Burundi, Darfur, South Sudan, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Liberia and alongside Tearfund Ireland’s Chief Executive Reuben Coulter.
Small, hardly describes Melusi’s home. It’s tiny. He shares one bedroom with his elder brother and mother. Another family shares the other room in the house. There is absolutely no privacy. A constant stream of children pass through the house and the noise of traffic from the streets is deafening. Joy, Melusi’s mother, tries to sleep. She has just arrived home exhausted after a long days work selling tomatoes in the Bulawayo market in Zimbabwe.
Struck down by TB
‘Life used to be better’, Melusi says. But in 2005 his father, a pastor, died from tuberculosis and left the family struggling to survive. In the densely crowded and unhygienic slums of Bulawayo the disease travels fast and kills slowly. Melusi can remember his father’s last months as he wasted away, becoming skin and bones, his body racked by a deathly cough. Now his father is gone.
Keeping families together
Joy could so easily have been overwhelmed by her husband’s death and her family could have fallen apart because of extreme poverty. Many mother’s in similar circumstances in Zimbabwe abandon their children to orphanages in the hope of a better future for them. But Tearfund’s local church partner ZOE stepped in.
ZOE is providing practical support, as well as spiritual guidance, to hundreds of vulnerable families by providing business training and school fee support. Joy wraps her arm around Melusi and smiles, ‘Because of their support the future is looking less fragile. Our family can stay together.’
Have fun and raise money for Zimbawe this summer with our Make a meal of it fundraiser. Download our resources here.
Give today. €43 can pay for school fees and books for two families for one year