Posts tagged Myanmar

Relief International Board Member and Filmmaker, Chip Duncan, Reports from the Field in Myanmar

June 5, 2012


Relief International Board Member and Filmmaker, Chip Duncan, reports from the field in Myanmar. This time Duncan gives a background on Burmese life and culture to create an understanding of modern Myanmar.


Understanding modern Myanmar (aka Burma) and Relief International’s efforts to facilitate long-term initiatives in health care, food sustainability and education requires basic knowledge of Burmese life and culture. 

More than 80 percent of the population in Myanmar practices Buddhism.  Most believe in an orthodox practice called Theravada Buddhism.  Theravada, considered the practice of the elders or ancient ones, is also common in the neighboring countries of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

Monastic life for young people in Myanmar is much like a spiritual rite of passage in other nations.  Most boys and girls, often as young as ten, enter monastic life for a period of time to learn and to meditate.  Young monks in particular, participate in daily begging rituals, but with an important twist:  the monks beg so others can give.  It’s not uncommon to see orange-robed monks or pink-robed nuns at meditation centers, monasteries, temples or simply walking in the communities throughout Myanmar.


The photo below shows young monks begging.



The most well-known spiritual sites in Myanmar include the Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and the fabled ancient Buddhist temples of Bagan.


The photo below shows the Bagan Temple ruins.


Located south of the capitol city of Yangon (aka Rangoon), is the delta region where most of Relief International’s programs are underway.  Most people in the delta region make their living on fishing and farming.  Rice is a major crop in the region and part of the Relief International team is working on sustainable agricultural initiatives including educating farmers about new hybrids of rice and best planting practices.


A Burmese fishermen pictured below.

The landscape of Myanmar varies from mountainous to the dry central plains to tropical areas in the south.  Most farming techniques are still small scale and hand-powered and currently Myanmar offers very little in terms of agricultural export.  Still, the country’s resources are vast and the open-air markets in Yangon offer a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and fish.

The photo above shows a vendor at the Yangon market.


Chip Duncan

Relief International Board Member and Medical Director, Doctor Hernando Garzon, Reports from the Field in Myanmar

June 5, 2012


Relief International Board Member and Medical Director, Dr. Hernando Garzon, reflects on his visit to the field in Myanmar.


As a member of the board of directors and as a physician involved with Relief International health program operations in the field, I have wanted to make site visits to each of the ongoing Relief International health programs.  In conjunction with another board member, Chip Duncan, we’ve had the privilege of making such a visit to Myanmar. 

With the existing Relief International health program as the focus of our visit, our trip was designed to facilitate the development of additional and more comprehensive health programs, including the possibility of establishing a program to have U.S. health care volunteers spend time teaching local providers and providing care in under-served areas.  Our visit included trips to the rural delta outposts where substation clinics are manned only by a single midwife and suffer from lack of essential medical supplies, to meetings with the deputy minister of health, the director of foreign affairs, and the dean and faculty leaders of the premiere medical university in Yangon.  

The health care status of Myanmar looks much like that of a developing country with under-served medical needs.  Myanmar spends an average of $14 per person a year on health care. Compare this to the $44 per person a year the World Health Organization says is the minimum required to provide basic health services (The U.S. spends $7,960 per person a year). With $14 per person, Myanmar simply cannot provide basic medical services for its population! In addition, Myanmar is behind schedule in achieving the health related U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) by 2015 (MDG #3: Reducing under age five child mortality; MDG #4: Improving maternal health; MDG #6: Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases). 

Myanmar has only 4.6 doctors and eight nurses/midwives for every 10,000 people. Compare this with the U.S. which has 24.2 doctors and 98.2 nurses per every 10,000 people. I could go on and on, but this alone should be enough to see that the challenges Myanmar faces in providing adequate basic health care for its population are huge.


Dr. Hernando Garzon, third from left, pictured below.

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Getting to “experience” these statistics in action and seeing the reality of health care delivery in this limited resource setting was a very moving experience. The substation clinic medication cupboards are bare, medical equipment is antiquated or broken and non-functional, and huge gaps exist in supplies, staffing, and training.  Although I have seen poor patient outcomes from such limited resources before, perhaps the most difficult part of my trip came during a routine tour of a township hospital.  During our tour, a third trimester pregnant mother of seven arrived to the hospital hemorrhaging, and we witnessed the initial stages of her evaluation and treatment.  With no blood bank system as we know it in the United States, they immediately called several volunteers from their pool of “live blood bank donors.”  They responded quickly to what is certainly an innovative and somewhat risky solution to provide an emergency and potentially life-saving blood transfusion.  In the end, neither mother nor baby survived – and I continue to struggle with the idea that “if only” adequate resources were available, both would have made it.           

Relief International is coordinating very well with the ministry of health and the national plan for improving maternal and child health and basic comprehensive medical care in Myanmar.  In addition to health programs, Relief International is also involved with livelihoods and agriculture programs.  The work being done by the Relief International Myanmar staff is exceptional and I am very hopeful that Relief International will continue to make a difference in the health and economic development for the people of Myanmar.

Dr. Hernando Garzon

Relief International Board Member and Filmmaker, Chip Duncan, Reports from the Field in Myanmar

June 5, 2012


Relief International Board Member and Filmmaker, Chip Duncan, reports from the field in Myanmar. 


Myanmar (aka Burma), achieved independence from the British in 1948.  Since that time, the nation has experienced significant challenges both economically and politically. Until very recently, Myanmar was largely isolated and was considered a difficult place for foreigners to visit. Today, Myanmar is undergoing a domestic reform movement resulting in democratic elections and new efforts promoting international trade and commerce. Recent diplomatic visitors to Myanmar include India’s Prime Minister and the US Secretary of State.

I made my first visit in 1995 while filming the television series “Mystic Lands.”  The episode on Burma, entitled “Triumph of the Spirit,” featured the devout Buddhist spiritual life of the Burmese people. The episode included stories about the Schwedagon Pagoda, the ancient city of Bagan, Mount Popa and the monastic retreats in and around Mandalay and the Sagaing Hills.


The picture below shows tropical housing on a delta in Myanmar.



This past May, I returned to Myanmar with Dr. Hernando Garzon with the goal of assessing and documenting the maternal health and food sustainability programs of Relief International. Relief International was among the humanitarian aid groups responding to the devastating Cyclone Nargis during May 2008.  The cyclone is considered among the worst natural disasters in modern Burmese history.  Nearly 120 mph winds and a huge tidal surge had a devastating impact on coastal and delta areas south and west of the capitol city of Yangon (aka Rangoon).  Families in the region relied largely on fishing and rice production for their livelihoods, much of which was destroyed by the cyclone. Damages exceeded $2.4 billion. Estimates are hard to quantify but it’s believed that more than 80,000 people were killed with as many as 300,000 missing. Women and children were most impacted by the cyclone.


Smiling Burmese children in the picture below.


 


Like so many Relief International efforts, the success of Relief International’s immediate crisis relief and humanitarian assistance evolved into long-term, sustainable programs in maternal health care and food sustainability.  The needs continue and Relief International has stated a commitment to serving the people of Myanmar for many years to come.


Below is a nurse midwife at Kyon Dah Station Hospital.



Dr. Garzon and I visited several locations in the delta region featuring the health care work of the Relief International team including the Kyon Dah Station Hospital on the island of Kyon Dah, the Dedaye Township hospital and the Pya Pon District hospital. The 40 person Relief International staff is comprised almost entirely of Burmese personnel with only one expat on the administrative team.  Please visit Dr. Garzon’s blog post for specific details on the health care programs and assessment. 

Chip Duncan

Relief International Board Member and Filmmaker, Chip Duncan, Reflects on his Visit to the Field in Myanmar


May 26, 2012


Relief International board member and filmmaker Chip Duncan reflects on his visit in May to the RI field office in Myanmar with fellow board member and RI Medical Director, Hernando Garzon.


Dr. Hernando Garzon and I had the privilege of visiting Relief International’s field programs in Myanmar. The team here of about 40 staffers is outstanding. In addition to their work on maternal health programs, they’re doing some groundbreaking work with food security and rice production in the delta area hard hit by Cyclone Nargis in ‘08. We welcome everyone to join Relief International’s efforts to improve primary and maternal child health throughout southern Myanmar.


The photo below shows the smiling faces of the Relief International team in Myanmar and Dr. Hernando Garzon (center).



Relief International Senior Program Development Officer Virginia Zaunbrecher reports from the field

Relief International Senior Program Development Officer Virginia Zaunbrecher reports from the field and talks about her experiences working in Myanmar this January. Virginia is a part of Relief International’s relief and development efforts in the region. She is currently working with the Program Development team to design sustainable ventures and economic programs to empower local people to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. 


Visit: January 18-21, 2012

 

I travelled from the Delta region, where Relief International currently provides health services to an area of Myanmar called the Dry Zone.  This is one of the poorest regions in an already poor country (the average annual income in Myanmar is just $1,500 USD).  In January, I travelled with some of our program staff to investigate what could be done to help people in the area increase their incomes and improve food security.

As the name suggests, this part of the country is very dry, making year-round agriculture impossible without irrigation.  To make things even more challenging, nearly half the population does not own any land at all, which can keep families from earning an income in this agrarian society.  People without land must try to find work as casual laborers, but wages are low, and work can be hard to find. In many countries, employers also reported a gender wage gap between men and women.  Every employer we spoke during our trip said they paid women half as much as they paid men for the same type of work.

Our working assessment is just the first step in trying to increase incomes for low-income people in this area.  Now that we collected information about what the economy is like in the local area, we will start to design sustainable activities and programs that we think will increase local incomes.

 

Best wishes,

Virginia

 

To support RI’s efforts to reduce poverty worldwide, please donate here

Developing programs and providing aid in Myanmar: Senior Program Development Officer Virginia Zaunbrecher reports from the field

Relief International Senior Program Development Officer Virginia Zaunbrecher reports from the field and talks about her experiences working in Myanmar this January. Virginia is a part of Relief International’s relief and development efforts in the region. She is currently working with the Program Development team to design sustainable ventures and economic programs to empower local people to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. 


This past January, I had the privilege of spending the month visiting with our field team in Myanmar.  After 60 years of harsh military dictatorship, the country is finally beginning to open up.  During my trip, the government signed an important peace agreement and the U.S. re-opened political relations with Myanmar.  This forward progress—assuming it continues—cannot come a moment too soon for the people of Myanmar.

For the last 60 years, the government has grossly underinvested in health, education, and economic growth.  Myanmar ranks 149th on the Human Development Index, despite being rich in natural resources.
For the last four years, Relief International has worked to provide services that the government did not.  On January 17, I visited our team in the Delta region, an area devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008.  Relief International staff members are working with local health officials to provide health services to 230,000 people.  The task is immense and the resources are few.  There is only one 50-bed hospital to serve a population of nearly a quarter of a million people.  Children with measles are packed two or three to a bed on the veranda because there is no separate room to house them in the hospital.  Space constraints make it hard to separate infectious patients from other patients.
 

 

In the photo below, staff member Virginia Zaunbrecher discusses health services coverage with the Dedaye Township Medical Officer on January 17, 2012.  

However, despite these conditions, our team is doing a great job improving access to health care in the area.  While I was visiting the hospital, I met a woman lying on a hospital bed with her healthy newborn girl next to her.  Her delivery was complicated.  She was from a remote village, and she could not afford the price of the boat and the motorbike she needed to reach the hospital.  In the past, this would have meant death for her baby, and possibly for her.  But Relief International’s staff—a network of health professionals and trained volunteers—were able to prevent this tragedy.  The woman’s family appealed to Relief International’s trained community health workers, who recognized the danger of the situation. Our team provided funds for the woman to travel to the hospital, where the doctor was able to perform a cesarean section. Relief International is working to provide better and safer solutions so that women in the community have access to doctors and midwives.

Best wishes,
Virginia

Stories like this one repeat themselves everyday at our field sites.  To support programs like this one, please donate here.

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