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.
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.
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
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.
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).
May 23, 2012
Relief International’s Technical Director, Jon Naugle, reports from the field in Uganda, where he met a woman by the name of Mama Manjeri, whose life was greatly influenced by Relief International’s domestic rainwater harvesting bag, Bob™.
Before purchasing her rainwater bag, Bob, a Ugandan woman named Mama Manjeri used to walk two and a half miles over a ridge and down the other side of a hill to fetch water and then walk back the same distance carrying a container of water. She is a very spry woman who still works in her garden even though she is in her late seventies. Mama Manjeri had heard about Bob — Relief International’s innovative low-cost rainwater bag — from her husband who had seen a demonstration in a nearby town. She told her neighbors that the next time the sales agent from her district came by she wanted to see him to purchase one.
The next time Adam Juko, the Relief International Bob sales agent, came by he stopped to see Mama Manjeri and she told him that she wanted a Bob. Unfortunately, he did not have one with him that day, but he promised to come back the next day. Mama Manjeri purchased her Bob the next day with 125,000 Ugandan Shillings (approximately $50 USD) for Bob with 1,000 and 2,000 shilling notes that were all neatly folded — money that she had earned from her garden.
The photo below shows Mama Manjeri standing proudly next to her Bob™.
As Relief International’s Technical Director, I got to visit Mama Manjeri. Mama Manjeri had constructed a base for her Bob and had started building a mud and wattle shelter to protect it. I could see that she clearly values her Bob and appreciates having water for washing, bathing, cooking and drinking right at her door step. Mama Manjeri was so happy with Bob that she insisted on giving me a 1,000 shillings, neatly folded, as all the bills she used to pay for Bob. This is something that I will treasure, knowing that the efforts of this project are changing people’s lives for the better.
March 23, 2012
Relief International’s Human Resource Generalist, Diana Kankunda, visits her native Uganda, and the field office in Mbarara where Relief International and its Enterprise Works division are implementing a domestic rainwater harvesting program.
Recently, I made a visit back to my parent’s hometown of Mbarara, Uganda. I was actually born and raised in Uganda before I decided to come to the United States. In addition to seeing my family, I visited Relief International’s field office in Mbarara. Here, Relief International and EnterpriseWorks are working on a program to bring clean water directly to Ugandan households through the creation of a rainwater harvesting bag called “Bob.”
The above photo is me and the Uganda field staff standing next to “Bob,” the rainwater harvesting bag created by Relief International and EnterpriseWorks.
In rural areas of Uganda, women and children, who are usually tasked with collecting water, walk long distances to fetch water. It is exhausting and takes up valuable time that the children could be spending in school. Children are also especially vulnerable to diseases caused by unsafe water consumption. Growing up I was lucky to have access to clean water, but not everyone is as fortunate. This is why Relief International developed the rainwater harvesting bag so that Ugandans can have a safe water source right from their home.
It was also really nice to finally meet all the field staff face to face. As part of the Human Resources staff at Relief International, I regularly get to interact with these people, but it is usually through email and phone.
“Bob” has had a huge impact on my hometown. News of the rainwater harvesting bag has spread through word of mouth to other small towns, mainly through community venues like churches. It has even become a popular subject with my family. I hope in the future “Bob” can be implemented at my aunt’s primary school.
The picture below is me and some girls at the primary school my aunt teaches at.
April 24, 2012
The Relief International team recently received a “note from the field” from a 13-year old beneficiary in Palestine.
The letter reads:
“My name is Mohammad Hamadori from Jenin. I am thirteen. I heard from some friends about Relief International and the activities that they do. ..and to present myself to you and tell you about some of my hobbies and some activities I have done with relief.”
“The Relief gave me the power to be useful to my community…and now I have the power and I will to make a difference and because I am ready to give my help to anyone who needs it…through our activities and skills.”
“In the end I want to thank you all for being here…and I hope to see you again.”
March, 30 2012
Today’s photo update from Relief International volunteer and Deputy Community Service Coordinator, Bashir Mohamed, reporting from the field:
This girl is grinding Sorghum as part of routine meal preparation. Her name is Sarina and she is nine years old. The baby she is carrying is one of her twin nephews, Younis.
Sarina’s family, including her father Bell, mother Saima, and twin nephews, Younis and Julliet, arrived in Doro four months ago. They had fled from Belila, which is located in the Blue Nile State of Sudan, because of the increasing violence and conflict in the community.
Sarina is grinding Sorghum in the picture below.
March 22, 2012
Today’s update from Relief International Volunteer and Deputy Community Service Coordinator, Bashir Mohamed, reporting from the field:
This photo was taken during one of my meetings with the Sheikh of Balila (Balila is a sub-section of the Doro refugee camp) as he signed a list of approved tent recipients. Sheikhs are local elders who serve as community and/or religious leaders, much like chiefs and tribal representatives.
The photo below shows the Sheikh of Balila busy looking over assessment documents which he is signing.
My meeting with the Sheikh of Balila is part of a process that Relief International engages in along with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to collaborate with sheikhs who are representatives of refugees. One of the things we collaborate on is informing the sheikhs of tent assessments and their corresponding criteria to be conducted in the camp. The purpose of these tent assessments is to find out how many families, many of whom are newly arrived refugees, are in need of shelter.
Relief International and UNHCR look to the sheikhs to give approval and advice to conduct aid assessments in their communities. Working closely with community leaders is important so that Relief International can learn about what families in camps like Doro need most.
Once we have completed the assessment and created a list of families who need shelter, we take this list of beneficiaries back to the sheikhs for verification and signature.
March 6, 2012
Relief International aid worker Tiare Cross reports from the Doro Refugee Camp. Here is her post from today and photo update.
Today in Doro Refugee Camp, children’s activities started. I came upon this mob of exuberant children in the camp jumping rope. There were only ten jump ropes for approximately 100 plus children, but they were enjoying themselves in groups taking turns with the rope.
The photo above shows all the excited children that showed up for children’s activities today.
It is great to see kids smiling and playing, especially after they have made a hard journey from Blue Nile State to the refugee camp in Doro. Daily life for kids is not easy, many of the boys fish during the day at the river, bringing home a much needed protein source for their families. The girls spend most of the day bringing water and cooking for their families, as well as looking after other children. School starts in April here in South Sudan, and we know that getting children back to school is a top priority for the refugee families.
Below is a photo of child refugees jumping rope at the Doro Refugee Camp where Relief International is working.