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Myanmar: An example of help for self-help

Showing how help to self-help works

Stefanie Koop reports on her project travels

I am waiting. Right up the last moment, I am not sure whether I will be able to visit the Welthungerhilfe project in the settlement of Htan Tabin, in the South of Myanmar. Finally, I receive the written authorisation from the ministry. It is one of the few remaining bureaucratic relics, as many things have become easier for aid agencies since the political opening of the country. Now the government is even talking openly about the great extent of poverty and possible solutions.

After taking a Welthungerhilfe training course, Zaw Moe now works as an electrician.
After taking a Welthungerhilfe training course, Zaw Moe now works as an electrician.
Daw Kyi Hla helped to build the school that is now attended by her grandchildren.
Daw Kyi Hla helped to build the school that is now attended by her grandchildren.
Lothar Kinzelman with his colleagues She Win and Cho Sun and group leader Stefanie Koop.
Lothar Kinzelman with his colleagues She Win and Cho Sun and group leader Stefanie Koop.
Loans are approved by the entire group.
Loans are approved by the entire group.
Almost everything is transported by rickshaw.
Almost everything is transported by rickshaw.
The new bridge provides a secure connection to the neighbouring village, even during the rainy season.
The new bridge provides a secure connection to the neighbouring village, even during the rainy season.

After I make my way through the swarming metropolis of Yangon, I experience first-hand how the old and new way of life meet up 20 kilometres outside of the city. In the village of Tadar Oo, which belongs to the settlement Htan Tabin, I venture over well-trodden paths to the wooden house of Zaw Moe. The 29-year old participated in a Welthungerhilfe training course to become an electrician three years ago. In the eyes of the other villagers, he has made it. They reverently refer to him as Saya Lea - roughly translated as "little Sir". 

In contrast to the farmers, who are making a living solely from agriculture, Zaw Moe's work is not dependent on the weather. Just recently, floods destroyed two thirds of the harvest. I can certainly understand what education means to him, when he talks of debt. As so many others in Myanmar, his family was also forced to take a loan, after a bad harvest and disease did not leave enough money for seed and fertiliser. Now the loan has been paid back. His family can live very well on his income, which is derived from repairing radios and electric rice cookers. 

But almost everywhere I go, I am confronted with the issue of debt. "Most families are barely eking out an existence. If something unexpected happens, such as disease or the death of a relative, everything collapses, because they have no reserves," explains Head of Project Lothar Kinzelman. In Htan Tabin, I can see that it doesn't have to be that way: People who have learnt alternative occupations to farming thanks to Welthungerhilfe's training courses; loan savings groups that ensure that their members are no longer dependent on loan sharks; new buildings such as schools or paths and bridges, which the villagers helped to build. 

I have often spoken about how important self-initiative and self-help capacity are to Welthungerhilfe. When I talk about it in the future, I will think of Zaw Moe. And Daw Kyi Hla, who helped with building the village school and whose eyes light up when she talks of the opportunities for the children. And Daw Soe Soe Aye, who looks up from the book of the loan savings group and proudly talks of the women who were helped by a loan. Three faces of many, which are proof that help to self-help really works.

 

 

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