This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
• The NLD and USDP discuss the future role of NGOs • FIFA launches Asia's first football for health program • The pioneer of microfinance in Myanmar • Yangon's first animal shelter • Life on the other side of the river: Dala township • Yangon School for the Blind
NGOs & Aid
Pact: Pioneering microfinance
By Jessica Mudditt
ACT began working in Myanmar in 1997, at a time when very few other international NGOs were doing so. “Myanmar has been called an aid orphan in the past because its per capita assistance is so low,” London-based Myanmar analyst Ashley South told IRIN in a report earlier this year. Between 1990 and 2010, the level of overseas development assistance (ODA) hovered at about US$5 per person a year, according to a 2011 Harvard University report, “Working Through Ambiguity: International NGOs in Myanmar.” This amounted to the lowest per capita rate in the world. “It was a big decision to come and work in Myanmar,” said Fahmid Karim Bhuiya, chief operating officer of Pact Global Microfinance Fund, an international non-government organisation (INGO) which currently operates in 65 countries. “The political scenario was totally different back then and the country was under severe sanctions. It was a time when INGOs were uncertain about whether to come into the country or to remain outside and work for Myanmar from there,” he said. Even today, only 65 INGOs operate in Myanmar and the majority provide humanitarian assistance, states Harvard’s report. Between 1995 and 1997, Pact staff undertook on-the-ground research to determine whether it was viable to set up a microfinance program in a country where none existed. “Our mission was to work out whether it was possible to use microfinance as a tool for poverty alleviation [in Myanmar]. No financial institution offered financial services to the rural poor, so people were forced to borrow from local moneylenders, who charged extremely high interest rates,” Fahmid told The Myanmar Times. Relatives and friends were the only other alternative. Ultimately, Pact decided that it would work directly with communities instead of the government. “That was our criteria for coming in,” Fahmid explained. Fahmid’s initial posting with Pact in Myanmar was for a period of 18 months. “That was 15 years ago,” he told The Myanmar Times with a laugh. After deciding to press ahead,
Loan disbursement from Pact in Shan state. Photo courtesy of pact
Pact signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the ministries of health and finance and created a partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). Fahmid explained that UNDP is invested with a global operational immunity, which enables it to work in any country in the world. The partnership with UNDP was key to Pact being able to provide assistance to Myanmar people. Initially, credit and savings facilities, in addition to group microfinance enterprises were introduced in the central dry zone. Fahmid said that from the outset, “Local authorities were very supportive and appreciative of our work.” “Without gold collateral, moneylenders could charge up to 16 percent interest, which is why people relied on them only in emergency situations, such as a health crisis. The numbers of moneylenders in villages was also low. Nevertheless, many people ended up in a lot of debt,” said Fahmid. As an alternative, Pact created a
low interest microfinance program, with an initial interest rate of between 2.5pc and 3pc. Pact continued to grow in Myanmar and within five years it had attracted 200,000 borrowers. Fahmid said, “We realised how great the demand was for financial services among the poor and farmers, but after two years [in 2002], we started to realise that microfinance was just one of the many services needed, such as healthcare.” Fahmid said Pact strongly believes that income-generating activities require sound health, for farming in particular. This is a logical, though often neglected,
that the international immunity accorded to UNDP is no longer a necessity for Pact and other organisations to operate. The law requires a maximum interest rate of 2pc for microfinance repayments. The interest generated from Pact’s 485,000 active borrowers is used for operational and delivery costs and as Fahmid explained, “The surplus we have is ploughed back into the programs. We made a conscious decision to be nonprofit, so there is no need to pay dividends to shareholders. However we undertake microfinance services like a professional bank – we are a social business so our
can die; crops can fail; a fire can burn down a shop; a storm can ruin a whole plantation. In these sorts of circumstances, Pact provides a lump sum compensation.” “If an investment is lost, we write it off and provide a new loan. Our clients really appreciate being protected from all sorts of uncertainties; they don’t need to be further burdened by debt. It shows we care about them.” When Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in 2008, 50,000 of Pact’s borrowers lost everything they owned. Fahmid said, “People were not in a position to repay their loans
“You can't expect 100 percent success in business. Cattle can die; crops can fail; a fire can burn down a shop; a storm can ruin a whole plantation. In these sorts of circumstances, Pact provides a lump sum compensation.”
aspect of the link between aid and development. In 2004, around the same time that private banking was introduced (though its development was slow to take off) Pact launched a program integrating microfinance and health. “It was unique and grew very quickly,” he said. In November 2011, the Myanmar Microfinance Institution Law was passed: a development Pact welcomed because it authorises microfinance services, which means operations are highly efficient and professional. Usually, profits would go to shareholders, but as a social business, it goes back to serving more people.” And unlike many large microfinance institutions, some of which have attracted controversy for imposing high interest rates that result in people taking out loans from multiple sources to repay the original loan, Pact has created a safety net for its borrowers. Fahmid said, “You can't expect 100pc success in business. Cattle because they were surviving on food aid and grants. Pact faced a tremendous cash shortage at the time because we wrote-off loans amounting to $2.75 million. This situation could happen again, which is why we are building a reserve fund with a target of $3 million that can be used for compensation and loan write-offs.” Pact suspended its microfinance activities for 10 months post-Nargis and instead provided
MORE PAGE 3
NGOs & Aid a special report
Editors: Myo Lwin, Jessica Mudditt Photography: Kaung Htet, Boothee, Kaung Htet Linn Layout & Design: Tun Min Soe, Tin Zaw Htway, Ko Pxyo, For enquiries and feedback: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Writers: Shwegu Thitsar, Yamon Phu Thit, Cherry Thein, Myo Lwin, Naw Say Phaw Waa, Jessica Mudditt, Shwe Yee Saw Myint Cover photo: Kaung Htet
FROM PAGE 2
NGOs & Aid
humanitarian assistance, which was coordinated by the UN. Fahmid explained that the decision to suspend microfinance activities was made to uphold Pact’s integrity by avoiding any confusion about whether the interest from microfinance loans was going towards aid grants. When The Myanmar Times asked why 97pc of Pact’s loan recipients are women, Fahmid replied, “This is by design.” He said the decision to give preference to female borrowers was based on several months of loan tracking – which sometimes involved searching for male borrowers at football matches and the like. “We found that women are much more efficient when it comes to family financial management. Women are also a lot more responsible and disciplined with loan repayments. Their priorities are strongly family orientated.” Nevertheless Pact offers loans to men if a household has no female members over the age of 18. All borrowers must display a willingness to undertake economic activities. Fahmid believes the number of both local and international NGOs in Myanmar has been increasing since elections were held in 2010. Pact’s biggest operational challenges in Myanmar are lack of infrastructure, such as transport, communication services and electricity shortages.
Microfinance borrowers engaged in traditional hat making business in Pindaya township, Southern Shan state. Photo courtesy of pact
However Fahmid said, “It’s much easier to work in Myanmar than it was 10 years ago. I’d like to say how much I appreciate the changes.” Nevertheless he said that the amount of NGO activity is “certainly not on the same level as Cambodia or Bangladesh, for example.
People are still unsure about the role an NGO can play in Myanmar.” Fahmid’s biggest concern is the many people in remote areas who remain unserved. “I hope that in the future, when new INGOs enter Myanmar, they will not prioritise operational ease but the need for assistance,” he
said. Pact already has 2200 local staff and plans to open another 30 microfinance branches. It will also increase the number of townships it operates in from 25 to 50 within three years. Fahmid said, “Some people might say this is aggressive growth,
but we believe we can achieve it because we have a huge staff base, a lot of local knowledge and the public has strong trust in us.” When asked whether the time is right for other INGOS to enter Myanmar, Fahmid said without hesitating, “I think they should come immediately.”
NGOs & Aid
Life on the other side of the river
By shwegu thitsar
HE journey is a mere 10 minute ferry ride that leaves from opposite the Strand Hotel in Yangon, yet the destination feels like half a world away. In Dala township, clean water is scarce, incomes are low and poverty is rife. Several young men on motorcycle taxis approach people disembarking the ferry in Dala – their expressions show how eager they are for business. Many of the men said they earn about K5000 a day, though some said their income can be as little as K1500. Rent must be paid to the motorcycle’s owner, who are always keen to recoup the average cost of K500,000 spent on buying each vehicle as quickly as possible. During The Myanmar Times visit, a young girl called Ma Zar Chi Oo from Yazar ward was found reading a book outside. The second-standard schoolgirl said she had been forced to drop out of school and desperately wants to return. A heavily pregnant mother-of-four told The Myanmar Times about her family’s struggle to make ends meet. “I stopped sending one of my daughters to school this year because we couldn’t afford to pay for it. In the future, boys need to look
Children in Dala township. Photo kaung htet linN
after their parents and wives, which is why my sons need to be better educated,” Ma Than Than Oo said. The family lives off the money Ma Than Than Oo’s husband earns from pedalling a trishaw. “He gives me K2000 each day because he has to pay the trishaw owner K1000 in rent. Sometimes I only get K1000 – we have quarrels on those days. ‘How can I send the children to school with K2000?’ I ask him,” said Ma Than Than Oo. “I heard there is an organisation called World Vision that helps children go to school,” she added, but said knows nothing further. Ma Than Than Oo’s family lives
in a small bamboo hut on a narrow lane. The majority of homes in the area are small and built close to each other. Dala’s residential areas bear no resemblance to much of the housing across the Hlaing River in downtown Yangon. Ward administrator U Than Oo said, “Most people here are poor. Many are unemployed and among the men who do have a job, most drive trishaws or motorcycle taxis, while the women sell firewood and snacks, or carry water from the ponds.” U Than Oo added that a large number of Dala’s inhabitants are also engaged in menial work in
Yangon. “Drinking water is in short supply here. The water is very salty, so the Yangon City Development Committee has been providing some water to residents – but it’s not enough,” he said. A solution exists, but regrettably, nothing has been done to make it a reality, said the administrator of Yazar Thingyan ward. “There is a water pipeline about 2700 feet away but it doesn’t work. If the government repaired it, the water problem in our ward would be solved,” he said. U Mya Zin works as a secretary for a religious organisation and she
earns about K5000 a day. She pays tuition fees of K5000 a month for each of her children, but she said that illness often prevents them studying. “Diarrhoea is common because of the unclean water. Some NGOs give us some sort of vitamin supplement that we take every six months. But it would be nice to have clean water,” U Mya Zin told The Myanmar Times. He said that as an alternative, Dala relies heavily on rainwater. The ward administrator said that the European Commission’s humanitarian aid organisation ECHO donated US$16.3 million this year to help local NGOs create more jobs in livestock and agriculture. A French organisation called Aide Medicale Internationale (AMI) has built reservoirs, installed water tanks and provided hand-pumps. “However the water remains too salty and the public can’t safely consume it. AMI has since moved to Twante township,” said the ward administrator. “A Japanese NGO provided us with a primary school, but they didn’t stay around to help repair it. A lot of NGOs came after Nargis in 2008, but many have since left,” said trishaw driver U Mya Zin. The ward administrator said, “There are some NGOs doing good work here, but their contribution is like feeding an elephant with a handful of sesame seeds.” Translated by Myo Lwin
Treating clubfoot in Myanmar
By shwe yee saw myint
“I broke down in tears when my husband told me that my baby was born with a deformity. When I saw that his feet were curled inwards, I worried about his future,” 30-year-old Daw Moe Moe Aye told The Myanmar Times. She was so distressed by the fact that her child was born with clubfoot that she moved to one of Kasturba Gandhi Hospital’s private rooms to avoid seeing other newborn babies. Clubfoot is a congenital deformity and despite extensive international research, no specific factor has emerged as a cause. It affects approximately one in every 1000 babies. Ma Moe Moe Aye’s son is now seven-months-old and is undergoing treatment at a clinic at Yangon Childrens’ Hospital. “I’m so grateful a friend of mine told me about this,” she said. The clinic was opened in 2011 by Professor Thit Lwin, who is the head of the hospital’s orthopedic department. Patients are treated using the Ponseti method, which involves a series of corrective foot manipulations by specially trained physiotherapists and plaster casts. This is followed by wearing corrective shoe braces, usually until the age of five, though it depends on the severity of the condition. The Ponseti method negates the need for invasive surgery that often results in arthritis in adulthood. Although surgery is available in Myanmar, it costs around US$1000. If clubfoot is left untreated, the condition worsens and becomes increasingly painful. However due to a lack of awareness, both about the condition and treatment, many doctors and parents are unaware that the Ponseti method – which is regarded as the world standard for the treatment of clubfeet and has a 95 percent success rate – is now available in Myanmar. During The Myanmar Times visit to the hospital, Dr Soe San said that for Walk for Life began in Bangladesh in January 2010 and it has expanded its operations to some of the remotest areas of Bangladesh. Six-thousand Bangladeshi children have been treated using the Ponseti method and the locally made braces cost just $4 to make. “In Bangladesh, the kids that have been treated are now kicking footballs around,” said Colin. However he added, “Wearing the braces isn’t an issue while children are very young, but it gets harder as they get older. This is why parents need to be involved in the process.” Unassembled braces from Bangladesh are sent to Myanmar for assembly and local production will begin from January next year. Earlier in the year, Colin met with Myanmar’s Minister for Health, Dr Pe Thet Khin, who was formerly a pediatrician. “The minister is highly interested in the program and has been very supportive. It’s very positive,” said Colin. Workshops on clubfoot were held at Yangon Children’s Hospital in January, which involved training sessions conducted by two Bangladeshi physiotherapists and UK-based orthopedic surgeon Steve Mannion. “It’s hoped that in the future, a stream of physiotherapists from Bangladesh will come – it will be a cross-cultural exchange,” said Colin. Both Professor Thit and Colin underscored the need for treatment to begin under the age of 12-months and said that a public awareness campaign is vital. Walk for Life plans on establishing a treatment network into rural areas and would be glad to be approached by other INGOs who may be able to help. According to the clinic’s data, the majority of patients are referred to the clinic by word of mouth. During The Myanmar Times visit to the clinic, the sounds of crying babies pierced the air. However with a smile, a physiotherapist said, “We would like to hear more. We want to treat this condition.”
A baby with clubfoot atYangon Children's Hospital. Photo BOOTHEE
many families in rural areas, travelling to Yangon for treatment is too costly. “There are a lot of untreated cases in the countryside,” he said. The clinic is open for two hours a week and to date it has treated about 130 children. Professor Thit Lwin told The Myanmar Times that the number of children undergoing treatment for clubfoot will rise significantly as a result of an agreement signed between Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and an Australian non-government
organisation called Walk for Life, which was founded by Colin Macfarlane under the Glencoe Foundation. Colin met Professor Thit during an orthopedic conference in Bangladesh in February this year. The two began discussing the idea of forging links between Bangladesh and Myanmar to treat clubfoot by exchanging materials and expertise. Training programs for physiotherapists will begin shortly in Myanmar and clinics will open in government hospitals in areas with relatively high populations.
NGOs & Aid
DFID Director for Myanmar
minutes with… Yangon’s first animal refuge Three Paul Whittingham
By Jessica Mudditt
LTHOUGH it’s still under construction, Yangon Animal Shelter is already attracting four-legged friends. Under the workmen’s table at the site in Pele, five puppies less than a week old doze in the afternoon sun. They rouse and waddle over to their mother for a feed the moment she flops down on a hessian bag. The litter’s arrival on the site appears fortuitous – however it reflects Yangon’s stray puppy problem. “The shelter really needs to get going. There are puppies everywhere and many are in a bad condition,” said Terryl Just, one of three people involved in opening Myanmar’s first animal shelter. Although no estimates exist as to the number of strays roaming the streets, street dogs eek out an existence on almost every block in Yangon’s downtown area. At this time of year, with “puppy season” in full swing, litters of pups trail after their mothers like packs of geese. Survival rates are low, as many are killed by traffic, disease or as Myit Ma Kha Media Group reported in October, poisoned bait. Yangon City Development Committee lays poisoned beef on the streets in an attempt to prevent rabies and other infections among humans by reducing the number of street dogs. An expat told The Myanmar Times that her two dogs were killed in less than a minute after accidentally swallowing the poison while she was walking them. Terryl said that while Myanmar people tend to prefer pedigree dogs as pets, she is hopeful that with an increasing number of foreigners coming to Myanmar, more street dogs will be adopted. Nevertheless, Myanmar people are kind to street dogs; small bags of rice are
The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) is one of Myanmar’s largest donors and has pledged to provide the country with more than US$73 million dollars every year until 2015. Aside from an earlymorning newspaper delivery round (a form of child labour that still exists in the UK!), I worked in a wine shop and for Lufthansa German Airlines at London Heathrow, to earn some money for college. • Describe yourself in three words. Optimistic. Pessimistic. Confused. • What was the last book you read? What was it about? Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. A brilliantly readable account of how ‘poor people’ experience life and make choices. I was afraid it would seem like development voyeurism but it’s incredibly wellresearched, engaging and therefore non-patronising. If you only read one book on economics and development – this should be the one! • Does your work involve a lot of travel? Yes, but these days mainly to Nay Pyi Taw – a positive sign of the times but I miss seeing the work we do in the country at large. • What’s your favourite destination for a holiday and why? I think the beaches in Myanmar are pretty hard to beat. And being English, I’m naturally reluctant to praise France in any way, but it is a beautiful country. • What is your advice for graduates seeking a successful career in your sector? I hope that Burmese graduates will see a future for themselves in developing their own country. So I would encourage them to study abroad, but to come back and use their learning for the good of their own country – which needs them.
A six-day-old puppy at the shelter. Photo Jessica Mudditt
left on footpaths to prevent them from going hungry. Many dogs wear collars even if they have no fixed address: they are “community dogs” which are looked after by shopkeepers and others. However there is nowhere in Yangon for the sick and injured to convalesce. Fortunately, the shelter will be attended by five vets who will treat the animals free of charge. The organisers – Terryl Just, Daw Roza Win and Emma Beesley – had hoped the shelter would be up and running by late October, but with unforeseen delays in its construction, the date has been pushed back to the end of December. The newly constructed fence isn’t high enough to keep the dogs in securely so it will need to be reinforced, the cement floor needs extra layers for durability and the clinic lacks supplies. The walls for the airport hangar style shed, which will have a capacity of about 40 dogs, are not yet built. The shelter’s location, which is about 24 kilometres from the city centre, adds to the expense of construction because transporting materials takes more than an hour from the downtown area. However finding a property closer was impossibly expensive – even with an
OrganisersTerryl Just, Daw Roza Win and Emma Beesley at the site in Pele. Photo Jessica Mudditt
extremely generous donation of US$ 20,000 from a single person. Daw Roza Win donated her own land to the shelter, which allowed the donor’s funds to go towards its construction. However the site is relatively small for its purpose. It occupies a third of an acre on Aung Thabye Road and is adjacent to an undeveloped plot of land. The shelter’s organisers are keen to lease the vacant plot so that the dogs will have more room to exercise – the trouble is that they haven’t been able to identify the owner. After Daw Roza Win donated the land, the first step was to build a road to the site, making it accessible during the monsoon season. This was completed in April. The dense bushland was cut back to make way for kennel facilities, secure fencing and a veterinary clinic, which are about a month off from completion. Other funds have been largely raised by wordof-mouth. Parents at the International School Yangon, where Terryl and Roza both teach, donated money for the water tank. The school community has also sold ice-cream. A fundraising dinner is being planned, along with t-shirt sales and a calendar. The calendar’s pictures will feature Yangon’s rescued street dogs – “to show how beautiful they are,” Terryl said. More funds are desperately needed – particularly for the shelter’s running costs. Volunteers to walk and feed the dogs will be welcomed. With so many contenders for a shelter, it will only be possible to take in “the most extreme cases,” Terryl told The Myanmar Times. “We will always try to find homes but there is no way we can keep up,” she said. If a home hasn’t been found by the time a dog has recovered from an injury or illness, it will be returned to where it was picked up, pro-
vided the area is reasonably hazard-free. Each dog that comes through the shelter’s doors will be vaccinated and sterilised, and a public awareness campaign about the need for these procedures will be a key part of the shelter’s activities. Terryl said that Yangon Animal Shelter will not welcome the dumping of animals there due to an owner’s change of heart. While living in Myanmar for the past nine years, Terryl has rescued dozens of sick, injured or just plain lonely dogs from Yangon’s streets. There is no doubting her commitment to each and every dog she cares for: Terryl once flew a dog to Florida because she’d been unable to find it a home in Yangon before she was due to leave for her summer break. She also paid for a street dog to undergo chemotherapy, and described its ultimate passing with evident distress. Terryl currently owns seven dogs, plus two cats she rescued from the streets of Bolivia. On the day of The Myanmar Times' visit to the shelter, Emma Beesley – who is giving her time to the shelter during her gap year – is preparing to take home the six puppies that have found an uncomfortable refuge underneath a generator near Yangon International School. While some may argue that Myanmar has more immediate priorities to address, Terryl sees no reason to delay alleviating the suffering of stray animals. She pointed out that there are other organisations and monasteries helping people in need and said, “This is what we are doing.” To adopt one of the 30+ puppies that are in need of a home, or to donate funds or volunteer at Yangon Animal Shelter, contact Terryl Just – email@example.com or Daw Roza Win – firstname.lastname@example.org
• What made you decide to work in humanitarian aid? Initially youthful idealism! But since then – and despite growing older and more sceptical – a genuine belief that aid can make a difference and that you’re dealing with big, difficult problems that face ordinary people around the world – a real privilege. • What is the most satisfying aspect of your job? Working for a world-class organisation like DFID (for all its faults!) is very motivating in general, as is meeting people from all walks of life and corners of the globe. But, specifically in my current job, witnessing and in some way contributing to the historic changes in this country is uniquely satisfying. • What’s your favourite restaurant in Yangon? The Chinese restaurant 'round the corner from my work (for the prawns); the British Club (for the pies) and the North Korean restaurant Pyong Yang – it has a surreal floor show with dancing waitresses. • What is the one gadget you cannot live without and why? My kettle. Makes that all-important cup of tea first thing in the morning (and it’s designed by Porsche). • What was your very first job?
NGOs & Aid
Yangon School for the Blind
By myo lwin
AUNG Htwe Paing bounds confidently along the corridors of the Yangon School for the Blind in Insein township. The 30-year-old climbs and descends the stairs as quickly as anyone with full use of their eyesight and introduces each passing teacher. The school currently provides education to 130 students, ranging from kindergarten to matriculation. The school is located on Min Dhama Road and was founded in 1975 by a nonprofit organisation called Myanmar Christian Fellowship for the Blind. Half of the staff are blind, including my host, who is also an ex-student. Maung Htwe Paing has no siblings and grew up in a village in Bago region. When he was four-yearsold he lost his eyesight following a high fever, which was later discovered to have been caused by a Vitamin A deficiency. According to L V Prasad Eye Institute, the deficiency often results in blindness in developing countries and in children it can be fatal. The institute recommends diets that are rich in dark green leafy vegetables, yellow vegetables, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato and fruits such as papaya and mango. “We call that kind of fever
Using the tactile reading and writing system of Braille. Photo KAUNG HTET
Maung Htwe Paing. Photo MYO LWIN
‘thu nge nar nge gyin hme,’ meaning it was a combination of high fever and measles,” he told me wistfully. Shortly after losing his eyesight, his family moved to live nearby his father’s new job at the Sittaung paper mill, which is about 128 kilometres southeast of Yangon. “My father died two years after we moved,” he said. As his mother was unable to provide for her son, Maung Htwe Paing’s ailing father had asked the paper mill’s manager, Daw Yi Yi Wai, to look after his son. The manager kept her promise and sent the sixyear-old to the Saint Mary Missionary School in Yangon’s Sanchaung township. “The school welcomed me very warmly and I felt somewhat at ease. The staff understood how sad I felt
after losing my eyesight, my father and then being separated from my mother. It was tough for me to adjust to everything, but knowing that the other people around me were also blind made me feel a lot more comfortable.” A year later, he moved to the Yangon School for the Blind, where he learned to read and write using Braille. He was offered a job at the school after passing ninth grade and for the past 20 years he has worked on the reception desk as a telephone operator. Twice a year, the school’s Christian music band travels around Myanmar, both to raise money for the school and to encourage blind people to gain the confidence needed to step outside their homes. The school also aims to dispel the stigma around
blindness. “Many parents keep blind children at home, because they are afraid that other people will look down on them. Blind people are sometimes teased, which is very cruel. It’s not healthy for blind children to be kept inside. We try to encourage people to send them to schools such as ours so that they will be provided with greater opportunities.” Maung Htwe Paing speaks from experience. “When I was a child, people used to lie and say there was a ditch in front of my path. Others silently squeezed my ears. Of course I didn’t know who they were until they burst out laughing. It made them happy for a few moments, but I guess they were unaware that their actions left me with a sadness that lasted for years.”
Maung Htwe Paing recently published a book about his life as a blind person, which was naturally also published in Braille. The 165-page memoir titled “Kyai Kwai Pon Yeik Lwan Seit Ma Pyae” (A Sad Image of Never-ending Longing) sold out soon after the first print run and begins with a touching scene at his father’s death bed. At the time of his death, Maung Htwe Paing assumed his father was sleeping and asked his mother not to disturb him; he never woke up. These days, Maung Htwe Paing said he often returns to visit his mother in the village he left so many years ago. He also makes regular trips to Yangon’s downtown area. “The city’s pavements are improving,” he said.
He also appreciates that sloped entrances needed for wheelchairs are becoming more common, because he sympathises with others facing a disability. Maung Htwe Paing said he has a large group of friends at the school and together they have worked through many issues related to their disability. He has attended the weddings of several friends, but told The Myanmar Times that he is in no rush to find a partner. “I am still young and I’m satisfied with my life as a writer: It’s something I want to spend the rest of my life doing.” “I’m not even sure if I will meet the right person, let alone when I will get married. You never know, because after all, love is blind,” he said with a wry smile.
FIFA launches Asia’s first football for health program in Myanmar
By Yamon Phu Thit
“WHEN football talks, children will listen,” said Professor Jiri Dvorak, chief medical officer of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). In October 2012, Myanmar became the first Asian country to conduct a football for health program. Fifteen countries in Africa and Latin America are also taking part. “Young football fans will pay attention when their favorite football players present health messages to them,” Professor Dvorak told The Myanmar Times. "11 for Health" is named after its 11 ambassadors, which include football superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the former of whom is also seen on Pepsi billboards in downtown Yangon, following the soft-drink’s recent return to Myanmar. The program will involve 45 minutes of football skills and 45 minutes of health and life messages per week for secondary school students between the ages of 11 and 12 years. “Myanmar is a country in transition and the idea is to present good approaches to life using the popularity of football as a vehicle during this period,” he said. Professor Dvorak said common in Myanmar, so here we can try to prevent something that does not yet exist, which is a different situation from many other countries,” Professor Dvorak said. The president of the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF) said he is excited about the program. During a press conference on October 24, U Zaw Zaw said, “We can build a better future if our children grow up to become healthy adults.” The program aims to be sustainable: In its first three months, between 250 to 300 teachers and sports coaches will undergo training about football for health. Following an assessment of the pilot phase, FIFA will decide whether to involve up to 6,000 teachers in spreading the message to students. “We would aim to reach more than two million students,” U Zaw Zaw said. FIFA will provide funds for the first round of pilot training. “If the pilot phase is successful, we will discuss the development of this program with the ministry of health and private enterprises,” Professor Dvorak said. In the long term, a huge amount of money could be saved on medical care if a message of good health is effectively conveyed to the new generation.
Boys hone their skills during one of FIFA's '11 for Health' sessions. Photo FIFA
that as the country opens up after decades of isolation, there is the potential for the public to be exposed to bad health habits, such as using
cars rather than walking, consuming fast food, sugary drinks, as well as drugs and alcohol. “Such habits are not very
NGOs & Aid
The future role of NGOs in Myanmar
By naw say phaw waa
EPRESENTATIVES from the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) agree that the NGO sector needs to flourish for Myanmar to progress along the path to democratisation and development. The Myanmar Times interviewed Daw Phyu Phyu Thin from the NLD and U Aung Thaung from the USDP about their views on the future role that both local and international NGOs should play. Daw Phyu Phyu Thin is the Pyithu hluttaw representative for Mingalar Taung Nyunt township and leads a group helping 300 patients living with HIV. She believes that progress towards democracy in Myanmar will be rapid if the NGO sector and civil society groups flourish. U Aung Thaung is the head of the Hluttaw Committee and a chief executive member of USDP . He said, “If more NGOs appear in Myanmar, there will be more momentum towards democratic reforms. The NGO sector should develop and expand,” he said. However both stated that a lack of transparency remains problematic. Daw Phyu Phyu Thin said that while NGOs have provided valuable assistance in the economic development of countries such as India and Cambodia, this is not necessarily the case in Myanmar. “Many young people who should be working towards the country’s development are not public-spirited enough. Civil society needs to be strengthened,” she said. The NLD representative also mentioned the controversy NGOs have attracted for spending too great a proportion of funds on staff salaries and management. “There are weaknesses in the
transparency of NGOs,” she said. U Aung Thaung said that NGOs would have a greater impact on the people who most need assistance if bolstering transparency became a priority. “In the past, some international aid groups came into disaster affected areas, but their costs were higher than the aid delivered. I think they are trying to remedy the situation, but some misunderstandings remain,” he said. Daw Phyu Phyu Thin said, “Aid organisations lack transparency, whether they work for the government or a foreign organisation. Despite information posted on government websites, it is difficult for the public to know exactly
which group is doing what. There was an appearance of secrecy, and people could associate that with corruption.” She also raised the issue of the infighting that sometimes occurs among NGO staff for lucrative placements rather than acting in the country’s best interests. Daw Phyu Phyu Thin said this problem does not arise in developed countries because NGO salaries are similar to many other professions. But the issue is a particular challenge in Myanmar due to high levels of unemployment and NGO wages being higher than the average. “Local companies pay less than international NGOs (INGOs), so conflicts arise among staff because they think everyone is after their job. This distracts their attention from serving the public,” she said. U Aung Thaung has a different view, saying that problem is not as widespread. “Those sorts of attitude used to exist in the past, but are less common now. Most NGO staff are
working for the good of the people and not working for their own ends,” he said. Regarding the registration of NGOs and civil society organisations, the representatives’ views also differed. Daw Phyu Phyu Thin said a law requiring registration is not yet appropriate. However U Aung Thaung believes the absence of a registration law could lead to confusion springing from a lack of clear rules and regulation. “Without regulation, some NGOs could do as they please – to the disadvantage of locals and their own staff. If a group organises itself, it should be registered with the appropriate ministry and receive a licence and undergo regular scrutiny,” he said. Unlike U Aung Thaung, Daw Phyu Phyu Thin strongly objected to a rule that NGOs must be apolitical. She said, “Our HIV assistance organisation wasn't permitted to register because we are not apolitical.”
However both members agree that the K500,000 annual government registration fee is too high. “We are trying to revise the licence fee for registering an NGO because the current fee is too high. The matter is now before the hluttaw,” said U Aung Thaung. Daw Phyu Phyu Thin said that further progress in the role NGOs can play is the responsibility of both the government and the people. “NGOs have run into trouble because of a lack of transparency in the past. But I think they can do a lot for the development of the country,” she said. U Aung Thaung said, “The NGO sector is relatively important for the future of the country because NGOs can help to organise unification. Whether local or international, NGOs are welcome if they work for the good of the country and operate legally. There are some black sheep, but they can be dealt with according to the law.” Translated by Thiri Min Htun
Free Funeral Service Society overcomes stigma
By cherry thein
“SOME of my show-business friends were initially shocked to learn that I carried coffins at funerals: a task often shunned by the right-thinking and conservative,” said the chairperson of the Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS) (Yangon), U Kyaw Thu. The well-known actor told The Myanmar Times that, “offering these services has been challenging at times.” Many believe that working with the dead is inauspicious and brings bad luck and the FFSS has had many battles since it was founded almost 13 years ago by the late film director U Thukha. The Myanmar Times reported as recently as 2011 that some township authorities do not allow FFSS vehicles to drive through their neighbourhoods and signs in some neighbourhoods there are signs stating ‘No hearses allowed.’ It applied for government registration four years ago, however the application remains pending. Nevertheless, the civil society organisation has become very well known over the years and it has been responsible for dispelling some of the stigma surrounding funeral services. Finding volunteers is no longer as tough as it used to be: it currently has 400. U Kyaw Thu said, “My work at the organisation has taught me a lot. As an actor, I used to crave publicity and chased money and fame, but now I want nothing but to help those in need.” Many other public figures have come forward to publicly support the service. The society started out with two hearses and donations from wellwishers at home and abroad and has since carried out more than 121,000 funerals. FFSS owns 14 hearses, seven staff vehicles, and operates in 50 of Myanmar’s 325 townships. The organisation also began providing an ambulance service in September this year to help transfer patients requiring complicated surgery from Taikkyi to larger hospitals in Yangon.