Myanmar: Women stand tall for disaster risk reduction

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By Htet Htet Oo, World Vision Myanmar communications

With a quick pace, Daw Nyein Hla goes from house to house. In the bright morning sun, her smile still shines through, gathering people is not an easy job. “Let’s meet at my place,” she says. Every week, Daw Nyein Hla invites women in her community and educates them about disaster preparedness and reduction.

As natural disasters in Myanmar are inevitable, it is important to understand disaster preparedness in order to build capacity and resilience. This was made painfully apparent in May 2008 when Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar and claimed the lives of over 130,000 people.

As building the capacity and resilience of the community is the one of the most important factors in disaster risk reduction, World Vision has projects into the community development work and has worked at the grassroots level.

San Pya village is one of the communities where World Vision’s disaster risk reduction project is running. It is one of the target areas of Hmawbi Area Development Programme (ADP) and it is a 90 minute drive from Yangon. Although World Vision started development work in San Pya village since 2004, it has worked on disaster risk reduction just after the cyclone Nargis hit in 2008. There are 63 households in the village and majority is farmers and odd job workers. Half of the village is situated in lowland and at risk of flooding.

The community of San Pya village had never been aware of the disaster risk reduction but is now proactively working to reduce the potential risks in their community. Women who used to be occupied with house chores and left behind while the men participated in communities’ activities are now working on the frontline of reducing the risk of disasters. Daw Nyein Hla is one of those women. She persuades the members of her community and actively works to raise awareness regarding disaster risk reduction in her community.

“We didn’t understand that we needed to build our capacity and resilience as disasters can come any time. After we have experienced the killer cyclone, Nargis, in May 2008, we came to realise that we needed to prepare for the disasters. But we had no idea where we should have started. Then World Vision initiated a disaster risk reduction project in our village and raised our awareness on disaster risk reduction,” Daw Nyein Hla says.

As World Vision aims to raise the community’s awareness on disaster risk reduction and build their capacity so that they can be ready for the disasters, World Vision has conducted awareness campaigns, trainings and empowered the community.

When they came to understand the importance of disaster preparedness, the community of San Pya village formed Village Disaster Management Committee with local authorities, village leaders, church leaders, school teachers, students and villagers. The majority of the committee is female.

“It’s simple. When men are working to feed the family, we, women, take the responsibility for our community,” says Daw Nyein Hla who was trained as a midwife. The mother of five says World Vision opened her eyes and she realised she needs to take action to protect her family and her village.

“Reducing disaster risks is not a work that we can finish in a short period. It’s a long term work. We have to be aware, we have to have knowledge, we need to take responsibility and action and be ready all the time. It’s not World Vision’s job. It’s our job. World Vision educates us and builds up our capacity. We have to continue the work. I share the knowledge that I gained with the women’s groups in the community so that we know how to survive in the disasters. I encourage the members of women’s group to share what they have learnt with their families and their neighbours,” says 54-year-old woman who is the member of Village Disaster Management Committee.

The Village Disaster Management Committee is conducting regular trainings and awareness raising activities in the community. Moreover, they organise the activities such as growing trees and repairing village drainage systems as a part of disaster risk reduction activities. World Vision has provided two motorboats to the committee so that the residents in lowland can evacuate when flood occurs. The committee hires out the boats during summer to get revolving funds for emergencies.

As children’s participation in the disaster risk reduction is one of the main objectives of the projects, World Vision has raised awareness among the children.

“While we implement the project, we have found out that children are the best target group. They are really enthusiastic to learn and practice what they have learnt. They always share what they have learnt with their parents and they even correct their parents when they do wrong things. When children understand the importance of preserving environment, they will practice it throughout of their life. Therefore, we educate the children about disaster risk reductions and let them participate in the disaster risk reduction activities,” says Na Ta Lae, coordinator of Disaster Risk Reduction project.

Daw Naw Lucy, the headmistress of the San Pya village’s primary school, is educating the children in her school about disaster risk reductions.

“There are 257 students in my school. As children are the best agents, it’s important to educate them. They are always eager to share what they have learnt with their families and friends. Even as an adult, I haven’t been aware of disaster risk reduction before World Vision introduced us [to it]. When I know we all need to take action as a community to reduce the risk we have in our own community, I do all the best I can. I encourage all the teachers and students in my school to take action for our community. I’m now educating my students [about] what they can do to reduce risk and what they should do and shouldn’t do during disasters,” says Daw Naw Lucy who is also a member of Village Disaster Management Committee.

A girl like Naw Say Gay Phaw is also taking action on disaster risk reduction. The 11-year-old and her friends are happy to draw the hazard map of her community.

“These maps are very useful. We can remind each other which part of the village is dangerous for us and has potential risk of disasters. Teachers taught us the types of disasters. And we also learn ‘Dos and Don’ts’ when [there is] earthquakes, floods, fires [or] storms. I have shared the things I know with my sisters and brothers. I have four younger siblings and one elder sister. I also tell what I’ve learnt to my parents and asked them to follow,” says Naw Say Gay Phaw who wants to be a teacher and is now studying in Grade 6.

“I’ve witnessed the participation of community and I’m so pleased with it. They have practiced what they have learnt, encouraged each other and taken responsibility for their community. I believe that the Village Disaster Management Committee will function well even though World Vision is no longer working in the area. I’m surprised to see women who have once stayed at home, cooking, taking care of children and rarely participating in village’s activities are now taking the lead in reducing potential risks of disasters in their community,” says Na Ta Lae, coordinator of Disaster Risk Reduction project.

As natural disasters in Myanmar are inevitable, it is important to understand disaster preparedness to build capacity and resilience. This was made painfully apparent in May 2008 when Cyclone Nargis claimed the lives of over 130,000 people. Currently, San Pya village is one of the villages where World Vision’s runs a disaster risk reduction project. Let us remember the lessons and learn from them as we celebrate the International Disaster Risk Reduction Day on 13 October 2012.

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