Written by: Ernest Tan (19-E6), Wong Sean Yew (19-U4), Sit Jie Ren (19-A6)
Designed by: Lee Entong (19-U2)
Photographs by: Ernest Tan (19-E6), Sit Jie Ren (19-A6)
Waking up at an ungodly hour, three half-lucid EJC Press members dragged their feet to Terminal 2 of Changi Airport – weary but full of anticipation of what was to come.
They were to catch an early morning flight for the 8-day Eunoia Global Orientation Programme to Myanmar. The trip would consist of a service learning component facilitated by World Vision, and a cultural immersion component to various places of interest.
We were greeted first by World Vision officers who were to facilitate the service learning component of the trip. One of them, Wei Jie, had previously met us in Singapore to explain World Vision’s modus operandi, a summary of which can be found below.
World Vision’s Modus Operandi
World Vision is an international relief, development and advocacy organisation with a strong presence in countries worldwide. In Myanmar, World Vision has been operating since 1991, in 12 out of 14 administrative states and regions. With over 700 staff, 5000 volunteers, and 50 projects/ programmes, World Vision has been making great strides in improving child welfare in Myanmar.
We observed World Vision’s efforts firsthand in two townships, Hwambi and Taikkyi. These two townships are part of World Vision’s Area Development Programme (ADP), a programme where World Vision partners with local stakeholders to improve the well-being of children through multiple sector projects aimed at the root causes of issues that negatively impact children in a distinct geographic area (World Vision, 2019). In these ADPs, World Vision increases child protection by improving the health, education and livelihoods in the community.
A World Vision Field Office in Myanmar.
Out of ignorance, many parents in Myanmar may not know how to adequately feed their children. Indeed, some parents only feed their children excessive amounts of rice or instant noodles, resulting in malnutrition. To combat this, World Vision carries out growth monitoring for children aged 3 to 5. Every 3 months, parents bring their children to measure their height, weight and the thickness of their arm at a designated centre. If the readings show that the child is suffering from malnutrition, parents will be advised on the diet their child should have. World Vision decides the diet through the strategy of ‘Positive Deviance’, where the diet of a healthy child in a community of malnourished children is used as the model for the diets of the other children. In this way, the ingredients of a healthy diet can easily be sourced by any parents from the community so that all parents can easily improve their child’s wellbeing. In our trip there, we witnessed for ourselves the way a health monitoring centre operated and had an opportunity to participate in the health monitoring activities. Ming En from 19-E6 commented, “I feel that it’s pretty useful and effective for a low cost operation” which encapsulated our admiration at World Vision for coming up with such an innovative solution even when faced with limited resources.
Growth Monitoring Activities, including height and weight measurements.
To improve the health of communities, World Vision also improves the sanitation facilities under its Water, Sanitation, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme. In the past, villagers had to use mere latrines, which were essentially just a hole in the ground for their human waste. But now, functional toilets that could adequately store waste and prevent the spread of diseases were established.
Toilets established by World Vision for a school
Kitchen sieves for filtering groundwater were replaced with modern water filtration equipment, such as the LifeStraw, which adequately cleans water to ensure potability for their residents.
LifeStraw at a school.
Given how education is a crucial enabler in a child’s progress, it also naturally plays a huge role in World Vision’s promotion of child welfare. In Hmawbi, World Vision has established Early Childhood Care and Development Centres (ECCD) to teach young children the basics, such as the alphabet, so as to prepare them for their eventual entry into formal education. We visited ECCDs in our journey and were really heartened by the enthusiasm the children there display. Even when we ran out of prepared activities, the children gladly went along with our improvisation and painted on pictures that we drew on the spur of the moment. In the words of Anastasia from 19-U4, “I felt really grateful for everything that I had and inspired by how they can be so happy with so little”; this trip to an ECCD really enlightened us that we were truly lucky to be able to live in Singapore, while also enabling us to appreciate how the children in Myanmar were so enthusiastic, even when they had limited activities when compared to a childcare centre in Singapore.
When World Vision comes into contact with a community, they often cooperate with community leaders such as religious figures due to the influence they hold over their congregations. We observed this firsthand during a visit to a primary school which used the facilities of a church as a hall to hold large-scale activities. During this visit, we gave the children a quiz on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the premise that knowledge of their rights will allow children to escape from exploitative situations. What surprised us was how most of the children were correct in their answers, even for some obscure sections, which escaped even our purview. But we were left to ponder: if the children know their rights, why is the child rights situation in Myanmar still so bad? We were also encouraged by the amount of enthusiasm that the primary school children possessed, as they clamoured to answer the questions posed in exchange for sweets and notebooks.
Performance by children at a primary school.
It may be strange to think how the livelihoods of families in a community will contribute to World Vision’s mission of child protection, but in Myanmar, both are inextricably linked together. Many families in Myanmar face unstable livelihoods, as their jobs often depend on weather conditions. For instance, activities such as farming are seasonal. At other times of the year, rural families supplement their incomes by collecting rice husks for fuel in factories, working as labourers or even catching eels. However, if events such as bad harvests occur, families will need additional sources of income. Children are pulled from school to work, resulting in the proliferation of child labour. We saw the detrimental effects of this firsthand at a factory, where children worked in unforgiving conditions to create bricks. It was easy to see why World Vision will want to eradicate this.
A brick factory in Myanmar.
World Vision improves the livelihoods and resilience of a community by helping Most Vulnerable Cities (MVFs) to find sustainable sources of livelihood. In Hwambi and Taikkyi, this was done via pig rearing. World Vision taught MVFs the necessary skills and provided them with the base animals.
Different breeds of pigs that are commonly reared in Myanmar.
After being raised for two months, the MVF can sell the pig at the market for 200 000 to 250 000 (approx SGD 200-250) Myanmar Kyats. By teaching skills, World Vision ensures that its strategies are sustainable so that families can continue to use pig farming even after World Vision eventually leaves.
In conclusion, these first three days to Myanmar were very fruitful, as we learned a lot about the work of humanitarian Non-Governmental Organisations like World Vision and the strong mechanisms they have employed to ensure their effectiveness. On a more emotional note, we were extremely touched by the actions of the Burmese people. Despite being poor, many villages we visited specially prepared a wide array of traditional Burmese food for us and fanned them continuously to protect them from insects. Their actions surprised Jingyi from 19-I1, who remarked that “I felt really surprised but touched because they went out of their way to prepare food for us even though they we were supposed to be there to help them”. Village schools we visited took the time and effort to prepare special performances and willingly participated in our various TikTok shenanigans, even when the students were not clear what was going on. Their friendliness and their hospitality truly left an indelible mark on our hearts.
Enjoying traditional dishes with the villagers.
In the next article, we will venture to Yangon to learn more about the more cultural and historical parts of Myanmar.