OUR BURMESE STORY
Update : November 2010
Developing countries are home to dedicated, competent, engaged citizens who strive to make their compatriots’ lives better. These people can and do accomplish amazing feats, but generally speaking, any improvements in the standard of living and quality of life are long in coming due to lack of financial resources.
Therefore, as foreigners with a fervent desire to provide support, we feel we are best able to help by literally bringing them the funds they so sorely lack. With these contributions, we can empower them to create better living standards and cultivate the skills required to fulfil and advance their roles in society as they see it.
We decided to focus on two regions in Burma where local groups operate. By far, most of the population do not benefit from the abundant natural resources of the country since the political realities prevent them from working profitably, from developing personally, socially and economically. These same political realities make it so that very little foreign aid can reach Burmese people from the outside. Our efforts are meant to help the Burmese help the Burmese.
The thoughts we want to express here are meant to complement our annual reports, especially the one we sent out last year following our trip to Burma at the end of 2009. In it we spoke of the individuals we have shared the pleasure of collaboration during our yearly trips. We would like you to know how we became engaged in this particular humanitarian cause.
It all began in December 2004, when we met with Father Benjamin Eishu, a Karen become Catholic priest. We became aware of how even small sums of money could make a world of difference. For example, we learned that for about 50 USD, Benjamin could buy a sewing machine, which would serve purposes both immediate and future. The effect of training is enormous and can impact entire lives. A trainee, say, a young village girl, would be thus able to stay in her village, start a family, even train other people, thus remaining part of the local social fabric (instead of being forced into working in larger towns or cities where youths are taken advantage of, the consequences of which we know are grave). The thought of it! Just 50 USD could change the course of entire lives…
The night before we left Burma to return to Europe, we gave Benjamin all the cash we had left so with it he could purchase two sewing machines.
This is how it all began.
We admire and respect Benjamin, and our friendship over the years, marked by our annual visits (though we communicate when we can by email), has shown us not only what a fine person he is, but also what true human strength and dedication to a people are, what it takes, and what it looks like. He works with both short-term and long-term vision and is particularly devoted to helping children. In fact, Benjamin has just taken three children, triplets, into his boarding school in Myaungmya. Their mother died in childbirth and the father was unable to bring them up alone. Two young women (former orphans of the boarding school) are present on site to welcome distressed children and are fully capable of spoiling them with support and attention. The older children also lend a hand in the spirit of true siblings in a large family.
As we mentioned in our January 2010 report, an Italian NGO (Associazione Volontari di Servizio Internationale) has taken on the financial support of the Karen people who are spread out in the bush lands of the Irrawaddy delta (about 650 rice farmers over about 140 hectares/346 acres). They help fund the Rice Bank Benjamin founded in 2003 thereby liberating the local farmers and peasants from the usurious taxes imposed by the government. On the other hand, we are helping him in the domain of education at the bush school, at the Myaungmya boarding school, the student quarters in Pathein (the region’s capital), and the study grants at the University of Pathein and post-grad grants at the University of Rangoon (these female students are thus guaranteed the acquisition of good computer skills). Each year we fund several micro-credit projects; as a rule Benjamin prioritises the needs of widows and deserted women.
In January 2005, when we returned from Burma, the next step of our journey as humanitarians became clear. I was telling our local pharmacist here in Cap d’Ail, Mme Elizabeth Troisgros, about the revelations we experienced talking with Father Benjamin, and she suddenly offered to give us some cash for the next trip. She firmly stated that she was in favour of charitable contributions that in their entirety would reach the people to whom they were destined and that would be handled by mediators whose integrity could not be questioned. We thought about that and thanks to her we now bring our Burmese contacts not only our own savings but also contributions from our friends and family in Europe, North America and Australia.
Later that same year (2005), when we were giving a medical student his grant in Mandalay, we had the great fortune of meeting Kyaw Htin, a trained veterinarian, who in order to feed his family imports antibiotics for poultry. He is the founder of “The Light of Asia” association whose principal activity remains the construction of a fully-functional medical dispensary in Si Kar (a small village, a few hours’ drive east of Mandalay), where no viable medical care was previously available. Each year we bring them funds to buy medical equipment in Mandalay (or they ship from nearby Yunnan province in China). Dr Aung Saan, surgeon general at the regional hospital in Puin Oo-Lwin, advises us on priority needs.
Last year, “The Light of Asia” acquired land in Si Kar, the site of the future orphanage and primary school to accommodate approximately 25 small girls left homeless on the Mandalay city streets. Here, they will be cared for and instructed so that later in life they can pursue their education as they choose. The most intellectually gifted amongst them will be able to fully participate in and contribute to the Burma of tomorrow, when the junta, today ever ready to ignore the most basic civic and human rights of the Burmese people, will have finally collapsed.
Last year, we saw how badly an ambulance is needed at Si Kar. Since we must limit our financial support to one project at a time, we will leave the final decision regarding what equipment is the most urgent to Kyaw Htin.
We are also fortunate to collaborate for a third year with our friend Lisa Aung, a young Rangoon-based Burmese woman who founded the “Women for the World” association. Our contributions to “Women for the World”, whose primary concern is the emancipation of women, have been less significant because two European associations already contribute to their efforts -- one Swiss; the other, French. However, since 2008 we have participated in their efforts to aid people in small fishing villages in the wake of the Nargis cyclone (May 2008). Our contributions (just 100 USD per year) have paid for small fishing boats, in other words, the making of a rowboat and two oars per year.
Next month we will bring a small contribution to the catholic orphanage in Pathein, which we visit regularly. As you may know, we limit our support to independent activities and our funds do not go through any institution. This orphanage is dependent on a diocese however, which does not prevent significant financial duress. In fact, one of the clerics managing this orphanage, Brother Daniel, recently wrote us asking for aid. We were not surprised since we know the site and the extremely difficult living conditions there. To try to make ends meet, the brothers run a small betel farm, and sell their products to the public. (Betel is what you could call a ‘soft’ drug, but it wreaks havoc on the teeth of the more habitual chewers…).
And so shortly we set off on our seventh trip and to invite you to contact us if you have any questions.
Michel & Lisbeth Martiny, <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Members of the French association “Médecine, Aide et Présence”, Nice, France.