This morning, we started off to Kungyangon, a region in the southern tip of Myanmar where Cyclone Nargis overturned trees, blew houses away, and killed people and animals last May. It took us three and a half hours to drive the area that was forty miles away. We turned up dust along the newly, hand packed rock and sand road. The van we were in was shaking from the rocky road and I was worried that the glass on our van would shatter. Along the way, we passed vans with logos of the International Red Cross/Crescent Society, World Vision, Save the Children, and the Marie Stokes.
Many homes have been rebuilt but they are not as sturdy as the ones the families previously lived in. The materials used to build the thatched huts are expensive now and scarce. We were invited to a home to speak with a family that survived the cyclone. Their home is simply a thatched hut built on bamboo stilts. The mother said that the storm came and the water came up to her head. They headed to the monastery since it was on higher ground. Unfortunately, the roof of the monastery was blown away and they sat through the night in the pouring rain and gusty winds. The children’s faces turned blue from the cold. When they returned to where their home was, their simple hut was gone; blown away by the wind.
Since they lived in such a far away place, it took 9 to 10 days for help to come. Sadly, they didn’t even expect anyone to help them and they were surprised that the outside world cared about them. One large international NGO gave them enough rice to last for 4 days. Later, IDE Myanmar, distributed 50 kg of rice to all landless families in the village.
This was a landless family and the husband worked as a day laborer. The women worked during harvest season but it was difficult for them to find work during non-harvest time. They have not had meat in three years and they live day to day. They barely have enough rice to eat. We asked how they would eat during the upcoming monsoon season and they said they would look for fish and crab in the river.
Since they work the land for others, these landless families know how to . There is fallow land they can use so this family took an acre and grew rice. After the cyclone, IDE Myanmar provided tillers and fertilizers for them. They expect to harvest 70 baskets of rice, of which 12 baskets will be used to pay the landowner.
As I sat inside their hut listening to their story, I looked at the faces of women and children that have now gathered around us. All of them have similar stories and backgrounds. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of helplessness. Many of them were so young – in their 20s and had several children already. It really is a vicious cycle.
Here are some interesting figures to think about: Per capita humanitarian aid funding in Myanmar is $3. Cambodia receives $47, Laos $67, and Vietnam $29. Average per capital annal income for those in Myanmar is $130. In Cambodia, it is $540, Laos $580, and Vietnam $790.