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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Field Report: Helping survivors plant the next rice harvest in Myanmar

It is rice planting season here in Myanmar and, two months after cyclone Nargis, many of the more able-bodied survivors are experiencing a sense of urgency to get their rice crops started. If they can plant now, they have much better likelihood of re-establishing their homes and lives, hopefully harvesting rice in 6 months rather than having to wait until December 2009.

One major barrier standing in the way of timely planting is the condition of the fields and villages that survivors are returning to in order to plant. Some survivors have not been back to their villages since the cyclone hit. When villagers do return, they do not have the equipment, the help or the energy to do anything but build crude, temporary shelters.

Fields and waterways are still full of large amounts of debris. In many cases, the carcasses of animals and the bodies of community members are still trapped under fallen buildings or tangled tree roots. Survivors returning to their villages struggle to find the physical and emotional energy required to tackle the clean up process and burials that must take place before the villages are habitable and the fields can be plowed and planted.

In addition to the ongoing work of providing emergency relief supplies, HOPE International Development Agency is helping survivors clean up their villages and rice fields by matching local volunteers with community members from a set of villages near one another. Currently, 1,431 volunteers and community members are involved in the clean up effort.

HOPE International Development Agency is providing basic clean up equipment and supplies to each of these teams and feeds team members during the clean up process. We are also helping people define the organizing and operating principles the teams use and we continue to provide much need counseling regarding the inevitable trauma that the clean up process evokes.

The clean up teams select leadership from among community members and then work together to clean up not only their own village, but those of their nearby neighbors as well. The cyclone clean up is creating a unique opportunity to help people reach across former boundaries to create a new sense of community and sharing where the old community and community relationships may no longer exist.

The continuing story of this disaster response and its successes thus far includes people from both inside and outside the country. But the heroes continue to be the local people who, time and time again, rally to overcome the insurmountable. I’m reminded constantly what a privilege it is to be present here at this time.

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