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Friday, 7 May 2010

Clive, Myanmar (Burma) - The only non-Burmese in town

Clive: “I spent 4 days in the town of Pyapon (population of the township is around 300,000) in the Delta area where Doctors of the World do training and support to community health workers in remote villages. The area is restricted so special Travel Authorisation is needed from the Government; hence I was the only non-Burmese in the town. This really felt like the third world – no running water (the people just collect rain water), primitive toilets, little electricity, few cars but thousands of bikes. I got bitten by mosquitoes but luckily malaria is not too prevalent here.

The people were lovely and hospitable. The average wage is $16 per month. I had breakfast in a teashop with the DOW staff, the choice comprised of noodles, samosa, fried tofu, pork crackling, soup and on my last day fried eggs on toast.
Pyapon is about 60 miles from Yangon, but because the roads are so poor it took 3 hours. The compound is by the side of the river and almost all work is conducted by Boat, many of the villages can be 16 hours away by boat so staff sleep-over at sub bases, by the sides of the river.

I spent a fantastic day on a boat with Dr Hein Latt visiting a remote village called Hte Tan Yin. I sat in a session where a Doctors of the World nurse went through the consultation records for the last month which were completed by the Community Health Worker (a village resident who has been given 4 weeks training and receives 6 monthly refresher training sessions). His medical kit was re-stocked with drugs etc and then the Community Health Worker did a health presentation on nutrition to 25 villagers. The nurse then asked the villagers test questions giving out t-shirts and shopping bags (with printed health messages on them) as prizes for those who answered correctly. The big health problems relate to poor water and snakes.

We then went to a sub-base where DOW staff have overnight stays when out in the field and we renewed the contract with the owner (he was an old man who insisted on giving me tea and honey). They had agreed to do some work, building platforms above the ground to the toilets because the area has lots of snakes even though I did not see any. He insisted I saw the local school next door which had 60 children and they were proud because UNICEF was building a toilet for the school, it’s currently just a platform with a hole directly into the river.
On my last evening the DOW team in Pyapon took me to the best (and only) restaurant in town, they were all dressed up and I felt a bit embarrassed because I had on the same DOW t-shirt that I had worn all day. They insisted on paying for me, although they agreed to let me pay next time.

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