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Friday, 22 October 2010

Jo, Myanmar (Burma) - Grabbing a lift by boat - a touching and lasting memory

Our taxi to the village

So at the end of this week I will be leaving. Myanmar is a beautiful country and when I get onto that plane on Saturday evening I will be taking some wonderful memories home with me.
Here is just one of them...
We have travelled to most of the villages by boat along the branches of the Ayarawady, but the final village in the pilot programme was only accessible by car and foot. We went there on a morning after some very heavy rain and the roads were quite flooded. The car dropped us off at the end of a long lane bordered on either side by paddy fields. We set off to walk the final stretch but the lane was slippery and difficult to negotiate. The ditches at the edges of the paddy fields were flooded and suddenly there was a canoe coming towards us along the flooded ditch. A man from the village and his little boy had come to give us a lift. Such a lovely gesture! As we headed towards the village we passed fishermen up to their chests in water in the ditch.
My Doctor Livingstone moment

Just one of the many memories that I will be taking home with me.
This is Jo, signing off for the last time!

Jo, Myanmar (Burma) - Developing a new Health Education model in rural Myanmar (Burma)

Travelling by road after heavy rain

So here I am nearing the end of my mission, when I look back to the day nearly 3 months ago when I arrived, it seems like a lifetime and yet each day seems to have sped by. I have been so busy that there really hasn’t been time to count the days.

The project aims to strengthen the existing community based health services in Pyapon Township in the Ayarawady Delta following the devastation of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and to that end Doctors of the World has developed a co-operative working relationship with the health authorities. Together we are moving towards establishing a ‘Maternal and Child Health’ programme in our target area. Doctors of the World will be supporting the training of ‘Auxiliary Midwives’ and helping to expand child development surveillance.

I have also been developing a new Health Education model, which we piloted in four villages over my final two weeks in the field. There were some concerns about the drama that I had proposed, the topic was ‘Safe Motherhood’ and the concern was that people might be too shy to get involved. Not a bit of it! There are some very talented actors in those villages and they really enjoyed taking part. The audience were hugely entertained as well and participated enthusiastically in the discussion afterwards.

I have also designed a learning game based on ‘Snakes and Ladders’, with a few adjustments in the design of the board. (I am very good at drawing snakes now!). The pilot evaluated positively and it was lovely to see the villagers being so involved in their own education.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Jo, Myanmar (Burma) - Speaking Burmese like a local - almost.

I am now in Yangon preparing to leave at the weekend. I continued my Myanmar language lessons while I was in the Delta. Although they haven’t really equipped me for long philosophical discussions,  I did learn enough to greet people and ask if they have eaten, (which is the Myanmar equivalent of an English person saying “how are you?”). I can also go shopping, ask the price of something and request a little discount, direct a taxi driver and order a cup of coffee without sugar. This is about as much as I have needed. I also think that people like it if you make an effort to speak their language, so it breaks down more barriers than just a linguistic one.
Safe Motherhood Drama. Happy outcome.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Jo, Myanmar (Burma) - Nearing the end of assignment revising a health education programme

Doctors of the World meeting with villagers
I am nearing the end of my mission, so I am beginning to get anxious about all the work that I still have to do. I have been working on remodeling the health education programme and we are about to start piloting the new model. It is quite exciting, but a little nerve wracking as well.
One of the main concerns since I have been here has been to evaluate the health education programme that Doctors of the World has implemented in the villages. I have observed a few of the sessions now and although the field teams do a great job, each session depends heavily on the skill of the presenter. The programme is very teacher/lecture focused.

 I feel that a different model would be more appropriate, one focusing more on the learner and learning activities that encourage enquiry and discussion. So I have been developing a package of activities for the villagers to take part in, hopefully that they will enjoy and also that they will learn from.
 I am currently piloting my new model in four of the villages. The topic I have chosen for the role play is “Safe Motherhood”.  The  package consists of a quiz, discussion topics and two role play scenarios;  a bad version (where everything goes wrong) and an ideal version, where the pregnant family does everything right and ends up with a lovely healthy baby and healthy mum. There is a section for discussion between the 2 versions.

The result is they love it! We have just come back from one village, where they had asked to have the scenario in advance so that they could prepare. They did a great job and even had a theatrical director! The audience was really engaged and the quiz section was lively and very noisy.  The consequence is we are now making a start on another topic and will probably include some board games.

In the meantime that’s it for the time being.  So from the hot, humid and sometimes wet but always mosquito-ridden Ayeyarwady Delta, I am Jo signing off for this month.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Jo, Myanmar (Burma) - Dressing like a local

I now wear a longye to work every day, it is such a sensible garment in this heat and so comfortable. I started with a nice red one that the office staff gave me and decided to build up my supply so that I could wear a fresh one each day. When Thomas was here we went to the market and I bought two. They are really pretty, you buy them just as a piece of pre-cut fabric. I think most people must have a sewing machine and run them up at home, but of course I can’t do that, so arranged with the stall holder to have them made up for me. They cost me $6,00 US for the 2!
I even cycle wearing my longye, but haven’t mastered the art of cycling in the rain with an umbrella. The roads are so pot holed that I need both hands to hang on for dear life. And when it rains here it really knows how to rain.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Jo, Myanmar (Burma) - Something going bump in the night

We spent that night in Daw Naing, the largest village in South East Pyapon. Doctors of the World has a sub-base there. It is a building where the field teams can stay when they are in the area. The sleeping room is on the first floor and was incredibly hot, I gave it a bit of a clean up before we put our mats down and hung up our mosquito nets. The washing and toilet facilities were basic. I thought longingly of my little house in Pyapon. I have no running water there, but it is immaculate.

Anyway the Project Officer and the boat man wanted to go to the tea shop and clearly didn’t want me cramping their style, so I went to bed (at 7.30 pm!) and read until I fell asleep. I obviously slept through his return because when I next awoke at midnight I could hear him snoring gently on the other side of the room. I gradually became aware that I could hear something else as well. Something animate. Something moving very close to me, it was running around the outside of my mosquito net, and then rustling in a paper bag. Then silence for a while, before it started moving around the room again. It sounded enormous, like a dog or a cat, but in the midnight silence I guess sounds might be amplified and it could have been a rat?
It was inches away from my head with only a mosquito net separating us. I tired to wake my room mate but he was fast asleep. So I stayed awake, under my mosquito net until whatever it was stopped bustling around and I was finally able to go to sleep again. This mission is toughening me up!

On our way home we stopped at a restaurant where we have stopped before. The lady who owns it remembered me because on an earlier visit I had opted not to have any of the meat dishes that were sitting outside in big pans, waiting for customers to make their choice. I noticed that there was no “vegetarian option” so asked for fried vegetables. This meant that she had to cook a dish especially for me and I got it really fresh. It was delicious. On this occasion when we stopped there, I didn’t even have to ask, she just got the beans out and started chopping them up.
After we had eaten she dangled her beautiful little 2 month old grandchild in front of me until I asked if I could have a cuddle, so that was lovely. They put jewellery on all the children here so it is really difficult to tell boys from girls and you really don’t know whether you are congratulating them on a beautiful girl, or a handsome boy. It didn’t matter on this occasion because Granny obligingly cleared up any confusion by lifting up the child’s shirt to clarify the situation. It was a boy baby.

Learning to speak the lingo

I have been having Myanmar language lessons from a young Myanmar teacher who has been hired by Doctors of the World to teach English to the national staff. I won’t have time to learn the alphabet so I am concentrating on pleasantries and phrases that will make basic living easier.
Last week Thomas, the Pyapon Field Co-ordinator was here so I had company for a few days. It was really nice to be able to have a conversation that wasn’t punctuated by blank stares and nervous laughter.
While Thomas was here we had a Burmese language lesson , it was Thomas’ first and my second. What a language! It is really difficult. The teacher demonstrated different vowel sounds to us and then said “can you tell they are different”? Thomas and I just looked blankly at him. They sounded exactly the same.
I asked if we could learn to say, “please don’t put sugar in it” because everything here ; tea, coffee etc is always served very sweet. Well it got so complicated and the sentence got longer and longer. We kept saying “what does that word mean”? and would get the answer “well that is just put in to make the sentence flow better” or” that it just put in for politeness”. Even if the sentence starts with “please” apparently there are other words that have to be added for extra politeness. At one point I thought it might just be easier to start taking sugar. To think, small children speak this language.
But in spite of that, I am at last beginning to be able to say some things without people looking too blankly at me. The other day, as I paid for tomatoes in the market, the stall holder said (in English) “Thank you” and I said (in Burmese) “You’re welcome” and got a round of applause. So it’s not all bad.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Jo, Myanmar (Burma) - A field trip to Phongyethung

Greetings from the Delta! Things are going fine here, I am beginning to feel like a local, as I cycle to work each day people call out greetings to me and I am learning how to reply!

Two weeks ago I had a field trip to a village called Phongyethung, the first challenge was to learn how to say it. Don’t even try, it doesn’t sound anything like the English spelling. 

This was a joint visit with another NGO and the purpose was to observe their activities. They are apparently also active in a number of our target villages and we wanted to see what they are doing so we don’t duplicate our work. I was accompanied by our Project Officer. We are beginning to communicate with each other a little better than when we started out. I don’t know whether his English is improving because he has been thrown together with me so much – poor thing, or whether I am getting used to interpreting the heavily accented English translations?  I suspect it is a combination of the two.
Just when I think I can understand what people are telling me something happens to completely throw me.  For instance, I was completely baffled when one of the health officers from the other NGO told me they support the latrines being built in this village by supplying “pannapye” It turns out that they supply “Pan and Pipes”. You can see how difficult this is can’t you? But I am getting the hang of it.