Are you wondering what an individual can do to help in Myanmar (Burma)? Maybe that hasn’t crossed your mind, but it has been on mine.
Having just been in Myanmar recently, I find myself very worried about people I know there in a keenly personal way. And worried about people I don’t know there. Because the Burmese are a people one can’t help but develop an affinity for. This is how traveling, or living abroad, affects people generally: Things that happen in distant places are no longer distant. They’re place we’ve been. Things that happen to strangers are no longer abstract. They are happening to people we know. And, visualizing the general state of the dwellings and standards of living that I recall from our trip to Burma — I distinctly remember that most dwellings in the countryside are (were?) thatch huts with dirt floors, with water and mosquitoes very close by — and recalling that there is generally speaking no heavy or mechanical equipment available to ordinary people for moving trees etc, I can vividly imagine the devastation and the difficulty these people will have recovering from it. These people who already live so close to the fringe of meeting the basic necessities of life and yet who find ways to be kind and welcoming, happy and cheerful in spite of it. I’m not trying to say everything and everyone in Burma is happy all the time, etc., but overall it is a beautiful country with wonderful people. So . . .
What can we do to help the people who are suffering in Burma? If you don’t care, then read no further.
If you do care and want to do something . . . this blog entry is for you.
The NY Times has a web page which links to humanitarian organizations
(nonprofit relief agencies) poised to deliver aid whenever they are ALLOWED IN to do so. The
problem is, I understand from reading Al Jazeera news online that if an
aid organization is not on the ground already, the military junta so
far isn’t letting them in.
(Generally, see, http://english.aljazeera.net/ , and here is a link to an update in today’s edition: http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/782FBA82-C612-48E7-A003-660EE3BB0DF2.htm )
Given a fundamental lack of access, how can we send assistance?
Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) already has a
significant presence on the ground in the country and therefore is
allowed to operate. Here is a link to their web page: http://www.msf.org.hk/public/main (this is the Hong Kong site) or http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org (this is the USA site).
I read that World Vision has 500 workers in the country and is presently distributing aid. Here is a link to their web page: http://www.wvi.org/wvi/wviweb.nsf
The International Red Cross was one of the very first responders,
sending in materials through Malaysia (which has a policy of engagement
with Myanmar and therefore is more welcomed). Here is a link to one of
ICRC web pages:
http://www.ifrc.org/what/disasters/response/myanmar-nargis/index.asp as well as donation page: http://donate.ifrc.org/
After the Tsunami, Oxfam was one of the first groups to airlift in
sanitation and water purification plants. Clean water is one of the
biggest concerns in the current crisis. Here is the link to Oxfam. I
don’t think they’re on the ground in the country yet (I may be
mistaken), but they have a good history of financial accountability and
reliability, as well as a lot of experience: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/ ( this is the American site, there are others around the world). (In fact, their current web page states pretty strong and cogent reasons why airlifts of supplies are not a good idea.)
To give an estimate of the size of the problem, it’s estimated that 1
million people are currently homeless in Myanmar, a country with a
total population of 55 Million. Much of the delta area is still deluged
with salt water, which has also contaminated drinking wells. As if that
were not enough, rotting corpses and sewage is now also polluting water
supplies, and the government is stonewalling. I need not say more!
These agencies already on the ground may be able to bypass the
government roadblocks in ways that your "usual" charity may not be able
to, and certainly more effectively than any organization that has been
involved in boycotting or criticizing the current regime (e.g. Laura
Bush’s harsh verbal comments against the government on the same day as
the Cyclone sure set the tone for GW’s offer, made just a bit later,
of US aid delivered by the MILITARY. Yeah, Right. Do you think a government committed to the belief that the U.S. government is set on destabilizing it is going to let the U.S. Military come onto its soil?) Organizations that
have taken a strong stand against the present regime, in my estimation,
will certainly be locked out of any relief effort no matter what it
costs in terms of human life.
Mother Teresa said: "Do your work as if everything depends on it, and then leave the rest to God." This is one of my favorite quotes. Think about the full meaning of both phrases in the sentence, and you’ll see why I try to set her standard as a rule for how to live!