Myanmar (MNN) ― Cyclone Nargis, a category 5 storm, tore through Burma in May 2008, leaving utter destruction in its wake. For the poverty-stricken survivors, the struggle for continued existence leeched at their hope.
Yet, one year later, Jacqueline Koster of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee says it's encouraging to see how much progress has been made. Despite long delays for aid shipments, as well as government resistance to "outside" help, the teams were able to get in because of their longstanding partnerships.
Immediately following the storm, an appeal went out. Christian Reformed Church constituents responded generously to the needs in Burma/Myanmar with over $750,000 in donations to CRWRC. Working in partnership with World Concern, CRWRC responded to the most urgent needs of those affected, particularly in the low-lying township of Labutta.
Using private funds matched by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), CRWRC was able to support people in 30 villages through a range of activities.
CRWRC also provided staff to assist during the emergency assessments and the rehabilitation phase. Josh Folkema, Hans Helleman, and Lorraine and Marvin VanderValk provided managerial oversight as well as technical support to the project.
Koster says, "CRWRC has supported the rebuilding of 282 houses to date. Obviously, shelter is one of the key priorities after a disaster, especially trying to get things done before the monsoon season begins again, which is actually this month."
It's now a race against time. "One of the strategies that we've been using is to drop off the materials even though the construction won't begin until a few months from now--but sort of getting the materials into the right places so they don't have to be transported during the monsoon season."
Thus far, CRWRC's partnerships have also brought: 400 kitchen starter kits, food for 10,000 people, seven wells, two ponds, 42 oxen, six rice granaries, 660 fishing boats, and 1586 fishing nets.
Fishing nets? Consider this story from the village of Thaung Lay, where the population is half what it was prior to the cyclone. There, Kan Kung has been working hard to re-establish his livelihood. Before Nargis, he was a fisherman with eight nets and a boat, but the storm surge washed away everything except the clothes he was wearing. He lost all his children, his mother, his nieces, and his nephews.
CRWRC gave him a fish net. He also borrowed a boat from a relative. "It took me one and a half months to earn enough for a second net, which I bought second-hand," explains Kung. "But now I have six nets, and I am earning as much, if not more, than I was before Nargis, because there are less fishermen now and less nets filling the waterways." Nothing can replace his family, but surviving members now have a chance.
The non-material benefit? This project has helped people rebuild their lives because the local church acts as the hands and feet of Christ. Says Koster, "We were working with quite a large Karen Baptist community there. It's almost a reverse, where our faith is strengthened by seeing the strength of their faith in these communities and the trust that they put in God in their day-to-day lives." Click here if you can help the ministry of CRWRC in Myanmar.