Myanmar’s hope: a year after devastation

By April 27, 2009

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

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.


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