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Voices from Burma: Mimi

Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar (Burma) on 2 May 2008 killing 140,000 people and affecting 2.4 million more. So far we’ve distributed aid to 608,819 people. Mimi Jakobsen, Chief Executive of Save the Children Denmark, was in Myanmar last week with Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive of Save the Children UK.

“Many years ago, there was this song at the European Song contest, called, “Curls or not? We love all our children.” This song could have been written by Save the Children.

In Myanmar (Burma), I’ve seen how the money donated by private people and companies as well as by governments has been spent directly for the good of the poor people in the Irrawaddy Delta, so terribly hit by Cyclone Nargis exactly one year ago. In other words this funding went exactly where you all meant it to go, through an independent organisation, Save the Children, to the people who so needed it most.

Everyone knows about the sanctions against Myanmar (Burma), but the surviving children who I met there deserve a dignified life where they have safety, food, education, medicine, water and a hope for the future, like any other child in this world (Curls or not, sanctions against the government or not).

Your money has been spent with astonishing results. In the months following Cyclone Nargis, Save the Children was able to mount one of its largest emergency responses in its history. The agency has helped 137,000 children get back into school; supported 40,000 families with cash grants to restart their livelihoods; and provided 60,000 people with drinking water through the height of the dry season, among other programs. In the year following Cyclone Nargis, Save the Children has assisted over 600,000 people, nearly half of them children, who were most affected by the storm.

But there is still so much to be done. More houses, more health clinics, more clean and fresh water, more safe schools, new teachers (for all the teachers who were lost when the incredible storm surge—8 to 12 feet high—and the terrible winds decimated the fragile world of the Delta).

Thank you so much for your empathy and help one year ago…please don’t forget the children in the Delta now.

School is over.

So many schools disappeared during the Nargis. I saw the cement platform of a what had been a newly built school (dated 2004); there was nothing else left. It suddenly seems a little hopeless.

But there are already initiatives all over the Delta to build new, so called safe schools, to introduce a new and safer way of building before the next cyclone hits this poor area.

Everyone in the village is engaged in this. People are more than enthusiastic about learning new building/strengthening methods (a lesson from our work in Vietnam) for their schools as well as their homes. Engineers are showing the way to the grown-ups, providing simple techniques to reinforce structures. And the children are excited about being safe in their school in the future, a building which is also going to be a refuge for the community during the next big storm. In addition to the schools, we’re strengthening early childhood centres—18 so far and another seven on the way.

More than 100 villages have taken part in Save the Children workshops on child-friendly spaces. Others are yet to come provided the funds arrive.

Beyond being a shelter during a storm, schools are saving lives in other ways. Education is the way out of poverty…a real investment in the future.

Ma Mi Cho’s story

Ma Mi Cho, her husband and her four children made it through Cyclone Nargis but now find themselves in a daily struggle just to survive. Her husband, a day laborer before the storm, can rarely find work—a common issue facing families in Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta today, as local livelihoods and economies are slow to recover one year after the storm. “My husband cuts wood or does other jobs, whatever is available, but still business is not good,” she said. “And I have no work.”

The family’s home was destroyed in the storm. While they tried to rebuild in the months following Nargis, construction was ceased for lack of funds. Today their shelter is fragile, their makeshift kitchen is open to the elements. And in three weeks, the rains will begin.

Ma Mi Cho fears the coming wet season and what inadequate shelter will mean to her children, ages 11, 7, 4 and 11 months. “My main hope is that we can get enough food and a safe shelter,” she said.

Still they are looking toward the future. Ma Mi Cho has hopes. “I want a good education for my children—I want them to be good students,” she said, adding that the local school, rebuilt by Save the Children, is very important to her youngsters.

In addition to rebuilding the school, which serves 100 first through fourth graders and 42 fifth through eighth-graders, Save the Children provides child-friendly activities after classes, allowing for them to play, learn and recover in a safe and fun environment.

All the children said they are excited for the day when classes begin again and for they time when they can play games and sing songs at the early childhood development centre when the break ends. The oldest daughter wants to complete her studies and someday be a doctor.

More than 500,000 people — including 200,000 children — are still living in makeshift shelters as monsoon season looms. Save the Children, which continues to distribute food and water to tens of thousands of affected families across the Irrawaddy Delta, is preparing to distribute additional building materials and cash grants to people living in the low-lying region.”

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