August 19, 2016

Donations that spring from the heart

Myanmar is suffering from severe floods just as in neighbouring countries India and Vietnam. Severe floods due to heavy rain and cyclonic storm Komen have occurred in many areas in Myanmar, and some areas in Sagaing Region, Magway Region, Chin State, and Rakhine State in particular, have suffered the most. The floods are the most serious to hit the country in living memory, and people are horrified by the daily deluge of photos and news of the floods and the sufferings of the victims, both man and animals, in the newspapers, and posted on Facebook to which many people now have access. It has not been possible to calculate the cost in lives, property and crops so far, as the flooding has been so swift, so immense and so widespread.
As the scale of destruction has been unmatched by previous floods in the country, the calamity has greatly affected not only adults but also our young people. Many victims are seeking shelter in schools, monasteries and Dhammayones that have been turned into temporary shelters. Some  have lost members of their family or been injured, many have lost both home and personal belongings as their houses have been destroyed by the floods, and those lucky ones have managed to escape only with a few personal belongings and some of their farm animals.  Some had been fortunate enough to have been able to wade through the water to shelters located on higher grounds. Some had to swim across swift flowing flood waters. Some made rafts from bamboo or banana stems tied together to use to flee from their homes. Some were saved by local rescue teams in boats. But some unfortunate persons living in remote areas may still be trapped in their houses unable to leave them. The infrastructure has also suffered enormously. Many small bridges have been swept away.  Roads and rail tracks have also been destroyed by flood waters, landslides and falling trees. Many schools have also faced destruction, not to mention the countless number of flimsy houses of poor people that are built of bamboo and roofed with thatch.  Moreover, hundreds of thousands of acres of cultivated paddy fields have been destroyed.
The response from young people to the needs of the flood victims is also equally unprecedented and spontaneous. Some as young children had been victims of cyclone Nargis that occurred in Lower Myanmar in 2008 and greatly sympathize with the victims of the current floods. Without being urged by any organization or person, they have taken it as their responsibility to help their fellow countrymen. They are donating and raising funds in groups made up of youths of their age alongside people from all walks of life and ages – from film stars, pop singers, bankers, and wealthy entrepreneurs, to roadside artists, office workers, shop assistants, trishaw men and street hawkers. Singers have held concerts to raise money for the flood victims. Film stars and pop singers have joined the people on the streets to seek donation. Street artists paint portraits to raise funds. Trishaw men donate their entire day’s earnings for the flood victims which is not a small sacrifice to them. You will also see university, college students and fresh graduates in huge groups at busy intersections, shopping centres and bus stops seeking donations. Some of the groups are made up of friends formed through Facebook. You will see young people singing or playing music on roadside pavement drawing attention of the people passing by to the plight of the victims and urging them to donate some money. You will see them in groups in rain and sunshine walking untiringly in the wards shouting out not only for monetary donations but also donations in the form of clothes, water, foodstuff and medicine. At least four groups of youths turn up daily in my ward to seek donations. On the part of donors, the response has been enormous, in recognition of the efforts people, especially young people, are putting in to raise money. No group of young people leave empty handed when they enter a ward, or street for donation. Some of the residents of the ward even offer snacks and purified water to the youths in appreciation of their hard work. Those who are participating in fund raising are not touching even a kyat from the donation box. They are paying out of their own pocket for transportation, their meals and other expenses. Many intend to deliver the donations they have collected to remote places making use of their own money for travelling expenses. All of them are making use of the talents, labour and time tirelessly to raise as much donations in cash and kind as possible after seeing photographs and hearing and reading news of the flood victims and their enormous needs.
Slowly, the flood waters are receding in some badly hit areas in Upper Myanmar. The floods have left in its wake, death, injury, disease and destruction. The immediate basic needs of food and clothing may have been partially met with the efforts of local and international donors and volunteers. But due to the huge dimension of the unprecedented floods and the destruction it has caused, it will require a lot of rehabilitation work and money. Moreover, there is still the danger of further floods in the lower reaches of the Irrawaddy River. Whether the floods occur or not, we need to be well-prepared to be able to face the threat.
Our past and current experiences show that we are located in a natural disaster prone region.  Natural disasters are unavoidable, especially during the monsoon. The monsoon is both a boon as well as bane. It is a boon as it provides water for growing monsoon paddy as well as water for agriculture and other uses during drier times. It is a bane as it is accompanied by heavy rains and powerful storms and calamities. But one cannot wholly blame everything on nature alone as many experts have pointed out. The worsening weather conditions are also due to climate change caused by manmade environmental degradation, pollution, and deforestation. Deforestation occurs due to cutting down trees for cultivation, for sale, and for use as fuel and is regarded as one of the leading causes of global warming, floods and landslides.
As preparation to leave a safe and secure environment for the next generation, there are many important things we need to do. Foremost among them is to reduce environmental pollution and degradation, and deforestation. Ensuring strict observance of law regarding logging, providing sustained education on environmental pollution, degradation, deforestation and their serious consequences from a young age and using creative means to reduce pressure on existing forests such as extending establishment of plantations to harvest fuel wood are some of the current means to reduce natural disasters. Secondly, it is quite obvious that it is important to prepare an overall sound, comprehensive, realistic, national natural disaster management plan as well as areawise plans annually so that those who will have to lead at grassroots and higher levels in times of disaster are well prepared to cope with emergencies. This includes providing regular training to officials concerned and adults and students who can assist them on how to disseminate lucid information and issue warnings and how to react to them, where to set up shelters, how to rescue people, how to seek and provide assistance, hold drills etc., at every level. Regarding this matter, if necessary, we need to learn from more experienced countries, promote regional and international collaborations in disaster management, develop local expertise swiftly, etc.
Thirdly, we need to inspect and upgrade facilities such as dykes, and dams and ensure that roads, railway tracks bridges, and buildings are up to standard to withstand storms and floods.    Finally, we have seen how energetic, creative and resourceful our youths can be. We need to recognize the potential of our young people and their keen desire to contribute to the development of the nation. We need to listen to their voices as well as allow them to speak out. We need to channel their energy to nation building tasks and in times of special needs. However inexperienced they may be, we need to have faith in them and accept that in certain areas, they have innovative ideas and better insights of the needs of young people like themselves that can be of much practical use. To be able to express themselves and behave like an educated person, we need to provide them with the necessary knowledge and communication skills and develop their thinking skills. As in other nations, we will always need to keep improve our education system to cater to new needs and new developments in the country and in the world, both positive and negative, such as climate change and increase in natural disasters. Consequently, all education systems need to be dynamic and forward looking.  They must not just keep pace with changes and their challenges but they must also be able to predict future changes to a certain extent and prepare society to face these changes. In this respect, we need to develop strong leadership in the education sector who are future-oriented and can lead teachers to be dynamic, to predict changes and to respond to changes. In return, the teachers must be able to teach their students to do the same. In order to nurture proactive and future oriented teachers, we need to make the teaching profession more attractive and draw dedicated, dynamic and competent persons. They must be in the profession not just for the salary and the glory, but also to foster positive changes and progress. They must be professionals who can nurture new generations of skilled, innovative, self-sacrificing, and socially conscious young people like those youths who are participating in the fund raising for flood victims.


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