For more than two years, I have worked with Church World Service team members on several activities to help our village improve itself, and this has been fruitful for us. Last month, however, was my first time to host a visit of CWS leaders and supporters from outside Asia, including the newly-elected Chair of the CWS Board and some of their member church leaders from different parts of the United States.
All Koe Ein Tan West villagers, including me, were so excited to meet with these special visitors and to share what we have achieved with CWS support. For example, one Mother-Leader, Ma San Oo, who is a volunteer, and 15 mothers of young children with whom she meets regularly, proudly shared that what and how they feed their infants and toddlers has been slowly but steadily changing with positive outcomes for their children. With Ma San Oo as their spokeswomen, several mothers told our visitors how they now routinely feed their children three times each day with a more balanced diet than in the past, when they did not know the importance of balancing proteins, carbohydrates and vitamin-rich foods in meals – and preparing ingredients and cooking food in sanitary ways and with potable water. As the mother who checks the children’s weight-for-height each month, Ma San Oo was especially happy to note that there are no severely or acutely malnourished children in Koe Ein Tan West. She also showed our visitors how she weighs children who are two or younger, and how she keeps their growth monitoring charts.
When one visitor asked, “How does teaching about water, sanitation and hygiene related to nutrition?”, Ma San Oo said, “With CWS help, we have learned about that very connection [which relates mostly to germs and other disease pathogens]. Now we know to use treated water [not river of standing water] for drinking and cooking, and to wash our hands with soap at critical times, like after we go to the toilet. And we have learned that it is important to use sanitary latrines. We understand that all these good practices lead to good health.” Noting that old habits are hard to break, Ma San Oo concluded saying, “We repeatedly share this information at our monthly mothers group meeting and during growth monitoring”.
After Ma San Oo spoke, I was happy to add that all these activities, which focus on the poorest families in our village, are complemented with other CWS and self-help activities, including support for home gardening and chicken-raising, which help families have better diets and sometime have extra income for selling their extra eggs and vegetables. Then I introduced our Disaster Risk Reduction volunteers and community Disaster Risk Management team members to talk about how we are building community resilience with CWS help. They help us especially in making hazard and resource maps and then mitigation plans and community education activities about the hazards and risks we have identified for our village and about evacuation plans, especially in case of floods, cyclones and fire, which are our greatest threats. After this, we walked around the village to see the well with raised platforms and hand pumps and some of the new or improved sanitary latrines CWS has helped us add in Koe Ein Tan West.
During the day, many community members and our visitors interacted joyfully, and at the end of the day I was happy to say that we felt privileged and proud that people who live in another part of the world care for us and came to meet us. Now, especially since we know of their care, we will continue to work hard together, and with our local government and CWS staff to make our community a better /safer place to live in for years to come.
U Aye Lwin, is the village chief of Koe Ein Tan West, which is in the Ayeyawaddy River delta in southwest Myanmar.