Against All Odds
By Kyaw Kyaw*, Development Field Officer, World Vision Myanmar
My days, before the socio-political crisis, started with a morning prayer. As a humanitarian worker, I felt a sense of satisfaction when I visited communities, liaised with village development committees and volunteers, distributed relief items and ensured children felt safe and nurtured.
But the global pandemic hit us. It brought an array of disruptions and barriers. The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 triggered inflation, food and financial insecurity and closure of schools. We were reaching a sense of normalcy when suddenly the unrest started. The challenges brought by COVID were compounded by the conflict. The conflict has severely affected the daily lives of people and their livelihoods. People find themselves displaced and living in camps. Lack of access to health and security services has further worsened the situation.
Now, when I wake up, for the first time in my life, I am flooded with anxious thoughts. As the fighting intensifies, sounds of gunshots, news of lives lost, destruction to property has become our reality.
Every day, the challenges triggered by the conflict become more and more complex. The biggest challenge I see is its effect on children. They have not been able to go to school for about two years. Access to the COVID-19 vaccine is limited. Even if IDPs contract COVID-19, there is reluctance in seeking treatment at a hospital because either they cannot afford medical treatment or they fear being killed, detained and their property being set on fire. The panic brought by the mysterious COVID-19 virus has been replaced by the fear and uncertainty of conflict.
Community members don’t dare to stay at home anymore. Fearing for their lives, they flee, leaving their homes behind. I see people moving far away from the conflict to safer areas in the hope of keeping their loved ones safe. For me, the safety of our community members is of paramount importance. Narrowly escaping fighting, airstrikes and landmines villagers and their families find safer places to relocate.
The humanitarian principles that we have learnt, as aid workers, help me and my colleagues overcome challenging situations and focus on the mission. I find ways to connect with the village development committees, volunteers, Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp committee members to check if they are safe.
Even in the camps, there is a sense of fear among the children and their families. With schools closed and no homes to go to, children are disproportionately affected. They have no safe place to go where they feel protected. Their loved ones being killed, running from gunfire and bombs have become their new reality. Children are showing signs of distress. Whenever they hear loud sounds, it reminds them of fighting and killing.
After I ensure the affected population has relocated to a safe place, my colleagues and I work along with camp committee members to assess the immediate needs of the displaced population. When the IDPs receive relief assistance, like food, shelters, warm clothes, cash and education support for children, from us and other partner NGOs it is the most rewarding moment that melts my worries and insecurities away.
I have witnessed the resilience of displaced people. It is incredibly challenging to react and respond in intense conflict situations but I have seen people help others reach a place of safety. Their diligent and unwavering commitment to their community is inspiring. As first responders they work constantly to keep their communities safe by stockpiling food, continuously listening to and receiving accurate information, sharing reliable information with other displaced people, helping each other and providing food and shelter to families in need. The attribute of service is instilled in them.
One day as I was walking back home, I saw two 12-year-old children digging a hole in the ground. I stopped to observe what they were doing. They kept on digging deeper and deeper. When I asked them what they were doing, they said they were trying to build a shelter for their family so that they are protected from airstrikes and bombs. Amid such a challenging situation, the children were trying to find solutions to keep themselves safe with the limited resources they had at their disposal. Those children taught me a lesson of what resilience looks like.
We need to do our part to ensure the children displaced by conflict feel safe. That is why the work aid workers and NGOs do to support the oppressed and the vulnerable matters. I believe that when we all work together to help vulnerable children and their families, they become more resilient and develop the ability to bounce back stronger. That’s why I decided to work for an NGO like World Vision that works in some of the world's most dangerous places in the world to serve vulnerable children and their families.
My priority focus is to ensure that displaced children develop and grow up with access to sufficient nutrition, health care, education, physical and mental security, love and adequate protection. I am proud that my organisation, World Vision, is serving the most vulnerable children. But we cannot do this alone. The next generation is counting on us to protect their future. It is my sincere prayer for peace will be restored and children begin the healing process. It takes a world to end the violence against children in Myanmar.
*name changed to protect the identity of the staff