Lien AID Shines the Spotlight on WASH Heroes in Myanmar

This Global Handwashing Day, non-profit organisation Lien AID is shining the spotlight on some individuals who are striving to improve safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) access in their communities – local WASH heroes. Through its interventions, Lien AID seeks to enable these local WASH heroes to accelerate and sustain safe WASH access in rural communities across the Ayeyarwady.

U Soe Thein, Village Tract Administrator of Kan Gyi village tract, Myaungmya township, is a WASH Hero who has been a driving force in promoting safe hygiene behavior in the villages he manages. He encourages health assistant to conduct frequent hygiene promotion sessions and at the same time, urges villagers to attend these sessions during his regular village meetings.

As part of the pilot collaboration between Lien AID and the Myaungmya Township Department of Rural Development, U Soe Thein also played a key role in working closely with the water management committee in Kan Gyi village to canvas for additional funds to improve existing village water infrastructure. Research has shown that safe hygiene is less likely to be practiced in households that do not have readily available water (source).

Villagers collecting water at one of the water collection points. U Soe Thein played a key role in working closely with the water management committee in Kan Gyi village to canvas for additional funds to improve existing village water infrastructure.

U Kyaw Min Oo, a member of the water management committee in Kan Gyi village, is another WASH Hero who is passionate about improving water access for his community. Working with village health assistants and the school development committee, he also helped find a way for the school to have access to clean water through a water filtering system. U Kyaw Min Oo also contributed significantly towards the construction, operations, and maintenance of water infrastructure in the village by mobilising households to contribute funds for capital costs and regular payment of user fees.

U Kyaw Min Oo also helped find a way for the village school to have access to clean water through a water filtering system

“The river is our main water source. We use this water for cooking, drinking, and washing. But now, with the new tube well, we have clean water. This is because of everyone’s contribution so we are all heroes”, U Kyaw Min Oo humbly said.

Villagers used to rely on river as the main water source

Tenacious and committed, local WASH Heroes like U Soe Thein and U Kyaw Min Oo play a critical role in improving and sustaining safe WASH access for rural communities. Mr. Koh Lian Hock, CEO of Lien AID commented, “We hope to recognise and encourage more local organisations and individuals to become WASH Heroes, and catalyse collective action towards the shared goal of 100% WASH access.”

Thingyan momentum puts greater focus on Myanmar’s water needs

This Water Festival, amid splashy fun and communal gatherings, Myanmar will welcome not only the Myanmar New Year, but also the beginning of the UN International Decade (2018-2028) for Action – Water for Sustainable Development.

According to UN projections, by 2025, half of the countries across the world will face water stress or outright shortages. By 2050, as many as three out of four people could be affected by water scarcity[1]. The new Decade, in continuation of the ‘Water for Life’ Decade (2005-2015), will focus on sustainable development and integrated management of water resources for the achievement of social, economic and environmental objectives[2].

Resolving water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenges in Myanmar, as well as other Asian countries where rural communities are suffering from a lack of access to clean water, is key for Lien AID, whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of last-mile communities in Asia by enabling sustainable access to clean water and sanitation.

Just last week, Lien AID concluded a month-long experiential public exhibition in Singapore titled Windows of Hope. Held in three public locations from March 20 to April 8, the exhibition allowed the public a unique chance to journey into rural Myanmar and Cambodia through virtual reality (VR) technology and physical installations, and see for themselves the region’s water challenges and what is being done to resolve them. The exhibition will continue to be open to companies who wish to host it in their premises.

A participant viewing the virtual reality video during the exhibition at 313@Somerset

Mr. Koh Lian Hock, CEO of Lien AID said: “Through the immersive 360° VR experience in Windows of Hope, we hope that more people will gain a better understanding of the impact of water challenges in our neighbouring countries. It takes collective effort across sectors – from governments to corporations, individuals, non-profits and academia – to solve the problem of sustaining access to clean water for the rural communities.”

In 2016, Lien AID launched a pilot clean water project in Tetma village, Mandalay, which consisted of a gravity-fed piped water system that distributes water from an existing tube well to shared water points in the village. Last year, Lien AID launched another pilot initiative in five villages across three townships in the Ayeyarwady region, enabling an estimated 3,866 villagers to gain improved access to clean water. In addition, the communities were also engaged through workshops on basic rural water management and hygiene, in an effort to raise their capacity and improve the sustainability of the project.

This year, Lien AID will continue to partner with local governments, civil society organisations and communities in Myanmar to improve overall WASH standards in the villages, as well as work on fostering institutional collaborations amongst government and non-government partners to meet the national 2030 WASH goals.

“The challenge often lies in understanding how to adapt solutions for specific locations, socio-political contexts and WASH issues, and ensuring sustainable outcomes. One key success we have achieved in Myanmar would be the strong working relationships that we have forged with our local partners, such as the Department of Rural Development, local civil society organisations and community leaders. These partnerships have enabled us to co-create solutions to enable access to clean water and sanitation for last-mile communities,” added Mr. Koh.

Lien AID first launched Windows of Hope last year, bringing it to various organisations in Singapore – AECOM, Allen & Gledhill, Arup, Asia-Europe Foundation, Credit Suisse, Ernst & Young and Expedia. More information on Windows of Hope can be found at http://www.lienaid.org/windowsofhope.

A version of this press release was published in Myanmar Business Today. 

The Jaggery Trader

Ko Hmat Kyi, 46, is a small business owner in Tetma village, located in the Dry Zone of Myanmar. He supports his family through his palm tree and vegetable plantations. To make enough jaggery for trading, he has to climb 30 tall palm trees twice a day using a basic ladder made from two tall bamboos.

The sugary sap is collected using a number of small earthen jars. After that, the liquid is mixed into a large pot, boiled and stirred until it thickens to a paste. The worker would then knead the product into small chunks which hardens after being cooled. Inside the rudimentary kitchen where the jaggery is prepared, the air is hot, dense and sweet.

In the past, Ko Hmat Kyi had no choice but to send his eldest son to fetch water in the day as his time was fully occupied with his jaggery business. To get clean water, his son often had to travel to a neighbouring village and queue for two to three hours to wait for his turn at the tube well or hand pump. This also meant that on days when he went to collect water, he would have to miss school.

Ko Hmat Kyi and his family

Things got better for Ko Hmat Kyi’s family in 2016. In partnership with Myanmar Engineering Society (MES), Lien AID completed a pilot project in Myanmar, enabling villagers in Tetma village to gain better access to clean water via a solar-powered, gravity-fed water distribution system.

Ko Hmat Kyi told us that better access to clean water has not only made life more convenient for his family, but it also led to an improvement in the school grades of his eldest son. He was able to pass his university entrance exams and now studies at a university in the city of Yangon.

Read more about our pilot project in Myanmar here.