Posts

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. 

Get a glimpse into life without clean water at Windows of Hope in the lead-up to World Water Day

Lien AID opens roving VR exhibition to the public for the first time to raise awareness on rural Asia’s water and sanitation crisis

This World Water Day (22 March), step into the shoes of over 200 million people in Asia who lack access to clean water at Windows of Hope, an experiential exhibition organised by Singapore non-profit organisation Lien AID. The roving exhibition aims to raise awareness on the region’s water challenges and what is being done to resolve them, by giving the public a unique chance to journey into Cambodia and Myanmar through virtual reality (VR) technology and physical installations.

Windows of Hope opens today and will be held at the following locations:

Date Time Location
20 – 21 March 2018 10am – 10pm 313@Somerset L1 Atrium
22 – 23 March 2018 8am – 8pm Ocean Financial Centre Open Space
2 – 8 April 2018 10am – 9pm Star Vista B1 Atrium

The VR video featured in Windows of Hope was shot in Preaek Chrey Village, Kandal Province in Cambodia. The villagers in the often-flooded rural area mostly rely on dirty river water or rainwater for drinking, cooking and washing. It is estimated that prior to Lien AID’s intervention, villagers spent on average 25 to 40 minutes preparing water (collecting, filtering, boiling, etc.) before drinking it. The alternative source of clean water was imported bottled water sold by a private company in Vietnam, which costs up to 3,000 Riel/bottle (USD 0.75).

Worker cleaning and disinfecting the bottles inside the water treatment plant at Preaek Chrey commune

To address this challenge, Lien AID has set up a water treatment and bottling plant in Preaek Chrey village that benefits the entire commune. The plant is operated and run by a water entrepreneur selected from local villages through a rigorous evaluation process, and a water management committee comprising local government officials was also formed to regulate the provision of water services. They were subsequently trained in basic rural water management and business skills. 75 such projects have been completed in Cambodia, and this project in Preaek Chrey village alone enabled an estimated 3,624 villagers from 929 households across Preaek Chrey commune to gain better and more affordable access to clean drinking water.

Last year, Lien AID also launched new pilot initiatives across three townships in the Ayeyarwady region in Myanmar, enabling an estimated 3,866 villagers to gain improved access to clean water. In 2018, Lien AID will continue to partner with the local government to empower and equip community leaders to improve overall WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) standards in the villages, as well as work on fostering institutional collaborations amongst government and non-government partners to meet the national 2030 WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) goals.

Globally, more than two billion people drink unsafe water, and over 4.5 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, according to a report[1] released in March by the United Nations and World Bank Group. Through Windows of Hope, Lien AID hopes to reach out to a much wider audience and galvanise greater support in solving the root cause of the water and sanitation crisis. Individuals can make a difference simply by sharing about the issue on social media and helping to generate greater awareness of Lien AID’s work. Companies which would like to offer their employees a unique opportunity to experience immersive 360˚ technology and play a part in bringing clean water to rural communities in Asia can also contact ruiyan.yong@lienaid.org for the roving exhibition to visit their offices.

More information on Windows of Hope can be found at http://www.lienaid.org/windowsofhope.

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.

The Village Poet

Bothingone Village, Myanmar

At 69, deputy village chief and Water Management Committee (WMC) chairman U San Yee is remarkably agile and energetic for someone his age. Dressed in a traditional Burmese longyi, he cheerfully led the way from the wooden jetty to the village, unbothered by the blazing sun and blistering heat. Beneath our feet, the soil was parched and cracked, and I could feel the heat radiating through the soles of my sandals.

Like many other villages in the south of the Ayeyarwaddy region, Bothingone village experiences an annual dry season of sparse rainfall that lasts for about 5 months. During this time, the only rudimentary rainwater harvesting pond in the village often dries up, leaving villagers with just a handful of hand-dug tube wells and pumps to obtain clean water for consumption. Sometimes, they have to travel to neighbouring village of Sarchet to collect water with jerry cans. It is common for villagers to ration water use during the dry summer months.

The existing pond in Bothingone village, which is the villagers’ main source of clean water. During the dry summer months, this pond sometimes dries up.

Jerry cans used to collect water

One of U San Yee’s grandchildren playing near the jerry cans.

As the chairman of the Water Management Committee, U San Yee was determined to tackle the water challenges and improve the villagers’ access to clean water. Under his leadership, the village made a unified decision to increase the catchment capacity of the existing pond to help tide them through the dry summer months.

Besides being a village leader and water champion, it turns out that U San Yee is also an aspiring writer and poet. Having experienced and survived the devastation of Cyclone Nargis, he decided to use poetry as a means to educate fellow villagers about the importance of protecting water resources and to encourage them to respect nature. As we sat down inside his home, he took out a notebook, and proudly showed us the poem he had penned.

U San Yee’s poem in Burmese.

This is the English version of the poem*:

Climate changes due to the unbalanced ecosystem,

followed by various natural disasters.

Do not regret only when you suffer such disasters.

Preparation with careful consideration,

will lead to peaceful deliverance of such disasters.

A united effort would breed resilience and sustainability.

Practise continuously,

to create a beautiful environment.

With optimism for the future,

by handing down these good practices to our children.

 

Dear fellow citizens,

be prepared and observant of

climate changes due to the unbalanced ecosystem.

With the effects of severe heat

and drought that resembles

A child without a mother, a fish out of water –

troubled and deprived,

Be prepared and observant.

If only to be awaken by a deep regret,

as helplessness leads to further errors and degradation

with lives at stake.

*This is an unofficial translation and provided for reference only.

U San Yee’s support and influence proved to be paramount to the successful implementation of the clean water project in Bothingone village. Earlier this year, rehabilitation works to expand the capacity of the existing village pond began. When completed, this project is expected to enable over 1,000 villagers from 220 households to gain better access to clean water.

Construction to expand the capacity of the existing water catchment pond began earlier this year.

Close to the end of our visit, I asked U San Yee about his hopes and dreams for his grandchildren, as well as his advice for the younger generation. He left us with the following words of wisdom:

“My wishes are very simple. I hope for my grandchildren and great grandchildren to be healthy and educated. I hope they travel out of the village to explore the world outside. For the younger generation, my advice would be to stay healthy, build family unity and practise lifelong learning.”

U San Yee with a few of his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Some of U San Yee’s grandchildren and great grandchildren.

This project in Bothingone village, Labutta township, Myanmar is implemented as one of Lien AID’s pilot clean water projects in the Ayeyarwaddy region.

The Tears Fall, But My Mind is Strong

By the time our boat arrived at Kakayo village, located in the south part of the Ayeyarwady region in Myanmar, a small crowd had gathered at the wooden jetty. A tall, slender woman stood out from the crowd. Greeting me with a firm handshake, she introduced herself as Daw Mu Mu, a member of the village development committee.

Daw Mu Mu standing at the edge of the construction site for the new rainwater collection pond.

It soon became apparent that Daw Mu Mu was a well-respected figure in the village. Carrying with her an indefinable air of grace, she led the way with long strides as we surveyed the construction site for the new rainwater collection pond. Apart from sitting on the village development committee, the 51-year-old woman wears many other hats – she is also a mother, provision shop owner and farmer.

Unwilling to let her only daughter, Myint Zu Aung, accept the fate of an ordinary village girl, Daw Mu Mu’s foresight led her to a neighboring village in 2008, where she worked hard to earn more income so that her daughter could attend school in nearby Labutta city. Her husband stayed behind, working as a fisherman like most of the other men in the village. The couple worked hard to support their child, in the hopes that she will eventually lead a better life than they did.

Then Cyclone Nargis struck. Having never experienced a natural disaster of this scale, Daw Mu Mu rushed back to the village not knowing what to expect. Nothing could have prepared her for the extent of the damage that was done. The cyclone had wiped out most of the village population, leaving behind it a trail of wrecked homes, uprooted trees, dead animals and disfigured human corpses.

Daw Mu Mu’s husband was nowhere to be found. With her husband presumed lost, the only short-lived moment of happiness came when she found her daughter, who had managed to catch a boat ride back to the village after the cyclone. When asked what they had said to each other then, Myint Zu Aung replied,

“We could not speak. We could only hug each other and cry.”

Myint Zu Aung, Daw Mu Mu’s daughter. She is now 20 years old.

Though shackled by grief, Daw Mu Mu did not have the luxury of mourning for her lost loved ones for long. She went back to work and started to rebuilt the village with others, working twice as hard as before, this time singlehandedly supporting her daughter’s school fees. Miraculously, her husband returned unharmed after being missing for 2 years and 4 months. It turns out that his fishing boat got carried away by the current and ended up on the Indian shores.

Myint Zu Aung’s English exercise book.

But the problems kept coming. The village’s only source of relatively clean water was two village ponds, with water levels often dropping dangerously low during the dry season. In 2016, the ponds dried up, and the children in the village started drinking dirty water when their parents were away fishing or farming.

Women collecting water at the existing pond with buckets.

It was not long before the village was hit by a diarrhoea epidemic. Many of those affected were young children. Daw Mu Mu and the other villagers converted the village school into a makeshift health centre to quarantine and care for the patients. Tragically, they could not save a two-year-old boy in time and he passed away.

Daw Mu Mu was devastated and could not bear the thought of losing more family and friends. She was determined to improve living conditions in the village, starting from better access to clean water. Early this year, construction began on the new fenced pond and hand pumps in the village. When completed, the new rainwater collection pond will provide an additional source of clean water for the villagers during the driest months.

The construction site for the new rainwater collection pond.

Daw Mu Mu hopes that villagers will enjoy better health after the new pond and hand pumps have been completed. Like many of the other villagers, her daughter regard her as a role model. When I commented on her strength and resilience, what she said stuck with me throughout the rest of my journey in Myanmar.

“I keep my feelings to myself.”, she said softly. “The tears fall, but my mind is strong.”

This project in Kakayo village, Labutta Township co-funded by Lien AID, is implemented under our pilot clean water projects in the Ayeyarwady region in Myanmar, and expected to be completed in 2017.

A Lookback at 2016: Highlights and Learning Outcomes

2016 flew by in the blink of an eye as it was one of our most exciting and biggest ones yet as we celebrate 10 years of enabling sustainable access to clean water for Asia’s rural poor. Before we get too excited about our plans for the new year, let us look back at the key highlights and learning outcomes of our year.

The Highlights

  1. We enabled more than 100,000 beneficiaries in Cambodia, China and Myanmar to gain better access to clean water.
Wang Bangxian, a villager in Tiantaishan village, China, gains access to clean piped water through the Village Water Management (VWM programme).

Wang Bangxian, a villager in Tiantaishan village, China, gains access to clean piped water through the Village Water Management (VWM) programme.

  1. We launched the #waterisluxury campaign that garnered positive feedback from our partners, fans and strangers.
Guests taste the “luxury” water at our event launch.

Guests taste the “luxury” water at our event launch.

  1. We handed over our pilot project in Tetma village, Myanmar, organised two Community Water Enterprise (CWE) handover ceremonies in Banteay Meanchey province and Siem Reap Province, Cambodia, and a Village Water Management (VWM) programme commendation event in Beijing, China.
A villager carrying a new bottle of clean water purchased at the CWE handover event in Kdul Village, Cambodia.

A villager carrying a new bottle of clean water purchased at the CWE handover event in Kdul Village, Cambodia.

  1. Let’s not forget the hard work our country teams put in. In Cambodia, we expanded the reach of our CWE programme by the appointment of reseller networks so more villagers in neighbouring villages can gain access to clean water. In China, we conducted market research on remote metering to overcome our data collection challenges. We also obtained government endorsement for our new pilot clean water projects that would be implemented in Myanmar in 2017.
Bothingone Village, Labutta Township is one of the new pilot locations that we are looking at in Myanmar.

Bothingone Village, Labutta Township is one of the new pilot locations that we are looking at in Myanmar.

  1. Of course, that would not have been possible without our amazing stakeholders, staff, partners, volunteers, beneficiaries and all of our supporters.
Lien AID staff conducting a field visit in China

Lien AID staff conducting a field visit in China.

The Lessons Learned

In the past year, we also met with many challenges and identified the areas for improvement. These are some of our key learning outcomes for 2016:

  • We need to do more in addressing lifecycle costs, resources and capacities required to sustain our clean water programmes.
  • We hope to address interconnected issues that affect the delivery of WASH services and desired impact.
  • There is always room for improvement on the reliability and sufficiency of data which affects the learning and improvement of our programmes and projects.
  • We have to place more emphasis on programme outcomes and our desired impact rather than on the delivery process.

Our Plans for 2017

In 2017, we hope to address the challenges we faced in 2016 through new initiatives and enhancements to our current programme structures. Our major initiatives for 2017 include exploring the extension of local partnership frameworks to improve programme delivery and cost-efficiency in China and Cambodia, expanding our reach and impact through a new programme framework and projects in Myanmar, as well as some potential pilot CSR projects in Vietnam and/or Indonesia.

It will be an exciting and busy year ahead for us, so stay tuned to our blog, Facebook and LinkedIn pages for the latest updates on our work. Interested in finding more about our initiatives in 2016 and our plans for 2017 and beyond? Get the full scoop in our Annual Report, which will be released in the second quarter of this year!

Better access to affordable clean water no longer a pipe dream for 1,800 villagers in Myanmar

Earlier this year, we shared the progress of our pilot clean water project in Tetma village, Mandalay region, Myanmar. In partnership with Myanmar Engineering Society (MES), this project aims to create better access to affordable clean water for more than 1,800 villagers.

Tetma village is located in the dry zone in Myanmar and experiences low annual rainfall. When we first visited this area in 2014, we saw the importance of clean water to the villagers – especially in terms of livelihood, and their daily challenges to get access to clean water. Families typically start their day with a walk of up to an hour to fetch eight to 10 gallons of clean water from a well for personal use and their production of jaggery (honey and candy) for trade. The amount of jaggery produced is dependent on the amount of clean water that families can collect in time, before the local tradesman collect their products daily.

Women in Tetma village making jaggery (honey and candy) for trade

Women in Tetma village making jaggery (honey and candy) for trade

Handover of completed pilot clean water project to Tetma village on 12 June 2016

Under the pilot clean water project, a solar-powered and gravity-fed piped water distribution system was extended from an existing tube well to eight water points at six surrounding hamlets (small rural settlements with a small population), bringing access to clean water closer to the homes.

New water tower and storage tank

New water tower and storage tank

The local Water Management Committee (WMC) was trained to manage and monitor the new water distribution system, while workshops were conducted for both the WMC and local villagers to increase awareness on best practices in health and hygiene.

Since the completion of the system in April 2016, villagers shared that it has reduced walking distances and saved time on water collection. Some of them have been able to collect more water for their personal use and jaggery production with the reduced walking distance and lower cost.

Villagers collecting water at one of the water points

Villagers collecting water at one of the water points

We handed over the project to the village authorities at an official ceremony graced by Ministers and General Attorney from the Mandalay Regional Government, district administrators and villagers on 12 June 2016.

Lien AID Chairman Mr Michael Sim with local authorities at the official handover ceremony

Lien AID Chairman Mr Michael Sim with local authorities at the official handover ceremony

The completion of this pilot project in the Mandalay region marks Lien AID’s first step in enabling clean water access for Myanmar’s rural communities. We will continue to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of this project for the next two years. Moving forward, we are also studying the feasibility of piloting clean water projects in the Ayeyarwady region, bringing the gift of clean water to more rural communities in Myanmar.

Learn more about Myanmar’s water woes and our focus areas here.