This has been a very volatile time for Shanta Foundation’s partner villages and Myanmar staff. We have learned that the most important thing is to keep showing up. That doesn’t mean that we show up physically when there is danger from firefights between the government and resistance soldiers, but that we continue to stay connected to the villages even if we have to rely on the phone at times.
We make plans to continue our work even if it must be paused due to violence or a pandemic. We never waver in our devotion to the promises we have made to our villagers in Myanmar. Our model has proved more successful than we even anticipated. While other organizations had to leave Myanmar because of Covid and violence, our work continued. This is partly because we have a team of Burmese professionals who live and work in Myanmar. It is also because our partnership model allows individual villages to plan and distribute loans (plus continue other projects) even if at times we cannot reach their villages.
The military coup has caused so much instability in Pauk and Southern Shan, where our partner villages are located. We have learned to adapt and not give up, even if we must put some of our plans on hold. There are many times where we say, “this project is postponed until a later date.” We would rather postpone than abandon. In some cases, we have found that the Village Development Team (VDTs)s should come to our offices (particularly in Pauk) because military checkpoints won’t allow outsiders into the villages. This allows us to continue teaching and training the VDT.
Village life, in general, has become more challenging, with limitations on livelihoods and market access. Many villagers are nervous to proceed with new businesses or investments due to uncertainty around the political upheaval. People are borrowing less because they don’t know if they will be able to sell their crops, and many more villagers are going to Thailand as migrant workers.
We have added some programs to assist with emergency preparedness and food insecurity. We trained our VDTs to create rice banks and track distribution. We are also starting interest-free emergency funds in all of our villages. These programs will help villages cope with future emergencies. Still, we are all anxious to get back to the programs that will enhance villagers’ lives during a less volatile time.