Methodists Provide Compassionate Response in Myanmar
April 27, 2009—While much of the world watched in horror after Cyclone Nargis devastated southern Myanmar (Burma), the Methodist Church (Lower Myanmar) MC(LM) sprang into action-providing ministries of healing, food, shelter and counseling to people in great need.
Cyclone Nargis swept across the Irrawaddy Delta May 2, 2008, and is estimated to have left 150,000 people dead or missing, making it the deadliest cyclone in Myanmar's history.
United Methodists responded generously to this crisis and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) worked with MC(LM) to support their work.
"God has been so good," said Bishop Zothan Mawia of MC(LM) during a recent visit to UMCOR offices in New York. "I want to thank UMCOR for the privilege of working together," he said regarding the assistance they received to help in Cyclone Nargis recovery.
To organize their response, which will continue for the next three or more years, MC(LM) created the Methodist Committee on Relief. The newly-formed organization provides relief and recovery for people in underserved areas of the Delta region.
In the first months of response they provided basic materials for shelter, food, and water as well as medical care, trauma counseling and special outreach activities for school children. As the recovery has continued, the activities have changed to help restore livelihoods in the region and meeting the long-term needs of survivors.
A boat, purchased through a donation from the Methodist Church of Malaysia, brings volunteers, doctors and others into the most remote areas of the Delta. Methodist seminary students volunteered to receive training in grief therapy and trauma counseling and then went door-to-door in specific villages to provide a listening ear and support.
"The creative and compassionate response of Methodists within Myanmar is inspiring," said the Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR's top executive. "We want to continue to provide our sisters and brothers in Myanmar with the support they need to continue the important and difficult work of recovery," he said.
Health Care Needed
Conversations during the bishop's visit to UMCOR, which took place April 9, 2009, covered not only past responses to the cyclone but also future work in these isolated and underserved communities.
Dr. Caroline Hla Hla Aye, who leads the MC(LM)'s recovery work, accompanied the Bishop. She discussed past and future Cyclone Nargis recovery efforts and discussed additional needs for health care in remote communities in the Delta region. She noted that there is need to improve the coverage of health care in the villages where they have been helping Nargis survivors. Often the nearest clinic or hospital to these communities is hours away by boat.
Dr. Aye is coordinating with local health authorities to train community health workers to provide basic care in these communities. There are plans to build community halls with a clinic area and also use a boat as a mobile clinic. Later in 2009, Dr. Kalindi Thomas, Global Ministries' missionary, will visit these communities and provide additional support for MC(LM)'s health outreach.
The Committee on Nargis Relief and Rehabilitation (MCNRR) was formed at the last MC(LM) Annual Conference to ensure the efficient and accountable implementation of recovery work by professional staff and volunteers. Additional plans include training for mechanics to repair machines, and to empower women and youth for educational support and health.