UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2011 / 0302 - Myanmar: Emergency response training program builds future leaders

Myanmar: Emergency Response Training Program Builds Future Leaders

UMCOR-supported initiative supports at-risk communities

By Mette Hartmeyer and Sidney Traynham

YANGON, Myanmar, March 2, 2011—It is potentially one of the least interesting aspects of humanitarian work: disaster response training. But according to the director of a Myanmar-based training organization, Ngwe Thein, ongoing training and cooperative learning efforts for young people are critical to the future of Myanmar.

Htoi San Awng, a 20-year-old trauma counselor, recently participated in the training offered by the decade-old group, Capacity Building Initiative. He says that the UMCOR-supported trainings have helped him as he has works to promote psychosocial care in the Irrawaddy delta following the devastation of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

“When I first started facilitating meetings, I was awful – the meeting would be in chaos,” Htoi San Awng shares with laugh. “As I learned the skills of facilitation, the meetings I lead were more and more effective and efficient. And when working with kids, we teach them songs and stories. I use the facilitation methods that I have learned and it’s very effective.”

Ngwe Thein is quick to link the challenges faced by the country of Myanmar to a lack of capacity. He says, “Unless the people of this nation have their skills and capacities built, then the development of a country can be slow. This is why we are now suffering.

“If an organization has good leaders, then they can stay for a long time and hold power because the leader has something to give. But when a leader is sitting there for many years and the organization does not change or experience any development, then that is not an effective leader. Therefore, we have to look at how can we transform that leader into a good leader?”

Ngwe Thein states that this is the core reason why CBI is now building the capacity of young people who are working in the field of social development. ”The way we can develop our country – it starts with the capacity building and training of young people, because these people will one day become the leaders at all levels,” he notes.

CBI delivers training for local organizations and villages on a variety of emergency response topics including disaster assessment, project management, and program monitoring and evaluation. And it pulls together local trainers who come from careers in academia, the United Nations and international organizations. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) supported the latest disaster response training efforts of CBI, carried out over the past year, and the project is managed through a partnership with Church World Service Asia Pacific.

“CBI is an incredibly unique organization. They are close to the ground and close to the people they serve – and they pride themselves on being a learning organization,” says Kathrine Alexandrowiz, the Head of Programs for CWS Asia Pacific. ”Every year they train hundreds of community workers in how to manage disasters. In a country like Myanmar that is so prone to such disasters, these efforts are life-saving.”

Alexandrowiz adds that as CBI works to develop the capacity of local community-based organizations, that CWS Asia Pacific is also supporting CBI to develop their own capacity through organizational assessments, management trainings and ongoing partnership. In addition, UMCOR has recently committed to continue funding support for CBI in 2011 as well.

A multiplying impact

CBI not only resources local and community organizations in the core areas of effective disaster response, but also seeks to train other trainers in better teaching and facilitation methods.

“The facilitation and simulation methods that we learned were very exciting. We pretended that the problem or event was really happening and we had to solve the problem together,” says May Thant Syn, a 20-year-old woman who recently participated in trainings on facilitation skills. 

She shared that being part of this training has changed her perspective and her life. “I used to be shy and didn't want to talk with strangers. Now I can deal with many people and have confidence in myself,” she says.

Alexandrowiz adds, “In Myanmar, these trainings can often be the first formal education that many workers in community-based organizations ever participate in. So it’s even more critical that trainers employ creative and effective training methods for participants in order to maximize the learning and impact on local communities.”

When Ngwe Thein first joined CBI, he says that he spent a lot of time thinking about capacity and capacity building. “I was trying to define capacity… It is a very popular word in development organizations. 

“What I can say today is that capacity building is important for everybody. Day by day, you are growing in age – and maybe in size. And yet, day by day knowledge and thinking should also grow with our age.”

How You Can Help

You can support disaster response trainings like these that equip participants with the tools to manage disasters in times of crisis.  Give to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance # 982450.

Mette Hartmeyer and Sidney Traynham work with CWS Asia Pacific.