Last year, a visit to ward 67 in Dagon Seikken gave a glimpse of hopelessness and despair. The slum settlement in ward 67 are like one of the many slums that have cropped up at the fringes of Yangon city. Most of the families that have settled in ward 67 come here after facing the scourge of Nargis cyclone and had been displaced from their original home in Delta region. The people in ward 67 who live in high density settlements have limited access to life essentials like water and electricity.
Every morning, group of young boys and girls walk down the dusty side roads of the ward to reach their school which is almost 4 kms away and without any transport available to them. The weariness on their face clearly visible against their smiles. In the ward, there is no provision for education except for the local monastery. There is only a basic access to health care and that too for limited time.
It does not help that settlements are living closer to Bago river since during monsoon season their houses get inundated. One of the resident Ni Ni Win exclaimed “It gets so worse that sometimes we fear our babies will be drowned, when we go for our daily job”. For many residents like Ni Ni, the fear is real and have experienced tragic events in the course of their stay at ward 67.
Post 6 months, there is a semblance of positive changes in the ward 67. The FISONG project funded by French aid has made several interventions to develop and empower the community. The scope of the project is to create a sense of community and organisation within the ward that can help itself to face the challenges of the future. Green Lotus, the lead agency of the consortium comprising partners like Women for the World and ActionAid have taken proactive steps in developing a resilient and sustainable community structure in the ward.
It is proven that women are agents of change and it is no different in the community as well. In ward 67, the women in the community have been keen learners and proactive members of different groups that have been formed to empower the community. Nearly in all committee meetings, women have shown higher interest by participating in large numbers when compared to their male counterparts. Women now come happily to meetings in large numbers to discuss issues that pertains to them. They have been initiated into the idea of savings and how it will help them to plan for family spending. Women for the world has given training in using saving tools and also promoted formation of saving groups. This is also helping them to start a small community fund that they can loan to own members as well as use it as common resource pool for community benefit. One of the examples where it took ownership is when they identified issues and came out with waste management as a priority that they can tackle. They mobilized themselves and organized a campaign around waste management. Slowly but surely, the community seems to have a basic sense of ownership for their own problems.
One of first successful structures in the ward with the help of community carpenters and usage of community fund is the building of the community centre. The community centre provides a space for members to interact and discuss different issues. Earlier, it was difficult to find a common space and they were dependent on Monastery or had to travel to other wards for training purposes. The opening of community centre has opened doors for fruitful interactions and positive outcomes for the ward.
In order to tap the economic potential of the ward, various business opportunities are being explored. In the last assessment, a majority of women had shown interest in learning sewing and stitching skills. There is a hidden opportunity since there are many garment factories in nearby areas where they can find employment.
It is without any doubt that climate change and disaster shocks are going to adversely impact the lives in the ward. For them, the impact of climate change is already affecting in different ways and they have adapted in their own indigenous ways. But surely, it is not enough. The first step is to inform and educate them on climate change and disasters in a manner that they can understand and not delve too much on details. An awareness session has already been given and more sessions are in pipeline. Since it lies in the high risk seismic zone, the community has to be prepared for any eventuality as well.
The project has become a ray of hope for the people and they are showing genuine love and care for project officers who come to visit them. At lunch post the workshop, the community women manually blew air with the folding fan towards the officers since there was no electricity. This clearly shows that bond between community and organization is growing stronger by the day. This shows only the beginning of positive changes that are about to happen in ward 67.