The Long Road To Mandalay (via Hong Kong) Part 5
Thursday 29th Sep
It was an early trip on the Thursday morning to visit a rural social enterprise situated on the Ayeyawaddy River Delta. This was an area that was particularly devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, which killed some 140,000 people and left almost 2.5 million homeless. This disaster was compounded by the fact that Myanmar’s isolation meant that initially no foreign aid or support could access the country. Local people and organisations tried valiantly to help, but undoubtedly this was still the worst natural disaster in the countries’ history.
Our bus driver was obviously experienced and skilled, but I eventually had to stop looking out the front window, as the road contained a diverse range of hazards – cows, cyclists teetering along carrying huge bundles, people walking and oncoming vehicles playing chicken on our side of the road.
We were being hosted by a SE, Proximity Designs who support rural communities; providing microfinance, providing farm advisory services and designing and selling farm equipment to improve growing conditions.
We were based in a township called Kyungyangone. It is mainly bamboo huts, surrounded by paddy fields. We spoke to one farmer who has seven acres of paddy, and who has received microfinance from Proximity to develop these fields. The microfinance is offered on a ‘group’ basis, where several smallholders come together to form a group. Although they borrow individual amounts, the group work together to ‘guarantee’ one another’s repayments. They have to attend regular meetings with Proximity, which teach them about farming methods and opportunities for development.
One of the particular farming innovations that people had adopted was to add salt to the water in the rice fields. This helped to kill pests and eliminate unproductive rice shoots. The salinity level was checked by placing an egg on the water – if it just floated, it was perfect.
Temperatures were soaring into the upper 30s, with high humidity and as we toured the paddy fields under the midday sun, I was sure I was about to keel over at any moment.
Villagers were so friendly and hospitable and welcomed us into their homes. I was struck in one of the houses by a picture of young boy in monk’s robes. Over 60% of all males will spend some time as a monk. I could tell that his parents were honoured that their son had taken up this calling, but also that they missed him so much. I could however see the benefits of sending my son to a monastery – occasionally.
This was in truth the closest I did actually get on my ‘Road to Mandalay’ – but maybe closer than Robbie Williams got? The return bus journey to Yangon was again ‘interesting’ – made even more so with a torrential downpour thrown in.
Friday 30th Sep
On the morning, we visited Phandeeyar in down town Yangon. It is an innovation lab who are trying to use technology to benefit society.
Technology is a nascent sector in Myanmar and most developers are self-taught. A smart phone costs on average $23, and data is 1kyat per MB (1,700 Kyats is £1). The result of this is that, even in the rural areas, mobile technology is advancing quickly, and while people don’t have a computer (so don’t use websites), they are more and more frequently using ‘apps’.
Phandeeyar have hosted a number of hackathons, including a highly successful ‘let’s vote’ hack challenge. 30 teams competed over two weeks, and the winning app, which was designed to provide unbiased information in the lead up to the general election had 200k downloads in 5 weeks – and it could be argued played a significant part in ensuring the countries first successful and fair election.
Phandeeyar have core funding from a number of sources but fundraise for individual projects. A recent accelerator programme attracted 80 applicants, and six successful candidates are working in the Phandeeyar office. They also provide co-working space for 30,000 kyat per month and have about 60 users of the space.
In the afternoon we participated in a SE Symposium that attracted delegates from the government and a wide range of national and international stakeholder organisations. This again gave fascinating insights into some of the challenges that SE faces, but also how it is so positively impacting in the redevelopment of Myanmar. There was a somewhat abrupt end to proceedings as we had overrun our time slot and wedding guests led by the very vocal and agitated groom, ‘invaded’ our conference room.
Saturday was our last day in Yangon and we had a tour around the famous Scott Market which is an incredible warren of stalls selling every product under the sun. Once again the temperature and humidity were oppressive and we decided to have a break at a small café. I ordered what was titled a ‘Strawberry Sherbet’ and was eagerly anticipating a long ice cold fruit drink to quench my thirst. A steaming bowl of hot sago soup, with spring onion and a large slice of submerged bread arrived. The owner hovered over me like a mother hen to ensure I finished every drop. Lost in Translation came to mind.
We then set off that evening on another marathon 24hr journey, back to Dundee.
It had been a wonderful, informative, emotional, tiring and inspirational trip and a few special mentions and thank yous: to Gerry, Johnny and Jo from CEIS who had organised it so wonderfully well. DSEN for giving me this fantastic opportunity. Those who organised and delivered the inspiring World Forum. All those who were involved in the life changing enterprises that we visited and to Tristan, Mae and Mimi and all their colleagues from the British Council who so expertly hosted and guided us in Myanmar. And of course to my fellow tour party colleagues from across the globe. A pleasure and a privilege to spend time with you all.
Next World Social Enterprise Forum is in Christchurch in 2017.
Thank You 谢谢 多謝
ကျေးဇူးတင်ပါတယ် Tapadh leat
The Long Road To Mandalay (via Hong Kong) Part 2
Sunday 25th September
Didn’t sleep too much, but cheered up by the stunning view from my room looking across the bay – sun shining – hooray.
After breakfast I left the air conditioned hotel lobby – once again taken by surprise by the outside heat – whew. Great sight as masses of cyclists whizzed by taking part in a closed road event – I wondered if I should have tried to borrow a bike and enter the event, but reckoned maybe not, as heat, tiredness and general disorientation meant I was doing all I could to stay upright.
No rest for the wicked and off on our first of three visits to local Social Enterprises, the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association.
Senior Citizen Home Safety Association
The SCHSA was formed in 1996 by a group of passionate individuals, in response to a prolonged cold spell during which more than one hundred elderly people living alone were found dead. The Association is a self-financing social enterprise and charitable organization in Hong Kong that offers 24-hour personal caring and emergency assistance services to the elderly and others in need through their core service, Personal Emergency Link, with the mission to enhance the living quality of the elderly in the community through the use of technology and people-oriented services.
The Manager Wendy, previously enjoyed a very successful career in the IT industry and had used her knowledge and contacts, to lever support from companies within this sector, to ensure that their service kept up to date with the latest technological developments. They exist in competition with 4 commercial operations and so they must offer the best service to be sustainable. They also offer volunteer befriending and a similar phone based befriending service. Wendy was very interested to hear about some of the great older people support services in Dundee (such as DialOp) and I promised to send her the contact details for these.
Wendy also was concerned at the lack of contact and engagement by people of different generations within HK. So she used her IT expertise to design an interactive learning resource aimed at young people, known as the Life Journey Experience. You gain your boarding card on entry and are then taken through a series of rooms, where each represents the various phases of a person’s life journey. It uses clever interactive games and activities to show how your body and mind changes over the years, and demonstrates the positive and negative aspects of ageing. The final part of the journey, involved me having to go into a very realistic coffin, where the lid closed and a video screen above my face, showed me my final moments – it was quite a challenge for me to face this, as I have had real fears about death from my early childhood.
Passengers on the life journey are then taken to a room to meet older people and they share and reflect with each other on how they felt about what they had experienced. The feedback board in the foyer, I think clearly demonstrated that the young people had found it a hugely powerful and informative experience.
Then on to the next Social Enterprise visit – feeling dizzy with the heat and jet lag – but can’t rest – want to savour every moment of this wonderful experience.
Green Ladies / Green Littles
Travelled to a busy commercial/residential area of Hong Kong Island and entered a fairly plain shopping centre. Then arrived at what I initially thought was a Gap store, with modern and stylish fixtures, layout and signage. In fact it was a social enterprise second hand shop, that generates income for the St James Charity which works with people with a range of support needs. The shop is called Green Ladies, with their brand being ‘I Second’.
The shop was initially run on a conventional charity shop basis, but they decided to follow a consignee model, where they very carefully vet incoming clothes and jewellery, rejecting anything that doesn’t meet their required standards. Consignors receive payment for their items, although some may choose to donate them for no fee. The shop initially offered only woman’s clothes, but now also stocks kids’ stuff – with the new brand of Green Littles. They have grown from that first shop and now have another 4 across HK. Another key aspect of their ethos is that they want to avoid waste and it certainly was an unusual marketing message to find in a retail changing room – ‘Do You Really Need This Item’. Older people within HK can find it very difficult to find employment and so the store has made it an explicit policy, to employ people of this generation – and this is helping to highlight what a positive contribution they can make to the workforce.
(Great website, but be patient as it takes a wee while to load)
Then on once again, to the IBakery for lunch. It is a very professionally run cafe, which trains people with a range of support needs for careers in the catering and hospitality industries. We had a lovely meal with our neighbouring table being occupied by a very lively group from South Korea, who were obviously excited about being in town for the Social Enterprise World Forum. The café was situated in the corporate quarter and we were surrounded by towering buildings of every shape and design, including 2 which were meant to look like pandas – I think I’ll reserve judgement on that one.
Till the next blog!
See part three HERE!
Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don’t represent those of the Dundee Social Enterprise Network organisation,