Friday, May 23, 2008

A Traveler's Perspective

by Laurie Weed

Hi everyone,

I visited Myanmar (Burma) less than a month before Cyclone Nargis hit and met many wonderful people there. Along with many of you, I'm now watching in horror as the junta turns a devastating natural disaster into a genocide by refusing access to the UN and other experienced international relief agencies. My heart is breaking for the Burmese people, who are suffering more than ever.

Since the cyclone, I've received reports from friends inside and the situation is dire. J., the founder and director of a volunteer-run preschool I visited in March, lives in Myanmar full time. He writes that their school was badly damaged but they are all safe, at least for now. The surrounding villages were hit very hard and the school is providing water, food, and shelter for the children and families who lost their homes. Five families are now living in the one remaining school building, along with several babies and toddlers whose parents cannot care for them until they rebuild their homes.

J. and his staff are deeply committed to the local community: they are trusted and trustworthy, providing a safe haven for children and their families in the aftermath of the cyclone. They have the resources and local know-how to acquire supplies and distribute them efficiently, but time and money are running short, and prices are increasing by the day.

Photos online: Before and After Cyclone Nargis
J.'s letter, which describes conditions during and after the cyclone, can be read here:

What's happening now?
Some aid is arriving through official channels, but it is not nearly enough. The junta is still blocking the efforts of most international agencies and throwing up smokescreens instead of real help. It's shocking that this could be allowed to continue. This op-ed piece from the New York Times (5/21) sums up the status quo:

The school has emergency funds to hold them over until June 1, when we've scheduled an additional delivery of cash (see "how to help" below.) J. has left the school in the capable hands of his staff and gone into the Yangon delta, the area hit hardest by the cyclone. With a team of local volunteers, they are running clandestine deliveries of food and supplies directly to hungry and displaced families, without government interference.

Dispatches from the front lines
"We went to Konyangon, and we conducted one successful food distribution there. At this time it's difficult for expatriates to move into the affected areas far down in the delta region, so we are sending a local assessment team and when there are back we send a transport with the supplies we know are needed. We have the capacity to efficiently carry out thus operations with [name removed] as the main local person and a full team of locals packing and distributing."

"We are sending two trucks at midnight to Dedaye in Ayeyarwaddy division. I am not on board since foreigners are not allowed; [name removed] and other locals go. We hope to continue sending materials for as long as needed, we have the team to effectively assess, transport and distribute supplies rapidly. So far we go with five items to all households in the targeted villages, the items are rice, beans, oil, jaggery (raw cane sugar), salt. 2 trucks (10 feet) can transport food for about 580 families for 6 days."

How to help
Thanks to your generosity and effort, we've raised over $900 US so far just from this dispatch. Even passing the word on to your contacts is a huge help -- several donations came in from people I don't personally know. Your concern for the Burmese people is truly appreciated. Thank you.

Many of you are already involved in cyclone relief efforts and this is not meant to pressure you - but if you are able to help some of the cyclone survivors through this channel, please do. Even small donations will make a big difference -- for example, $40 USD will buy enough rice to feed a family of four for one month.

The current priorities of this project are:

1. To continue to feed the people who have come to the school for assistance.

2. To help the five families now living at the school to collectively rebuild their homes, one at a time.

3. To identify and help other families in the village who need emergency relief: providing water, food, shelter, and medical care.

If you can give something to the cause, please contact me at:

I'm working with a trusted contact here in the Bay Area who will deliver cash in person. After assessing the options, we determined this would be the quickest and most efficient way to send funds. The courier leaves for Myanmar on June 1, so there's still time to donate to this mission if you would like to help. Every dollar collected through this channel will buy food and other emergency supplies for the cyclone survivors.

Please continue to help spread the word and let the Burmese cyclone survivors know they have not been forgotten.

Thank you,

Laurie Weed
writer, editor, vagabond

Subscribe to Songlines: