Building Capacity to Fight COVID-19 in MyanmarPublished: Oct 13, 2020 Reading time: 5 minutes
In Myanmar, as in much of the world today, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted people’s lives. Despite the large-scale public health measures put in place by the Myanmar government, including stay-at-home orders and restrictions on travel and social gatherings, Northern Rakhine State was one of the first regions in Myanmar where COVID-19 emerged.
Both the pandemic and the public measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have only further increased the vulnerability of populations affected by conflict, poverty, and displacement. Through the implementation of various livelihood activities at the onset of the pandemic, People in Need (PIN) and its local partner, Phyu Sin Saydanar Action Group (PSSAG), with funding from the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund, have quickly responded to emerging needs by expanding and altering their ongoing activities.
Distribution of face masks and hygiene kits
PIN, together with PSSAG, continues to provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people affected by conflict, including internally displaced and host communities in Northern Rakhine State. PIN and PSSAG have conducted large-scale distributions of fabric face masks and hygiene kits in order to help these communities cope with the threat of COVID-19.
In total, 2,860 vulnerable households from 20 villages in the Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships received a two-month supply of hygiene items, including soap, detergent, toothpaste, and shampoo, and PSSAG distributed over 61,000 fabric face masks to households, displaced communities, as well as government health offices.
Mamed Ali, project manager at PSSAG, says: “In addition to the hygiene kits and face masks, we also provided our beneficiaries with awareness-raising activities about COVID-19. During the sessions, our staff demonstrated how to properly wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, how to correctly wear face masks, and how to socially distance when going outside in order not to spread the coronavirus.”
Ali adds: “Our beneficiaries are already vulnerable because of internal conflicts and government travel restrictions. Most of them cannot afford to buy disposable masks. That is why, with PIN’s support, PSSAG provided three fabric face masks per person.”
Learning to sew face masks
The more than 61,000 fabric face masks distributed in the most vulnerable communities were produced by female trainees from a sewing and tailoring programme organised by PIN and PSSAG. The aim of the training was to provide vulnerable women with livelihood opportunities and a chance to financially support themselves and their families.
“We selected 75 beneficiaries from all ethnic groups from among 20 villages in the Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships and trained them in sewing techniques during an intensive, 20-day training programme conducted at five training centers,” says Ali. “After the training, Muslim, Daingnet, and Rakhine women also received a sewing machine and necessary sewing equipment. We encouraged them to produce face masks for their families and their communities by providing them with the necessary materials, including cotton cloth, thread, and string. They now have a chance to earn money from their production. One person can sew around 100 face masks per day.”
Bena Ja, a 30-year-old Muslim mother of three living in Kan Kyi Pyin village in Buthidaung township, says: “Until recently, our family depended on my husband’s income. He is a casual laborer. But now, he cannot earn money because of all the COVID-19 restrictions in the town and in our village. After attending sewing training by PSSAG, I received a sewing machine and sewing equipment. Now I make money from sewing face masks.”
Like other participants of the sewing programme, Bena Ja has made approximately 100,000 Myanmar Kyat (approximately 66 EUR) from making face masks, which PSSAG has distributed to the most vulnerable communities.
“This is the first money I earned in my life and I am really proud to be able to earn money during this hard time,” says Bena Ja. “I will use this money to improve living conditions for my family and I will invest it in my children’s education.”
Supporting the most vulnerable
As part of this COVID-19 response, PIN and PSSAG worked closely with local authorities to conduct distributions and deliver the different activities in targeted villages. Adu Shukkor, PIN livelihoods officer, has been working alongside PSSAG to deliver assistance to people from his native Northern Rakhine State.
“When implementing our project activities, we work together with local authorities, religious leaders, our partners, and village tract administrators to achieve the project’s goals and deliver emergency assistance to our beneficiaries,” Shukkor says. “People are thankful to PIN and PSSAG. We don’t know when this pandemic will end, so we want to raise as much awareness about COVID-19 and hygiene-kit distributions as possible.”
Shukkor is enthusiastic about his work and notes: “Although we face time constraints and difficult challenges to go to the field and deliver assistance, when I receive positive feedback from our beneficiaries, all my tiredness is gone.”
Funded by the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund (MHF) and managed by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, PIN helps to alleviate some of the financial issues of conflict-affected people from Northern Rakhine State, and promotes gender-transformative and non-household-based activities to the most vulnerable people in conflict-affected communities. In addition, PIN provides COVID-19 assistance and awareness-raising sessions to more than 20 villages in the Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender, or political affiliation.