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Myanmar, Republic of the Union of

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director appeals for donor support in post-cyclone Myanmar

© UNICEF Myanmar/2009/Myo Thame
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde F. Johnson interacting with third graders in the new child-friendly school built by UNICEF in Kugyangon.

By Zafrin Chowdhury

KUNGYANGON, Myanmar, 29 May 2009 – On a recent visit to Myanmar, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde F. Johnson made a strong appeal to donors to assist recovery efforts here – especially on issues of housing and income generation – one year after the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis.

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The visit included extensive travel, in the midst of heavy rains, to a range of different UNICEF-supported interventions.

“It is very clear that there are major gaps in shelter, and many people are actually still living under the tarpaulin shacks without proper housing,” said Ms. Johnson. “That is going to be a significant challenge with the monsoon that is now unfolding here in Myanmar.

“We need to see a much larger response from donors to be able to finance and scale up both housing and livelihoods," she added. “It’s with more income that people can invest in building a stronger base for their future, and those two areas are major gaps now. We would like to appeal to donors to really step up to the plate.”

Ms. Johnson met senior government officials in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, and held meetings with the UN Country Team, ambassadors and diplomats in Yangon, in addition to travelling throughout the cyclone-torn Irrawaddy Delta.

New 'child-friendly school'

In Kungyangon township, Ms. Johnson, along with UNICEF Representative in Myanmar Ramesh Shrestha, visited a newly built 'child-friendly school' providing a range of services for students. Ms. Johnson cut the ribbon to inaugurate the school with the Deputy Minister of Education, Brigadier General Aung Myo Min.

UNICEF plans to build close to 45 child-friendly schools across Myanmar with the currently available and committed funding support. The Kungyangon School is among the first nine being completed in the townships hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis. Classes in the new schools will resume in the new school year starting in June.

“The main thing now is that the government takes this on, and build schools at large scale that are stronger and can hold in the wake of storms and bad weather and natural disasters,” said Ms. Johnson.

About 60 per cent of damaged primary schools received direct assistance from UNICEF with repair, learning materials and teachers’ training, which helped bring over 400,000 primary school children back to school.

© UNICEF Myanmar/2009/Khin Zaw
Schoolchildren enjoying the colourful playground at the Kwin Kyar Taw village’s primary school in Kungyangone township.

The model schools include innovative ways to reduce heat and noise and foster child-friendliness. They also have a library, a playground, a teachers’ room, new sanitary latrines with wash basins outside, safe-water storage facilities and a wheelchair-accessible ramp.

“In the old school, I had to sit and write on the floor. We did not have furniture like we now have. This school was built for us by UNICEF,” said Khine Thazin, a student in the third grade. 

Reuniting families

In Laputta, Ms. Johnson met with Child Protection Community Support Group members and some of the children who were reunited with their extended families. The children she met lost both parents and are now living with family members who themselves were in dire hardship after the disaster.

The families shared with Ms. Johnson how they took on the added responsibility in spite of poverty and difficulties in taking care of their families. Some caregivers have received funding for small-scale business activities, such as selling groceries or raising livestock. Food and education support are offered for the children.

As of the end April in Laputta, UNICEF and its implementing partners helped reunite 603 children with either their immediate or extended families. Family tracing efforts are continuing for the few remaining separated children. 

Struggle for survival

In the Interim Care Home, Ms. Johnson met the only two remaining siblings at the facility. Aye Myat Mon, 6, told her the harrowing tale of losing her parents on the night Cyclone Nargis struck, and of the struggle for survival that followed with her three-year-old brother, Ye Htet Kyaw. 

“Days following the cyclone, we only ate whatever food items we could find floating on the water,” said Aye Myat Mon, “Eventually we found a boat and came here with some neighbours. I am happy here.”

At the home, they receive care from two full-time female caregivers with the Myanmar Red Cross Society, a UNICEF partner. Ye Htet Kyaw was diagnosed with tuberculosis while being treated for malnutrition and has just completed a six-month course of treatment. Aye Myat Mon is preparing to go to school when classes begin next month. 

Ms. Johnson spent some time with the children. “They are taken care of, but it is difficult to live without mummy and daddy,” she said. 




21 May 2009:
UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on Deputy Executive Director Hilde F. Johnson’s visit to Myanmar to see UNICEF-supported interventions one year after Cyclone Nargis.
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