Myanmar:For the Persons with Disabilities to live with Reassurance

What the Civil War Left Behind

The state of Karen in Myanmar, sharing a border with Thailand, is a region of beautiful nature and rich traditional culture. However, during the 60 years until when the cease-fire agreement was signed in 2012, repeated outbreaks of war continually occurred between the Burmese government and the Karen armed forces. Because of this, then the longest civil war in the world, the establishment of social welfare and education systems was delayed, resulting in a lack of public assistance available to persons with disabilities including those who were victimized by landmine accidents. Their opportunities to receive an education and participate in society are limited and many live an unstable and secluded lifestyle.
In response, in September 2016 AAR Japan, in cooperation with the Social Welfare Department of Karen state, commenced support activities for persons with disabilities in 15 villages to assist them in living independently with peace of mind.

A Day in the Life of a Person with a Disability

What is the day in the life of a person with a disability in this village look like? And what kind of problems do they face? Saw Hla Htoo (age 23) lost sight in his left eye when he was three due to illness, and lost sight in his right eye when he was 18, due to injury. He has never studied at school since it is far away from his house and he cannot travel there safely. Since he cannot find a job, he is helping out his family by carrying water and doing simple chores, but he spends most of his time at home.
Saw Hla Htoo can hardly see out of both of his eyes, and he cannot go outside (December 5th, 2016)

Ma Yi Yi Lwin (age 18) has a memory disorder, and she cannot speak that well. She was once attending elementary school with her family’s company, but she struggled to receive enough support from her teacher, and she couldn’t keep up with her classes. She doesn’t have a job, and she regularly helps out with chores.
Ma Yi Yi Lwin has epilepsy and is currently on prescription medicine (December 5th, 2016)

U Aung Soe Myint (age 47) lost both of his legs due to a landmine accident when he was 18. He lives alone in the village, and although he can cook and bathe by himself, he doesn’t have a job and life is difficult. Family members do their best to help him out; his niece, who lives in the neighborhood, occasionally brings him food; and three years ago, his brothers who live in Bangkok had sent him a wheelchair, but it has already broken. As a result, moving and climbing the stairs of his stilted-raised home can be very exhausting.
U Aung Soe Myint(left) who lost both of his legs in a landmine accident (December 5th, 2016)

In a situation like this, it is not unusual for opportunities of education and public participation to be scarce and for persons with disabilities to be forced to live a difficult life without the understanding of others and a lack of assistance. According to government statistics, in the state of Karen 99,389 people are handicapped either psychically (body, sight, hearing) or mentally in at least one aspect. Also, according to the report “Landmine Monitor 2016” published by the ICBL, a global civil society coalition of hundreds of organizations working for a world without antipersonnel landmines, 3,745 people have fallen victim to landmine related accidents from 1999 to October 2015 in the whole of Myanmar as a result of the long civil war. However, as there is no system in place such as physical disability certificate, to gather information about landmine victims and there are victims that cannot be reached, the number of landmine victims is thought to be higher.

Community Based Rehabilitation

Since discovering this situation, from September 2016 AAR has commenced support activities to those disabled persons as a result of landmine related accidents to assist them in returning to a normal life. The purpose of these activities is to deepen the bond between isolated persons with disabilities and villagers from other villages. This is based on the idea of “Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR). When one usually thinks of rehabilitation, images of people training or practicing movements to recover or enhance their physical abilities come to mind. However, in the same way “rehabilitation” means to return, this is not only for persons with disabilities. This activity is also for their families, village leaders, school teachers, and anyone who lives in the village. By doing this, villagers help out one another and personal bonds strengthen, resulting in a greater potential for the village to develop. Moreover, activities are held to further increase understanding amongst those disabled persons’ families and teachers, and we are aiming to create a space where these persons, who may tend to get isolated from society, can nonetheless play an active role in the community.
A CBR course, where local staff are learning how to ask the needs of PWDs, from AAR director and specialist Mr. Makoto KONO (Left) (September 16th, 2016)

Over 2000 Households, One at a Time

AAR interviewed each disabled person within the village, inquiring as to how they spend their daily lives and what kind of problems they encounter. In the state of Karen, understanding of a disabled person’s circumstances are scarcely considered, so much so that sometimes the chief of the village doesn’t know their situation, and there are even times when the family doesn’t acknowledge the fact that they have a handicapped child. Seeing this, AAR decided to visit every single household, (over 2000 in 15 villages) to gather information about those persons with disabilities that resided in each village. In one particular village, there was a girl that everybody talked about. This girl’s name is Kit Kit, and she is about to turn 15. Kit Kit was born with no left foot, and although she cannot move her fingers very fast on either of her hands, she can use a smartphone very well, she can keep in touch with her friends, and she can sometimes run nimbly to see her friends. She is a shy person, but she’s famous for her friendly smile. At first glance, it would seem as though Kit Kit has overcome her disability and has integrated into the community. However, she also had to drop out of school in third grade of elementary school due to a lack of understanding and support from those around her.
Kit Kit, a girl who wanted to graduate elementary school but couldn’t (October 3rd, 2016)

Whether a person has a disability or not, at AAR we are always trying to figure out what kind of assistance is needed for people like Kit Kit and Saw Hla Htoo, so that people can have an equal opportunity to receive an education and get involved in society. In doing so, it is our hope these disabled persons can eventually “do” what they “want to do”. Finally, we are working to create opportunities where disabled persons, as well as their families and members of their respective villages, can meet together to discuss the needs of the village.
The local AAR staff considering how to find what these persons with disabilities need. (September 17th, 2016)

Since the villagers love to interact with others, they are willing to answer any questions the interviewer might have (September 15th, 2016)

Taku MATSUSHIMA, Myammar,Hpa-An office
Since September 2016, he has been stationed at the Hpa-An office and currently oversees operations in Myanmar. He joined AAR after 3 years of working at intermediary organization, where as head of the secretariat he was involved in fundraising and consulting operations and the running of events and training sessions. Born in Yamanashi Prefecture.

Japanese-English translation by Ms.Moe Arima
English editing by Mr. Joseph Scutella

This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.