Myanmar relief focuses on Southeast Asia partnership

YANGON, Myanmar (BP)--In spite of obstacles that prevented a traditional disaster relief response, Southern Baptists have found creative ways to help victims of Cyclone Nargis in the two months since the storm unleashed its fury on Myanmar.

Perhaps a million people were left homeless by the storm, which roared across the Southeast Asian country May 3 with winds of up to 120 mph. An estimated 134,000 people are dead or missing. Perhaps 1.5 million were believed to be at risk for serious health problems in the storm's aftermath. Myanmar's military government tightly restricted the flow of relief supplies and aid workers into the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta.

"We quickly saw that visas for volunteers to go into Myanmar were going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to get," said Francis Horton, who directs work in Central and South Asia for Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization. "We then looked for other ways to assist in the effort and found several avenues to get help to the affected population in Myanmar."

The Southern Baptist relief initiatives have focused on partnerships with Myanmar believers and Christian organizations based in Southeast Asia that had less difficulty with access in Myanmar, Horton said.

"We discovered a cross-denominational coalition forming in Myanmar that was pooling the resources of the Christian community to achieve the greatest help possible to people in need," Horton said. "The Myanmar Christian Coalition for Cyclone Relief represents the major denominations and ministries inside Myanmar working in partnership on the relief effort. With their coordination, we should be able to see a systematic and cohesive long-term response to the disaster that will maximize resources in helping the victims and also result in a stronger standing for the Christian community in Myanmar."

Myanmar's Christian community rose to the challenge of ministry in the storm's aftermath, in spite of the suffering they were enduring themselves, Horton said.

"The churches in Myanmar did all they could from the very first day. Even though a number of churches themselves were destroyed, they began mobilizing their members to pack and distribute food-packets and other urgently required supplies to the victims," he said. "Much of this was concentrated in Yangon, but gradually they have been able to help in the coastal and delta areas as well, especially through their church networks of branch and outreach churches."

The initial Southern Baptist response included dispatching a team of "initial responders" who trained approximately 100 Christians from Myanmar in basic disaster response, water and sanitation, shelter and spiritual care, Horton recounted. Many of those believers returned to the delta to implement what they learned.

Southern Baptists also were able to allocate money from their World Hunger Fund to provide food packets for 10,000 people, ceramic water filters for 5,000 families and 150,000 water purification tablets.

Horton said the MCCCR group now has outlined a six-facet master plan to address the range of recovery and development needs in the country:

1) Reconstructing church buildings

2) Seven months of food kits for 110,000 families

3) Repairing and replacing houses

4) Providing family kits that include bedding, kitchen ware, some clothing and sanitary items

5) Helping children get back in school by providing supplies and uniforms

6) Assisting farmers and small business people in rebuilding their livelihoods.

The plan is broken down into projects to allow individuals and congregations in the United States to focus their attention on specific ways of helping Myanmar's people put their lives back together, Horton said.

"For example, Baptist Global Response is working closely with MCCCR to provide food packets for 500 families at a cost of $100 per month for seven months," he said. "A livelihood project will provide six tractors, at a cost of $1,800 each, that will benefit 1,000 families in 12 villages. Two acres of rice paddy seeds can be supplied for $50. Diesel fuel for the tractors can be provided for $18 per acre."

Baptist Global Response has not yet determined which, if any, of the other aspects of the MCCCR response plan it will be able to address, but those other aspects include:

-- Assisting one child in primary school, $26.80 (total number of children: 300,000)

-- Assisting one child in middle school or high school, $37 (200,000 children)

-- Food for a family of four for one month, $100 (110,000 families)

-- Cooking utensils, clothing, toiletries, etc. for a family of four, $86 (110,000 families)

-- Assist a fisherman in rebuilding his livelihood, $350 (30,000 fishermen)

-- Helping a small business get started, $150 (20,000 small businessmen)

-- Materials for rebuilding one house, $300 (total number not yet available)

-- Materials for reconstructing a church building, $13,400 (440 churches)

The total amount of Southern Baptist world hunger and relief funds committed to Myanmar exceeds $1 million.

A Baptist Global Response team is on the ground in Southeast Asia until mid-July to assess progress on these projects, identify additional initiatives that may be needed and encouraging the local congregations in their ministry to cyclone survivors.

Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at

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