Wells of Hope

Over the next three years from now until 2016, some 7,000 villagers will get access to clean drinking water via 36 tube wells that will be dug in the townships of Kaw Hmu and Kungyangon in Yangon, Myanmar.

Nwenwe Hleing, 39, one of Zee Kone's villagers who can now enjoy clean drinking water from the new Water for Life (Yangon) tube well. (Photo credit: Foo Chee Chang)

“I make 10 trips a day to fetch water,” declares Ma Maw, 39, a betel plant farmer living in Zee Kone village, Kaw Hmu, Myanmar. Filling two plastic canisters with gushing water from the newly installed tube well in her village, she smiles proudly. The canisters are attached to the ends of a wooden pole, which she expertly swings onto her shoulder, before taking off for home across parched rice fields. Our team (volunteer videographer and photographer, and myself) stumble after her over cracked earth and dried grass, despite carrying far less than she is.

Ma Maw is one of 400 villagers in Zee Kone who will now benefit from the installation of a tube well that’s about 600 feet deep. Where villagers previously relied on groundwater or shallow well-water which has to be pumped up manually, the deep tube wells provide clean drinking water at the turn of a tap.

“I grow betel for a living,” she explains, resting the canisters on the ground as she speaks. It’s a 10-minute walk but we are huffing and puffing as we rush to set up our equipment and note her words. Betel is a popular commodity, so Ma Maw is lucky. She also rears pigs and ducks. The water she collects is used for drinking, washing and cooking, as well as to water her betel plantation. “Last time I can only grow betel during certain months. Now I can grow it all year round. The well has improved my livelihood.”

VIPs at the launch ceremony (L-R – Mr Benjamin William, Mr Choo Chin Teck, His Excellency Robert Chua, Ms Euleen Goh, Dr Than Aung, U Kyi Tin, Dr Phone Win & Daw Yuza Maw Htoon) (Photo credit: Foo Chee Chang)

Her happy remarks emerge just a week after the installation of the new well, at the launch of the Water for Life (Yangon) clean water project in Zee Kone, a project by the SIF in partnership with Mingalar Myanmar, and sponsored by Keppel Land Limited and Singapore Red Cross.

After the ceremony, VIPs dropped by neighbouring Ma Kjee Kan Village, where ateam of eight Singapore International Volunteers (SIVs) conducted hygiene workshops with village children as part of the programme. “Se dai dai, se dai dai!” chanted the SIVs in unison with the children, calling on them to scrub their nails and between their fingers while mimicking hand-washing motions. Large plastic models of teeth were used to show the children the best ways to brush their teeth.

The hygiene workshops are part of a drive to address gaps in the hygiene knowledge and practices. “You can learn to wash your hands clean, but wipe them on your dirty T-shirt and you get them dirty again. You can wash your watermelon with clean water, but cut it with an unwashed knife and you contaminate the fruit, causing diarrhoea,” my colleague Melissa Zehnder, SIF’s Myanmar Country Manager, explains to me.

U Soe Tint, 59, a general worker, lives in Ma Kjee Kan Village with his wife and two young children. The family used to get their drinking water from a pond 10 minutes away. “Our children get diarrhoea from drinking the water if we do not boil it first. Hospital bills would cost us around 10,000 kyat. With the new well, we save time boiling the water and money from buying firewood,” he explains.

Living on a combined family income of 2,000 kyat (US$2.30) a day, the savings are significant for U Soe Tint and his family. His two children also attended the hygiene workshop. “They came home from school singing the songs they were taught, and brushed their teeth immediately,” he relates, laughing.

“We are reaching out many hands of friendship with this project – between the people of Myanmar and Singapore, and between the villagers and volunteers,” SIF Chairman Ms Euleen Goh explains. “We are providing clean water day in day out, in wet season and in dry season – and that’s important. Beyond that, we want to raise the livelihood of the people here. We want them to understand healthcare and how to have more nutrition for themselves.”

For Ma Maw and villagers like her, the positive impact on life and livelihood is immediately apparent following the construction of the new tube well. “I can live without food for some time, but not water. Water is the most important for my life,” she declares, gesturing to her dry fields and farm animals.

These impressions of the Water for Life (Yangon) launch and pilot SIV trip (7-11 April, 2013) were contributed by SIF staffer Charlene Poon.

Are you inspired to lend a hand to the villagers in Kaw Hmu and Kungyangon Township in Myanmar? Join us as a Singapore International Volunteer here.

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