From Floods to Volunteerism

©UNICEF Myanmar/2016/Mariana Palavra

June 2016, Hakha, Chin State - Van Tin Pen was very scared. She saw six or seven houses collapsing, landslides all over and she was running out of food. This was in July 2015, when cyclone Komen hit Myanmar, causing some of the worst floods in the last 40 years, particularly in Chin State.  “We were blocked for more than two weeks”, recalls the 34 year old who lives in a small village from Hakha township. “Not only did we not have food, but also all the pipelines were washed away, thus cutting off our access to safe water.”


During the following three months, the entire village didn’t have access to clean water. “There isn’t a water source nearby, so we had to fetch water from the water stream that was running by the road”, she explains. “Needless to say, during that period there were many cases of diarrhoea and other health problems among the villagers.”

Van Tin Pen’s village was one of the most affected places in Chin State during last year’s flash floods and landslides. “The first assessments indicated an immediate risk of water borne diseases due to contaminated water sources”, recalls Mohammad Badrul, Chief of UNICEF Chin Office. “There was an urgent need to provide emergency water and sanitation facilities in the displacement sites, as well as immediate hygiene activities and rehabilitation of damaged water sources in the most affected villages”.

Given this context, UNICEF and Save the Children implemented a project to increase access to safe water, safe sanitation and environmental health facilities, as well as hygiene knowledge. “Thanks to this project, 3000 people from five camps and several villages had sufficient quantity of safe and domestic water”, explains Ca Chin Zing, Save the Children Project assistant. In addition, “almost 100 latrines and 60 shower cubicles were installed in the displacement camps, and over twenty hygiene and waste management activities were conducted.”

For Mohammad Badrul, Chief of UNICEF Chin Office, one important aspect of the project was to consider the different needs of men and women. “Women were involved in the rapid assessments, especially pregnant women, as well as children”, explains Mohammad Badrul. “Plus, all WASH infrastructure was designed to provide equitable access and meet the different protection and gender based needs and expectations of women, men, girls and boys.”

  ©UNICEF Myanmar/2016/Mariana Palavra

After only three months of implementation, the results were already seen in different areas of intervention. “Most mothers and children from the targeted camps and villages practice handwashing, especially as a result of the health education sessions”, assures Ca Chin Zing. “Within three to four months, there were no more diarrhoea cases, especially in the camps. Most families now know how to prepare oral rehydration solutions (ORS) at home”.

Van Tin Pen’s village of 700 people was also part of this project, which included repairing the water collecting tank and installing all the pipelines that link the water source to each household.   

Since the project also involved hygiene promotion, Save the Children invited Van Tin Pen to be a community volunteer. Having the experience of going through the floods, helped her to quickly make up her mind. “Because I saw bad health cases due to the lack of clean water, I had no doubts”, she says. “I wanted to be involved in social work, I wanted to give my time to the community. Plus, as I speak Myanmar language, I can easily make the link between the villagers and the non-governmental organisations”.

Since November 2015, Van Tin Pen lives surrounded by UNICEF-Save the Children information, education and communication (IEC) materials about water-borne diseases, rehydration methods, cholera prevention, handwashing, and safe latrines.  She takes those with her whenever she goes to schools for awareness sessions, particularly on handwashing.

“During those three months without safe water, I learned how to keep my family safe from diseases, namely by making sure that handwashing and filtering water were regular habits”, she recalls. “I learned through (the bad) experience”. And now she teaches others. “Although I am shy, I am very happy to teach important things to students”, says the mother of three. “I already notice some behaviour changing, namely the cleanliness of children’s clothes and their handwashing habits. But there are others who haven’t changed”. Therefore, she will continue to volunteer in schools and on Sunday’s community gatherings.   


“It was ‘only’ a pipeline that was washed away, but when the water came back through those new pipes, it brought back our quality of life. It also brought my willingness to volunteer for the community”, Van Tin Pen concludes.