Caritas helps villagers rebuild in Myanmar

A low rumbling sound came down into the mountain valley. Instinctively, Felista Vung Lam Nian gathered her two boys and two girls and ran as fast as they could up the mountain to St. Francis of Xavier’s, the local Catholic Church.

She along with the other 29 families found shelter at the Church for the first weeks after the landslide which demolished all but two of the homes in this little hamlet outside of the remote village of Tonzang, 5 hours west of the Diocesan seat of Kalay in northwest Myanmar, near the border with India.

Felista was one of the lucky ones: her house was one of the two which was untouched and her three pigs escaped. However, her main source of income, her 3 acres of rice paddy, were completely destroyed, buried beneath a layer of mud, rocks and logs which came raining down at the height of last year’s monsoon.

landslide which demolished all but two of the homes in this little hamlet outside of the remote village of Tonzang

A landslide demolished all but two of the homes in this little hamlet outside of the remote village of Tonzang in Myanmar. Credit: John Coughlin/Caritas

Peter Mang Lian Khai, his wife and his two younger children (the elder daughter is married) were not as fortunate. The house Peter had just completed after a year of hard work as well as his rice paddy were submerged under the landslide’s ruinous path. As with most of the hamlet’s livestock, his buffalo and chicken survived without harm.

For the first weeks after the landslide, the Church hosted them and people from the local village, Catholic, Baptist and Buddhist alike, provided them with food, water and basic necessities.

With government assistance, a safer site was identified close to the ruins of their hamlet. Contacted by the local government administrator, Caritas Kalay came and surveyed the situation. Coordinating with other actors, Caritas Kalay undertook to provide food aid, hygiene and school kits for the hamlet.

Unfortunately this was only one of the six dioceses hit by this monsoon’s cyclone. Given the scale of the disaster, the dioceses contacted the National Caritas Office requesting assistance in designing and carrying out a response to this devastation.

Seeing the dimension of the response needed, Caritas Myanmar requested Caritas Internationalis to assist them in mobilising the solidarity of its sister members. Quickly funded by  Caritas and other partner organisations as well as using its Lenten Collection to bear the brunt of initial costs, Caritas was able to reach this hamlet with the promised aid along with another 51,000 other flood and landslide hit people in these dioceses.

Having seen to some of the most urgent needs right after disaster struck, Caritas went back to communities to discuss the priorities for recovering a normal life. For the Chin people in this part of Myanmar, a dignified place to call home is a vital part of their being. With technical assistance from Caritas member CRS, discussions were held with affected communities to agree on a design for new homes.

Based on the Building Back Better approach, these homes will be more resilient yet cost effective houses for these families, steel-framed with 5-ply plywood walls. The walls should last 5 years and can be replaced with brick, as families recover their livelihoods.

Living under tents and tin shacks since September, families are anxious to enter their new homes, which will be ready before the next monsoon season hits.

Caritas Kalay are helping people in this hamlet to look beyond their dream house, to identify ways they can kick start their earning power again. The food aid that is coming to an end, selling off animals and day labour that people are lucky enough to get are not enough to provide for families in the long term. Over the next months, Caritas will continue working with Felista, Peter and the other residents to find ways to get their farming and other income going.


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