Summary of a number of articles in Billed Bladet #3, 2014.
Written by our Asia correspondent Ulrik Ulriksen.
The first day started in the capital city of Myanmar, Yangon. Here Mary with the delegation went to a youth center, to discuss sexual deseases and contraception with a number of young volunteers who in turn advise other young people, because the topic of sex is very much a taboo in Myanmar, so information is scarce and misinformation and myths common.
Having taken off their shoes as is polite when going inside in that part of the word, the delegation was welcomed and then Mary sat down on the floor, to be in eye level with the young and she started out hard: "Are there many myths about the use of condoms and is it believed in many places that a the man can become sterile from using a condom"? After a brief, somewhat shocked, silence the young confirmed the myth.
Mary pressed on: "In an active sexual relationship is it then the responsibillity of the girl to be responsible for using contraception/prevention"? That led to some nervous giggling before the young began to talk about that subject.
The meeting lasted a little more than an hour.
Then it was off to a Danish supported clinic, which offer family planning, nurse infants and offer tests for HIV as well as treatment. (HIV is on the rise in Myanmar, and combined with a lack of basic knowledge and a cultural aversion against even discussing the subject, it is a cause for concern for the government).
The clinic is run by Marie Stope's International and it was here Mary and a mother communicated with their fingers how many children they each have.
The first day ended with a low-key reception at the hotel where the Danish delegation was housed. At the same time a much more loud gangnam party took place... Well, they quietened down, or were quietened down before bedtime.
The second day started early with a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, a very impressive Buddhist temple. This isn't just about about foreign aide, the democratic Myanmar government is very much interested in attracting tourists. Amidst worshippers Mary strolled around the temple for half an hour. From the pictures I can tell that there was a lot of security around. Oddly enough most of the police officer (with the exception of the PET officers) seems to be unarmed. Perhaps a religious curtesy? Just as you usually don't carry weapons openly in a church.
Mary was requested to pour water of a statue of Buddha, not knowing anything abouth Buddism, I don't know what it symbolises. And apparantly as a very special curtesy Mary was requested to strike a huge bell three times. By doing that you send up a prayer for good health for you and your loved ones,
In the afternoon Mary, with her LiW, Tanjo Doky and M&F's chief of court, Christian Schønau, strolled along the beach. Watching among other things a group of Buddhist monks playing soccer.
Then it was up north in the country and to a much more serious world. The Buddhist and Muslim refugee camps. As is the case elsewhere in South east Asia these years there is a good deal of animosity between Muslims and Buddhist and that of course leads to refugees.
These refugees end up in camps guarded by the military and the refugees are not allowed to leave the camps as they are officially considered illegal immigrants and not refugees by the Maynmar government. On top of that the majority of the Muslim refugees belong to a people of some 800.000, so there are also ethnic issues mixed in this whole affair.
The refugee camps, housing some 140.000 people, are aided by Danish Refugee Council and Mary got the opportunity to meet some of the residents.
Among them fifteen year old Mohamed Ousman, who told Mary his story and requested a hug, which he got. Afterwards he said: "She's a very sweet lady".
But the most heartbreaking episode was when Abdul Hafes started to cry when he told how his mother had burned to death in their home and how his father had been shot.
It wasn't all glum however, Mary taught a crowd of children with the help of her fingers, how to count to ten in English. They picked that one up pretty quickly and then they very politely asked her for new schoolbooks and school uniforms. - An interesting thing, perhaps cultural? Because an extra grant for 15 million DKK has been approved by the Danish government to help the refugees. That was of course formalised behind the scenes by the Minister for Development, Ramus Helveg.
Mary also visited a Buddhist refugee camp. Located in one of the poorest places in Myanmar, the aide here is much more down to earth. It's in the form of financial aide to start small very basic businesses, so that people can look after themselves. One woman had recieved help to open a little store from where she sold food.
She also visited a socalled Child Friendly Space within the camp. A place where mothers and indeed children too can come and have a breather from the daily trouble in a fairly peaceful environment. Here she met with a number of mothers and their small children, who didn't seem to mind the strange lady. Peek-a-boo appears to be an international success when it comes to dealing with children.
An elderly gentleman remarked about the children: "They are Buddha's most beautiful children".
That ended the three day visit to Myanmar.
Mary told our reporter after leaving the camp with the Muslim refugees: "It was terrible. I've actually visited several camps in both Africa, Jordan and now here in Myanmar. Here it's conflicts and natural disasters which have caused them to be refugees in their own country - internally displaced, who are 100 % dependant of relief aide. It has been dreadful here a couple of months ago, when there were no latrines. Since then a lot has happened. But there are limited opportunites for moving about freely (i.e. can't leave the camps) and limited access to healthcare. And very limited opportunities to create their own economy for the many refugees (which is also a loss of face). For them the future is very uncertain.
When you stand face to face with these refugees, it's important to make them feel that their cry for help is heard and that they are seen and acknowleged internationally.
The children make a special impression on me. They are innocent and they are our future and hope. And it's difficult for me to see that they don't get a chance to develope due to the unhappy circumstances. And the children here are just so open. They smile and are happy when something interesting is happening, even though they have a difficult time. I met two older boys who were very moved and who felt a need to tell me about their situation. It was very touching to hear the boy who cried. He was alone in the world and had lost his mother and father and siblings. He was afraid but he was a proud Rohingya (the minority mentioned above) and he would like simply to have a future".
The Minister for Development was more pessimistic. he described the situation for the refugees as hopeless and said that the government basically didn't do anything. - A government that has plenty of problems as it is.
All this is to culminate in a national fundrasing event shown live on DR1 1. February. About that Mary had this to say: "The Denmark Fundraiser is a beautiful initiative, where our whole nation collect money to a country, a nation or a group of people who are in very dire straits. Denmark and the Danes are always very generous and when I travel around the world I hear how grateful people are for Denmark's economical contribution but also for the way the money are spend to make a differenence with carefully selected projects. What Denmark is doing out in the world is well thought through, professionel and efficient".
Thanks for the info Marfre.
I'm very glad to learn that Mary's effort is veiwed interest in Australia as well.