I decided to go to Burma currently known as Myanmar.Going to Myanmar at that time was not straight forward.There was no difficulty in obtaining the visa.I was able to get contact in Malaysia who in turn gave me contact details in Yankoon.
On landing in Yankoon I checked into a hotel and made contact with my guide who will take me around.Next morning he turned up and briefed me about the laws and restrictions for foreign nationals visiting the country.Foreigners are likely to be questioned by authorities during their travel.
I was advised to dress like the locals.We went out to buy local dress and sandals.I was warned against taking photographs.At this stage I realised that I cannot contribute as a volunteer on the ground.Only way I can contribute is by gathering information and use that first hand knowledge to raise funds when I get back to London.
On 2nd May 2008 Cyclone Nargis has taken the over 138000 lives,affected 2.4 million people and damaged food production.The Burmese Government has played down the loss of lives,restricted publicity and limited access to international Charities to work in the country.
Access to Aid workers.
Cyclone Nargis received worldwide attention and sympathy but could not do much due to the restriction imposed by the Myanmar Government.The aid agencies were not allowed or restricted by authorities.Generally freedom of movement is very important at times like this.
Until 14th of May 2008 the Myanmar government resisted the attempt by United Nations to send aid workers into the country.They played down the damage.The US and EU pushing for a Security Council resolution to deal with the crisis.
On 22nd May UN Secretary General went to Myanmar to persuade Myanmar Government to accept foreign aid.Finally they agreed on ASEAN-Myanmar-UN tripartite mechanism to handle the aid.Aid workers were allowed to enter the country in june.
Tour of disaster area.
On the second day we hired a car to visit some of the affected places.Some villages were completely destroyed.A school which is completely flattened was functioning under a tent.When we requested permission ,after lot of questioning,paper work and hesitation ,Head of the school let us to walk around.
Next day three of us set out to visit the places which were far away and accessible only by river.We took motorised boat for our journey.Along the way we could see the devastation.These boats carry parcels and other goods and stop on the way at these small villages to deliver these items.After travelling over 50 miles we stopped at a village.The house we visited is on the river bank.Their house had extensive damage.Even with all their troubles they provided us with food and arranged for a small boat to continue our journey.
Our journey continued until we reach the town in Bago region which was badly hit.We visited the Red Cross office which is allowed to operate by the Myanmar Government.The city was gradually returning to normality with the help of Red Cross. Due to the difficulty of finding accommodation ,we decide to take the night ferry to Yangon . As we were exhausted ,we slept in the ferry.On arrival in Yangon we decided to visit the villages in Yangon.
We travelled by a small barely big to carry the three of us.It was a bit scary to travel by small boat.There were many small boats in the river.When we arrived at the next village it was getting dark.This village has also suffered but there was no loss of lives.
By law foreigners are not allowed to stay as guest in houses without informing the authorities.My accommodation was arranged in a very small bed and breakfast.After checking in I went back to the house for the dinner and returned only to lie down.Next morning we continued our journey by boat.
Interview the villagers.
I was able to walk around the village and speak to the people,The whole village was flooded.The houses are elevated as these were low lying areas.The people do not own the land and therefore they do not erect permanent houses.The houses are built with bamboo.The entire family share the house with goat and chicken .They fear to speak openly of their predicament.
There is no water supply or electricity and the sanitation facilities are non-existant.This village is only a few miles away from Yangon and people feel neglected.I visited every house in the village and listened to their stories.
I concluded my visit and left the country vowing to help these people.Due to the fear of being checked at the airport I could not take much of the information in written form with me.On return to London I tried to raise funds but was unsuccessful due to the negative publicity.
To date I am living with the guilt of my inability to help those unfortunate people.