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Laughter and learning despite hardships in Lailenpi

Posted on 31st January 2020 by Philippa Wilford

A trip report from Chris Jones, Executive Director, Health & Hope UK

I recently returned from an inspiring three-week trip to Lailenpi, nestled in the remote hills of Chin State.  

Over the last few years, there are some things that haven’t changed:

  • It still takes at least three days of non-stop travel to reach Lailenpi from the UK.
  • It’s still true that (for most villagers in the region) it’s a 2-3 day journey to reach a hospital or clinic.
  • It’s also still a fact that educational prospects for the young are dire (less than 20% pass their Grade 10 exams) and that day-to-day food security remains the number one priority for over 95% of people in the region.

Overwhelmingly, however, there are signs of change; tangible outcomes of how the generous giving by Health & Hope supporters is helping to transform lives...

Lailenpi Airport

One mountain top removed...Lailenpi Airport construction one year on. 

The Lailenpi Airport project, in partnership with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), is making clear headway.  Over 200,000m3 of earth was moved by the end of November 2019. The construction team managed this, despite having to work through the monsoon season.  The airport will reduce a two day journey by 4x4 to just 90 minutes by air. This will make a radical difference for women with complications in pregnancy, and for villagers needing emergency first-aid or surgery.

Don’t book your plane tickets yet, though! There’s another 300,000m3 of earth to be moved, a couple of retaining walls to be built and a tarmac surface to lay. The MAF team are doing an incredible job to keep this visionary project on track with a June 2020 completion date on the horizon.

The Health & Hope Training Centre

The Training Centre - December 2018 to December 2019

One of the most visible marks of progress is the Health & Hope Training Centre: a year ago it was just a shell of a building. Now, despite not being quite finished, it is already in use - facilitating training workshops for healthcare workers, and providing accommodation and classroom facilities for 96 full-time Education for All students.

Building a two storey 100' x 60' Training Centre in one of the most geographically remote places of Myanmar comes with its fair share of challenges. It can be a bit frustrating if you forget that essential item of equipment when it's a 12 hour journey back to the nearest DIY store!  

We’ve been determined to ensure every part was built by local townspeople.  In fact, the building speaks volumes about the hands that have created it, the lessons learnt and the relationships forged by local villagers working hand-in-hand on a project they initially said was impossible.

If you’d like to read more about this project or are able to invest financially to help us finish the plumbing, electrics and office space, we do need some additional support.

Freedom to Education

One of the highlights of the trip was to see how the local staff team have developed over the last year. This is particularly evident in their growth in leadership and management of project work. Many of the team have benefited from the generosity of individuals in the UK who have supported ongoing training or sponsored them through 5-9 years of study via our Freedom to Education project.  

Over half the team in Lailenpi now consists of village girls and boys who, previously, would never have had a chance in life. They have now returned as doctors and nurses, or with Business and Teaching degrees. The fact that they are returning to serve their community has a huge impact. In doing so, they are giving hope and impetus to other young people. Students work harder, because they see what can be achieved. They see old friends returning as confident adults, and this brings hope to families across the region.

Changing lives through Education

Many of you will remember the Education video of Dipar whose dream it was to come back and teach in the village, after benefitting from a scholarship. Dipar is now confidently teaching Chemistry and English classes to 96 students from 30 remote villages.  These students would otherwise have no opportunity to receive teaching this year before taking their Grade 10 exams.

We have just launched a new video of our Education for All project where you’ll see Dipar in action as well as get to see how the Training Centre is being put to use. 

These students face an uphill struggle trying to pass their Year 10 exams.  Five subjects are in English, which is their fourth or fifth language, rarely even spoken by their school teachers.  Despite this, they are working their hardest to overcome, and we’re thankful for those who have financially supported this project to get it off the ground.  

We’re also extremely grateful to Janette Creber, a retired Headteacher from Cornwall, who recently spent a month in Lailenpi supporting the team with training and one-to-one mentoring.

Transforming community health care

It was a delight to host specialist nurses from Birthlink-UK for a workshop with our local staff in December.  Birthlink provided training on the care of newborn infants, breastfeeding and helping babies breathe. It was a fantastic week with a huge amount of laughter and learning.

The newly qualified nurses and doctors then gave this training to a group of Area Coordinators, who will subsequently share what they have learnt with Community Health Workers (CHWs) in remote villages.

Delivering this training isn’t an easy task.  Not only are villages remote and the area mountainous, but fighting has continued to spread between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw (the Armed forces of Myanmar) with unspeakable crimes against villagers who find themselves caught up in the conflict.

During my time there, nine CHWs who had travelled up to five days to attend a maternal health workshop were turned back, simply because their ID cards stated they were from a different region of Myanmar. Four of them are living in camps for internally displaced people, and many are unable to farm their land for fear of landmines. The route they were travelling on saw intense fighting later that week, and three civilians and a child were killed in the crossfire.  

Another of the CHWs narrowly avoided being shot, when he was caught travelling after a curfew. He was put in prison, shackled and unable to move or even go to the toilet overnight. He prayed for freedom to attend the workshop and miraculously was set free in the morning.  We rejoiced with him at his arrival - amongst some nervous laughter.

Against this backdrop of suffering and hardship is an incredible staff team who, because of your continued support, are able to apply their learning, and bring laughter, love and hope into villages across western Myanmar.   

There is so much of the work that we haven't been able to mention in this newsletter. 

Do take some time to read more of the latest news on our projects, including a report from the volunteer midwives who visited Lailenpi in November to train Traditional Birth Attendants, and the latest update on the Training Centre rebuilding project

Thank you for your generous and committed support for the work of Health & Hope.

Latest update on the Health & Hope Training Centre

Posted on 28th January 2020 by Philippa Wilford

Latest update on the Health & Hope Training Centre

Building a two story 100'x60' Training Centre in one of the most geographically remote places of Myanmar comes with its fair share of challenges.

I was reminded of that during my latest visit, with it taking us four days just to travel to the project site in the remote mountains of Chin State. When you're also having to transport building materials, it can be a bit frustrating if you forget that essential item of equipment and it's a 12 hour journey (or longer) just to get to the nearest DIY store.

We started constructing the Training Centre in January 2018. When we set out, we determined that everything would be done through the hands of the local townspeople. Where they had experience, we would build upon it.  Where they didn't have the skills we would provide training. 

I kept reminding myself of that as I looked around the project, a year after I'd visited previously. Unlike another building in the area that used contractors from the city, the Training Centre stands as a testimony to what can be achieved through the efforts of local craftsmen, some of whom have learnt a trade through the building process, and are equipped to use that in the future.

Despite being incomplete, the Training Centre has already seen a year's worth of use. The first rooms hosted training for local villagers before the building even had a roof, as we launched a new phase of health training for Community Health Workers in December 2018. In June 2019, just as the roof was being fitted and the monsoon rains begain, 96 students moved into the building as part of the new Education for All project where they will be studying until March. In December last year we ran further training on maternal and neonatal care for Area Health Coordinators and will be running additional workshops in March 2020.

Whilst we raise funding for a separate dormitory, the first floor of the training hall has been turned into an accommodation block for the students and the second floor is in the final stages of being converted into office space and accommodation for local staff.

What I like about the building is that it isn't perfect. The ceiling tiles don't quite line up with the walls. The concrete render isn't quite as smooth as you would want it to be.There were even a few patches of mould that needed cleaning off where the monsoon rains had wet the concrete prior to the external render being finished. The reason I like this, is because every imperfection in the building, which will last for generations, spoke volumes about the hands that had created it and the lessons that had been learnt in the process.

Lessons about how to make concrete, how to tie reinforcement bars, what grade of steel to use, how to cut roofing bars, how to plumb in drainage, how to put up a hanging ceiling, how to make a staircase. Alongside the practical lessons were thousands of hours spent in relationship with local villagers working hand-in-hand on a project that they initially said was impossible to build!  

 

Do check out this short video of the Education for All project which is a fantastic example of how the Training Centre is being put to use.

We are so grateful to everyone who has supported the Training Centre rebuilding project.

If you would like to find out more about this and our other infrastructure projects click here, or feel free to get in touch for more information by emailing: info@healthandhope.org

Volunteer trip report: Transforming maternal & child health in Chin State

Posted on 15th January 2020 by Philippa Wilford

At the beginning of November, two volunter midwives made the four-day journey from the UK to Laillenpi in Chin state, Myanmar. This was the 8th visit to the township, where training and practical support has been provided to Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) and other healthcare workers, with the aim of improving maternal and child health outcomes in the rural communities. 

Since the start of this project over 180 TBAs have been trained. In 2017, the project was expanded to provide Training of Trainers (ToTs) to local women, who then provide training to TBAs in more remote villages. Another element of this trip, was the opportunity to provide support to three nurses who have recently graduated through the support of Health & Hope's Freedom to Education Project (FEP), as well as provide training and support to local government midwives. 

Due to ongoing conflict in the region, it wasn't possible for the volunteers to travel to some of the more remote villages as planned. Instead, two days of clinics were arranged in the town, where almost 150 mothers & babies were seen and treated! 

Following this, the UK midwives conducted a week-long workshop with 36 TBAs, 5 government midwives and 2 trained nutritionalists, who were keen to receive training so that they can deliver health advice for pregnant women and new mothers. As part of the project, the team distributed birth bags, which contain essential equipment and clean birth kits, as well as distribution of basic medicines alongside training in their correct administration.

As always, it was wonderful to receive feedback from the TBAs who have been able to put the training they've had over the years into practice. One TBA revealed how she had delivered a breeched baby 12 years ago and the baby had died because she did not know what to do. Since coming to the training, she has been able to get over her fears and recently deliver a breech baby successfully. She said: "I knew what to do because of the training I had received, and the mother and baby are well. It was the best day of my life!"

The result of this continued work has been a clear improvement in conditions, skills and expertise provided by the TBAs. The assessment at the end of the training week showed that the TBAs have grasped a good understanding in critical practices such as handwashing & hygiene, initial assessment of the mother, manoeuvres of breeched births, and immediate post-natal care of the newborn, including skin-to-skin contact and first breastfeed. As well as these basic concepts, the TBAs also now have a good understanding of how to deal with complications and emergencies in delivery such as  bleeding. 
 

This visit also created an opportunity for the three graduate nurses to gain further training and experience in maternal and neonatal health. The nurses, who are now part of the Health & Hope Myanmar team in Lailenpi, were translating during the clinics and training sessions, giving them the chance to deepen their knowledge and grow in confidence. As a result, Hope Clinic, based in Lailenpi, and our other health projects, will now benefit from the enhanced skills and experience of these trained staff. 

Click here to find out more about the Maternal and Neonatal Health project and how you can support this work. 

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