Posted on 19th April 2020 by Chris Jones
My visit to Lailenpi was one of the most revitalising experiences that has ever happened to me. We were shown so much love; it was incredibly humbling. One of the lessons I would pass on to anyone who visits would be: always pack a jumper! If you think you’re leaving your accommodation for just one hour, it could very well turn out to be for seven, and the evenings get very cold!
Our time was incredibly full, even though it was sadly shorter than anticipated due to having to leave early because of the Covid-19 outbreak. We are so grateful to all the people who made us welcome, and to the incredible Health and Hope team who taught us so much during our time working with them. There are many experiences that I could share, but I thought I would highlight the more ‘flexible’ attitude to timings that I learned to embrace, which was illustrated on one of our days travelling out to a remote village in order to run training and a health clinic.
The village was a two hour drive from Lailenpi, and we went with Midwifery Trainers, Maaike and Frances, who had come from the UK to run workshops. Two local nurses, Elizabeth and Mary, came with us to help and act as interpreters.
We arrived around mid-morning and, as with everywhere, were made to feel incredibly welcome. We were offered some lovely local foods including eggs, bananas and an amazing tomato salad!
We’d come mainly to see how the Traditional Birth Attendants were getting on. Many of them had been trained by local people, and so this was a chance for Maaike and Frances to assess how well this ‘passing-on’ of training is working.
We also ran clinics for women in the village who were either pregnant or hoping to become pregnant, and for mothers to bring ill children.
Whilst we saw a range of different problems within the clinic, there were three main issues for children that kept recurring: diarrhoea, fever and children who weren’t eating properly. Many of these issues were easy to solve and required nothing more than health education. Often local villagers are hoping for medication, as this is seen as the only effective treatment; it is an effort to encourage people that much simpler solutions are often all that is needed.
For example, guided by Frances’ wisdom, we discovered that nearly all of the children with diarrhoea didn’t wash their hands. We were able to offer advice around good hand hygiene as well as discussing how to prepare a simple oral rehydration solution and advocating the benefits of continued breast feeding, if age appropriate and possible.
A surprise came for me when treating a five-year old child who wasn’t sleeping properly. It turned out he was using a mobile phone at bedtime. I’d never imagined that too much screen time would be an issue in rural Myanmar!
After we had treated all the children, there were some adults desperate to be seen, and so naturally we agreed to do so. Then, whilst we were finally packing away, one more lady came and begged us to see her as “just one last person.”
I’m so glad that we agreed. It saddens me that that this poor lady had been suffering with a urinary infection for over a year without being able to access help. Despite our limited resources due to the mobile nature of the clinic, we were able to prescribe her a course of antibiotics, and ‘sign post’ her to the Community Health Worker for follow-up care.
At the end of this long clinic, we were treated to another feast. Before we set off for home, we were invited to the local TBA trainer’s house to meet her children. Here again, we were made more than welcome — the hospitality really is incredible. This time together was such a treat. We were shown around the village, and I felt better able to understand village life.
I was struck by just how far some of the TBAs have to travel to attend births, often on foot. Their commitment to their voluntary roles is humbling. On the way out of the village, we drove past Nurse Mary’s grandmother’s house. We stopped to say hello, as Mary hadn’t been able to see her since Christmas.
And then at last we set off for our two hour return journey to Lailenpi! On the way, Mary told us about the legend of the red and white flowers that we drove past, and we were lucky to see some beautiful wild birds.
My experience with Health and Hope left me realising that there is a vast amount that can be done to improve the health of communities without medication. Whilst posters and public health sessions have already been provided, many communities have yet to fully embrace the significance of nutrition and hygiene for daily health and well-being.
People were often visibly disappointed when we dispensed health advice, rather than a course of medication for them or their children. I hope that Health and Hope continue to develop this area of training for the Community Health Workers and TBAs as bringing about this change in mindset takes time.
I also hope that I can return to Lailenpi one day — maybe in a few years’ time when I have been working as a qualified doctor for a while. I would like to go back with more knowledge and skills to pass on. It would be wonderful to see the progress of the work. I will never forget the commitment of the people I have met. They are incredibly knowledgeable, and are clearly having an amazing impact. They are saving lives.
Posted on 17th April 2020 by Chris Jones
We're delighted that progress on the Lailenpi Airstrip continues despite the lockdown, with the team improvising to find the materials and equipment needed to get the runway complete on time.
Terry remains the lead engineer on site and the enormous excavation work is almost finished. A large rock in the middle of the mountain (visible in the video fly through) continues to need daily blasting. With dynamite in short supply it is one of remaining challenges to overcome!
If disruptions to source materials can be avoided, paving for the airstrip will begin in the third week of April with an aim to be complete at the end of May.
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...
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.