Making the right choices

In Myanmar village development committees help women to make the right choices – not only for the benefit of their own families but also for the benefit of the entire village.
©Maiken Skeem

We are sitting on the wooden floor in the newly constructed community meeting hall in the village of Kan Hla in northern Myanmar. This small community was moved from their original village around 1 km. away from here. A new electro hydro dam was built where they used to live and they had to give space.
Facts
  • The project is run by DCAs partner Shwe Kanbawza (SK). They focus on rural development through community mobilisation. SK only works with communities that have not worked with NGOs before and only if there is a strong commitment from the community people. SK offer training in organising a village development committee and self-help groups. They focus on women as they see them as the best agents of change in their communities.
  • In the four self-help groups in Kan Hla each member save up to 3000 Kyat (3 USD.) per month depending on the labour market.
  • They also use the meetings to discuss problems in the village, as e.g. arguments between man and wife.

70 women and men have turned up to meet today’s visitors. Life in the old village was easier, they tell. Now everything is more difficult.
“We used to do shifting cultivation, this is what we know. But now we are not sure if that will be the best option in our new village. We don’t know any alternatives to shifting cultivation,” says Khin Mya New who is a member of the village’s VDC (Village Development Committee).
When relocated the authorities promised to allocate land for permanent agriculture - but so far nothing has happened. The villagers were only told verbally. There was no contract and no signature.

Challenges

Organising the villagers in a VDC means that they are now able to take up common issues with the authorities in a constructive way. They will continue to discuss with the clerk in the Township administration. But there is also another challenge: Not all villagers have the same size of land and they certainly don’t agree how the new land should be distributed.
“The government expects us to come to an agreement internally and to come up with a plan to how we want to distribute the land between us. Unless we do that it is not very likely that the authorities will allocate the new, promised piece of land,” adds Ei Ei Khaing, who is another member of the VDC.
There are plenty of challenges waiting for Khin Mya Nwe, Ei Ei Khaing and the other members of the VDC.

Independent and confident

Both women were both appointed by the community as they were already volunteering in social work in the village. Being members of the VDC means a lot to both of them. They seem proud and confident in their job.
"I am independent now – depending less on my parents. I used the compensation from the government to construct a house (1 mio Kyat/5.500 DKK). I also borrowed money from the self help group to start a small shop selling basic household items,” tells Khin Mya New and adds:
“We spend time in the VDC for the benefit of the community - but it also helps us personally. We learn how to set up meetings and how to negotiate. Acquiring these skills also makes it easier to make the right choices for me and my family. You could even say that my self-esteem is much better now. Before all women used to sit behind and keep quiet when there were village meetings, now after the training, we are more confident and speak out.”