When the King and Queen of Norway visited Myanmar last week, they made it a priority to meet ordinary civilians who’ve proved themselves to be strong community leaders, be it by championing alternative education in Myanmar, or helping villages improve access to water. This past Tuesday, December 2nd, two members of Proximity were invited to have tea with King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway along with a number of other unsung heroes of Myanmar.
Ma Toe Toe Kywe’s humble demeanor and youthful smile are the first things to greet you when you meet this strong female leader. Her commitment to improving the lives of rural people arose from her own upbringing in Oh Yin Village (Myaing Township) where her parents harvested sesame and peanuts to support her while she studied industrial chemistry in university. In return, she’s dedicated the past four years to helping communities renovate rainwater collection ponds while earning a daily-wage for people in need of seasonal work. Throughout the course of her time at Proximity, she’s risen to the rank of team leader, and has helped 87 villages rehabilitate their ponds. Now a proud member of Proximity Finance, she’s hoping to employ her previous experience with pond rehabilitations to help small-plot farmers in Myanmar access affordable credit to build robust businesses.
Accompanying her was U Myo Myint, a lifelong environmentalist and the head of our Farm Advisory Services Team. With over 40 years’ experience as an agronomist, during which he served as the head of the Plant Protection Department for the Ministry of Agriculture, U Myo Myint came out of retirement in 2008 after Cyclone Nargis threatened the food security of millions nationwide. Since then, he’s devoted himself to developing best fit, climate-smart techniques that help farmers throughout Myanmar improve their yields and save money on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The 29-person team that he leads assists over 10,000 farmers a year, but somehow, U Myo Myint still greets farmers by name and whenever he travels to the field.
“For us, it was a great honor to meet Queen Sonja,” U Myo Myint said. “I was really surprised when I was invited. Why did someone like me who works at a community level get chosen to talk to her majesty?” While U Myo Myint’s conversation with Queen Sonja never touched on the subject, the answer to this question is clear to the rest of us at Proximity; we’re constantly humbled to work with local leaders such as these two, and are excited that they had an opportunity to share their personal commitments to social impact directly with the King and Queen of Norway.