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    Entries in infrastructure (5)


    What is it like to have tea with royalty? We ask our staff to find out

    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 in one of the Dry Zone villages where she works

    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.


    U Myo Myint with farmers U Thein Sein and U Thain Soe

    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.

     Proximity's Ma Toe Toe Kywe, U Myo Myint, and Debbie Aung Din, ready to meet Queen Sonja


    Cash-for-work, Education for Life


    Dar Hat's village leaders stand with students in front of the local school

    Proximity’s infrastructure projects are designed to have two-fold benefits: in the short term, families receive daily wages for their work at a time when jobs are scarce, and in the long term the village benefits from new ponds, footpaths, and embankments that increase connectivity or improve access to water. We were amazed, however, to see one village in the Dry Zone turn the daily wages into a long-term village fund that two years later, is still helping families access free education. 

    When Dar Hat’s 43 households gathered to renovate their village pond in 2012, village leaders collected $5 USD from every family – the equivalent to 1-2 day’s work on the pond. They inaugurated a village fund, whereby anyone in the community could borrow up to $200 USD at an interest of 10% per month. Though this is quite high, it’s actually lower than the customary 20% per month interest rates offered by other informal moneylenders in the region. The village then used the interest income from the loans to pay the schoolteacher’s salary, freeing families from the burdensome fees they had to pay to send their children to primary school. 

    Up until this point, families had to pay variable fees to send each child to school. These fees increased as students got older, making it more expensive and difficult for families to send students to upper elementary classes. Now, however, all the villagers in Dar Hat can send their children to elementary school for free.

    Since the pond renovation, the inhabitants of Dar Hat village have water for household use year-round. What’s most remarkable, however, is how village leaders continue to use the initial cash injection from the pond renovation to work for the community. 




    Digging it...

    During the dry season, we fund community managed rural infrastructure projects across the country. These take the shape of bridges, jetties and footpath in the often-flooded rural delta areas, and rainwater harvesting reservoirs in the central dry zone of the country. Here are some images of our ponds in the digging stage and, after the long monsoon, full of life-giving water…


    10 days to launch: The Proximity School

    U Myat Aung is standing at the front of a classroom waxing lyrical about the virtues of the humble paperclip. As he enthusiastically lists the many, unexplored uses of the object, his audience holds their sides to control their laughter. Having convinced the panel, and his fellow classmates of it’s worth, he returns to his seat, and another enterprising man, this time wielding an elastic band, takes the stage.

    This is not your average Myanmar classroom scene. But it is a classroom in Myanmar. The activity forms part of a “sales and marketing” workshop, one of 78 workshops that make up the syllabus for our annual Proximity School. Some of the others are data analysis, leadership, customer service and area management; classes that typically induce yawns in their attendees but here they’re delivered with a twist. Creativity, colorful post-its, teamwork and brainstorming are the order of the day.

    Inspired by the creative teaching styles of leading graduate design schools, and the “corporate universities” of top international for-profit organizations, the School, now in its 4th year, is attended by over 280 field staff from all over the country. Lasting for one month in total, each team (infrastructure, sales, FAS and management) comes to Yangon for one intense week of classes before the start of the new season. The emphasis is on gaining practical, relevant knowledge that will have a tangible impact on their work when they’re back in the field. It’s the kind of vocational learning that’s hard to come by in Myanmar but, with the imminent nationwide launch of several new irrigation products, our solar light range, a new credit initiative and a line of paperclips* this kind of training is vital to our success in the coming season.

     *We’re not actually selling paperclips. But we could.





    KUNYANGON: Build it and they will come

    Community built footpaths in the Ayerwady Delta are increasing monsoon connectivity for a projected 323 remote villages.

    As devotees of the human centred design approach, build it and they will come is not our usual mantra. But, when talking about the new footpath in Seikyi village, it's a pretty apt title. 

    Seikyi, like many of the villages in the Ayerwady Delta region, is remote. In the current monsoon season, this remoteness is intensified, as flooding destroys the little infrastructure there is and journeys, by motorbike, pushbike, and even oxcart become near impossible. People from unserviced villages wishing to continue their education, their trading, or receive medical attention during the wet months, are forced to hitch up their longyis and wade (or swim) through saturated ricefields, sometimes for hours at a time, to reach nearby schools, clinics and markets. A monsoon resistant road seems like a worthy investment.

    Proximity funded 66 community led, cash for work, footpath building projects in villages like these over the last 6 months. Now, as the monsoon is in full swing, the effects of this improved connectivity are being felt by many

    This time last year you wouldn't even be able to visit, it would have taken you two hours by boat from Kungyangon.

    Daw Than Nu, a mother of three from Seikyi, told us of a journey that took us less than 15 minutes by motorbike on the new footpath.

    There are no high school graduates in our village, because the children just couldn't get to school. The primary school teachers who commute here daily from Kungyangon told us they would stop coming unless we fixed the road. I was worried for my children's future. 

    But they did fix the road, and the teachers are still coming. 

    It feels amazing, Daw Than Nu goes on, I have better hopes for my children’s future. I can dream for them now.