I listened to Rosemary Breen from Inverell speak at my local church about the work she is doing in Myanmar to help poor villagers get access to clean water. She was inspiring and challenging. We all know that polluted water is a cause of dysentery, diarrhoea, infant mortality and early deaths across all age groups. Rosemary Breen decided she would do something about it.
If you could help financially you could greatly improve the health of many young people and reduce the death rate. My own parish contributed well over $20 000 in a Christmas appeal. As each tank costs about $US 2 000 that gift will bring clean drinking water to over 10 villages.
Rosemary Breen gives her time freely and pays for her own travel expenses.
Can you help? John Menadue.
Rosemary tells her story below.
I began going to Myanmar in 2004, having been asked by some sisters of an international religious community to research the possibility of their starting a community there. Eventually this happened and I would return to stay with the sisters in Yangon and help with a teacher-training course.
About four years ago, I worked with a young woman, Maw Maw, who was trying to get a scholarship to train in early education in the USA. This didn’t eventuate and she finally got her training in Manila. On her return, she told me of the great need for clean water in what is known as the Dry Zone in Central Myanmar where she was going to be living and where, eventually she hoped to open a small school .Her teacher was Saya Toe, who became the organiser of the water-tank project which grew out of this tiny seed which Maw Maw had planted in my mind and heart.
I had been involved in a small way in water projects in Africa and felt strongly that clean drinking water was one of our basic rights and I had already financed the building of a water-tank in the southern part of Myanmar after a cyclone had hit that part of the country. And so it started!
Various friends donated generously to this project. I spoke at meetings and groups and then received a very generous donation from a Trust in the UK. So what began as a very modest idea began to grow bigger and bigger and last January I visited the forty villages and schools which now have tanks, some 3000- 5000 gallons, depending on requirements. The cost of each tank is about $US2000… When I returned in December 2014, the 74th water-tank was being built, much to the delight of the villagers and the little local school. A special joy was being accompanied by a young woman who had come to Australia as a refugee with literally nothing in the early 1980s and was sponsored by our local refugee resettlement group. Her family has already financed four water-tanks and Hieu-Duc is already planning another fund-raiser. What an asset to Australia and to the world are these refugees that we provide protection for.
The building of the tanks is quite simple – there is a dedicated team which goes round the villages. This means these men now have a regular income. Guttering is put on the roofs, pipes affixed and the tank is built on site, using metal mesh, bamboo and cement. When the monsoon rains come, the tanks quickly fill up. The local people in the villages help by getting the gravel, stones and water.
Their labour has been estimated at 17% of the cost.
At my last visit, a number of school principals and village headmen came to ask if they too could have a water tank. There is still great need. As one headman said simply, “Please help us – we are so thirsty!” Last season there was less than usual rainfall. Some tanks were empty but for as little as $20, it was possible to hire a driver and bullock-cart to refill the tanks by making numerous journeys to a well.
One very great need that I discovered is for a second-hand 4WD. The roads are mostly sandy tracks and often the taxis I had hired could not get through. We had to get out and walk or go by bullock-cart which tested my aged bones!
Saya Toe has organised all this without any remuneration. He visits each village four times, to discuss the proposition and educate the people who will be responsible for the tank’s maintenance. It has been a mammoth task for him.
Since last May, the project has come under the auspices of the Global Development Group which looks after sending receipts to donors and getting the money to Saya Toe in Myanmar which previously was quite a problem. Another advantage is that it is now tax-deductible.
So to date, 74 villages now have clean drinking water, thanks to donors all round Australia, in the USA and recently the UK. I pass on to you all the gratitude of so many who have seen clean water as a luxury beyond their reach which we just take for granted. I still get really moved seeing the school children drinking clean water and know it is thanks to so many who have been inspired to help.
(Living Water Myanmar is an approved project (J812N) with Global Development Group – issuing tax deductible receipts for gifts over $2. Donate at: www.gdg.org.au/GiveToJ812N)
Rosemary Breen can be contacted at [email protected]