Some Holidays in Nepal

Jon Ross on Apr 24th 2016

 

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The project is moving forward here… but slowly.

 

katunje site setting pillars with concrete women

We work seven days a week—when there are no Hindu, Newari, or Buddhist holidays, which seem to come every few days, so it is really a few days on, a day or two off.

Traditional Newari dress

Traditional Newari dress

 

Last week was a fabulous Newari holiday week called Bisket.  Like New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving combined… every day for six days.  So only a couple of crew show up each day (because my builder is Newari!) and there was the actual Nepali New Year on May 13th.

bisket chariot wheel

For Bisket, though, in the nearby old town of Bhaktapur they have created a giant chariot (like the Hari Krishna one for Festival of Chariots. Come to think of it, it might have the same roots.)  Anyway, with this one, they play tug of war with it, through the narrow winding streets, surrounded by thousands of people.  Every year, people get crushed under the huge wheels. (The chariot is where we get the term Juggenaut.)  This year, one person died.  I’m went, but tried to stay far away from the chariot… I did not succeed.

bisket chariot coming down

Bisket was nuts. Bhaktapur is a town on a hill and the chariot starts at the top. They tug on the ropes until the thing comes careening down the alleys with people fleeing for their lives. The chariot is totally rickety, and huge, and pieces break off as it rumbles along and smashes into buildings. If you’re under it, or trapped in a narrow alley, forget it. Here’s a pic of it after it passed me.

bisket chariot passed

I was crushed into a side alcove with hundreds of people, but survived!  Then you make your way through back alleys to the next exciting down-slope.

bisket crowd party

It ends later at night with the chariot at a standstill in a big square. Huge party ensuing!

katunje site jon and purna ram

Now, back to builder-mode—just going to a construction site every day and watching them work, and going to the construction supply places, dealing with foreign money exchanges, and paying… paying… paying.  :0)  It’s a meditation practice.

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Jon at brick factory.

 

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But something fascinating happens everyday—either related to the job, or Nepali culture/festivals, observations about people and different traditions, or existential thoughts.

 

balram - sangita and safal

 

And the family is so happy.

 

dressed for a holy day visit to the temple

dressed for a holy day visit to the temple

 

In April, there was the Holi Festival on the 22nd. A national holiday celebrating spring.

Dousing people with water and throwing handfuls of colored pigment on them and rubbing it in their faces and hair is the order of the day. Kids with water balloons on rooftops and buckets of water. Mayhem in the small squares and narrow roads of the old towns. The “religious” part of the day: a man dressed in billowing robes and wearing a fearsome mask chases the throng—people flee as if being chased by the bulls in Pamplona.

Hopi festival dusted guy

I was invited by a super young engineer, whom I met on one of the sites I visited in the mountains, to join him and his friends back at their college a couple of hours south of Kathmandu in a town called Dhulikhel.

 

Hanging out in a small cinderblock room with his buds drinking beer and smoking pot (them) and eating boiled potatoes and listening to the Eagles (all) was a scene that could have played out anywhere on the planet where young people exist.

Jon Hopi Festival

Then we went into the town where they went off to find girls to douse and dust, and I took a bus, jam-packed with people with colored faces and clothes, back toward the city.

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Nepal Project Update – March 31, 2016

Jon Ross on Mar 30th 2016

 

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Namaste:
I’ve been in Nepal for three weeks and have done many site visits, and met with local NGOs, INGOs, and private individuals who responded to the disaster: Gorkha earthquake, April 2015.

Swoyambu in distance

Kathmandu is like a lot of third-world capitals: a lattice of crooked roads, choked with traffic and smog, street vendors, and alleys leading to secret courtyards and hundreds-of-years-old temples, and surprisingly friendly people; everywhere, the air is redolent with curries and incense interspersed with sewage and garbage.

 

bardada jon entering
After a few days in the city, getting my bearings and having meetings with my local contacts, I headed out into the field to assess the situation in the villages—in the lower mountains with the towering Himalayas in the distance.

 

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Even a year after the earthquake, not much has been done to rebuild houses for the more then 650,000 affected families. On the one hand, this is understandable, as the government and the big NGOs try to coordinate and deliver that much aid, while maintaining some semblance of order (among the agencies, as well as the beneficiaries), building standards, and equitable distribution of resources. On the other hand: let’s just help some people already!

 

bardada long walk 1

 

Getting to the villages is an odyssey in itself. Most are accessible only after day-long bus rides on “paved” roads, then more hours of harrowing 4-wheel-drive ascents on narrow cliffside “rough roads,” ending with strenuous hikes along footpaths barely clinging to the mountain. (A friend asked me if I were going to do any “trekking” while I was here; I think this qualifies.) Every time I thought we were near our destination, I was told, “Just around the next bend.” And the next… and the next. :0)

 

bardada swesta interview
In all the villages I visited in the Gorkha district (the epicenter of the quake), as well as others—some of the most remote in Nepal—the situation was the same: the local mud and stone houses were mostly destroyed, if not rendered uninhabitable. The families have gotten through the last rainy season and winter by constructing makeshift shelters from the detritus of their previous homes. Most are living in lean-tos of corrugated metal and wooden posts.

 

gorkha village ridge

 

Right after the disaster, many people from the city and unaffected areas rushed to put together supplies and deliver them to the villages where they had family or personal connections—many foreigners, who felt a connection to these mountains and the people from doing treks, sent money, often to unscrupulous “nonprofits” quickly set up to do “disaster relief.” And the government distributed some necessities, such as tarps and rice, in the early stages of the response.

Now, the process of assistance has ground to a frustrating halt.

 

HRRP meeting

 

Back in Kathmandu, I attended a 3.5-hour meeting with the heads of the government reconstruction agencies (NRA and HRRP) and all the big NGOs. So much bureaucracy, stonewalling, and inefficiency. But also big challenges for them. The government is forbidding anyone from building—UN, Oxfam, Care, World Vision, Save the Children, etc.—but MicroAid is under the radar, so I will do it, if I find the right situation. (See below for info. on our potential site.) At the meeting, there was a presentation by a guy from the World Bank, in addition to the Nepali government and the large INGOs. This is Big Disaster/Big Business/Big Money!

 

chum khola bridge ahsish points

 

Obviously, there are plenty of people who need help, but the challenge for any NGO is to find those situations where they will not imbalance the village community by helping some and not others. There is no other way to figure out how do this than to be in the field and see it first-hand, like I am doing.

 

bardada w village leaders

 

And it looks like I might have found a project. As always, where the focus is not!

 

Balram family site

 

Most of the attention is on the mountains and the villages, but so many people around Kathmandu also suffered and lost their homes. MicroAid may build for a family near Bhaktapur—a decidedly urban environment—definitely not the garden spot of the country.

 

Balram family and quonset hut
When the Balram family settled here many generations ago (above, some family members with neighbors), the area was a rural hamlet outside of Kathmandu. Their simple mud and stone house was one of the first. The family was/is in the sewing caste, making clothes, curtains, bedding, etc. for the local community. Over the years, due to ready-made options, their business had dwindled and they became poor. A few years ago, the father died, leaving the mother to take care of her two daughters, two sons, and two grandkids. Then came the earthquake, which brought down their house. This is a good MicroAid situation because the family has no other recourse and no other NGO will help—they are too busy focusing on the mountains.

 

Balram family quonset hut

 

I will continue to update you as I to put it together.

I must add that the more I understand the aid process (in general), the more amazing it is to me that anyone can try to help, or donate to, a cause at a distance. To understand the issues and the players and the potential, one has to have direct information.

As your man on the ground, rest assured that I don’t use our funds unless I find an appropriate MicroAid situation.

I hope you and your family are happy, healthy, and secure.

Namaste from Nepal,

Jon

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MicroAid Assessment trip to Nepal – March 2016

Jon Ross on Feb 16th 2016

 

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I hope all is well.

I am leaving on March 2nd for Nepal, where in April, 2015, the magnitude-7.8 Gorka earthquake killed 8,000 people and destroyed 650,000 homes, affecting more than a million survivors.

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Over the last months, I have been contacting people there, and here, who were involved with the disaster response—because it was so widespread, that means almost anyone who lives in Nepal or has a connection to the place. I have also been studying construction techniques for building earthquake resistant homes using local materials, and connecting with a variety of other NGOs with innovative strategies.

Even a year after the earthquake, the situation in Nepal is dire. Due to a terrible convergence of government inaction, a fuel and materials blockade along the Indian border, and the magnitude of the damage, very little has been done to help the survivors who lost their homes.

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MicroAid will be going in with the same philosophy that has led to our helping so many families in the past: “Just because you can’t help everyone, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help someone.”

I will be assessing the situation in about a dozen villages in the earthquake affected zone—from Pokhara to Khumbu—to see how best to use our resources and help the most people. We might rebuild a few houses for families, or provide construction tools and building materials for an entire village.

I feel that, together, we make up the MicroAid “team,” and the people for whom we build houses know that this assistance comes from a network of people far away who feel compassion for, and a connection to, those less fortunate who have no other recourse.

If you haven’t made a donation in a while, please contribute to the Nepal effort. As always, 100 percent of your donation goes toward helping those in need; overhead is paid for by me, the board of directors, and a few specific donors.

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Thank you for being a part of this humanitarian effort and good will. We are making a huge impact on people’s lives—directly, efficiently, and completely.

Hoping you and your family are happy, healthy, and secure.

All the best,

Jon

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MicroAid update October 2015

Jon Ross on Oct 6th 2015

 

October, 2015

As we head into the fourth quarter of 2015, I want to look back at all that we have accomplished in the last six years since I started MicroAid, and to acknowledge and thank you for your part in making a difference in people’s lives—without MicroAid these disaster survivors would not have gotten any help. So, thank you! I will be adding a “donors” page to the website to recognize everyone’s contribution. Please let me know if you do not want to be on the list.

To recap our achievements in helping families return to permanent homes and self-sufficiency after losing everything in a natural disaster, MicroAid has:

Built three houses in Sri Lanka in 2010, helping more than 60 people—and future generations (disaster: Indian Ocean tsunami, 2004)

Replaced fishing kits for one village, and built 16 canoes for another village in Samoa in 2012, helping more than 500 people (disaster: tsunami, 2009)

Built a house in Peru in 2013, helping more than 48 people—and future generations (disaster: floods, 2010)

Provided a water purification system for a village clinic in Myanmar in 2014, helping more than 800 people (disaster: Cyclone Nargis, 2012)

Built four houses in the Philippines in 2015, helping more than 60 people—and future generations (disaster: Typhoon Haiyan, 2013)

You can see photos of these projects in the “completed projects” section of the website.  As our organization gets older, our projects are getting larger in scope, as well. But we will always help people directly, efficiently, and completely. MicroAid does not leave a project site until the job is done.

Currently, I am laying the groundwork for home reconstruction projects in Nepal (Gorkha earthquake, April 2015). Things are pretty chaotic there, still, with a newly ratified constitution, and many large NGOs vying for materials and labor and photo ops. But I have met with a number of people, either Nepalese or with connections to the situation, and have started to map out a strategy and raise money to help survivor families and maybe even an entire small village. I will do an assessment trip in a few months, then do the rebuilding in the fall of 2016.

In the coming year, I will be training other project managers, so that we can have multiple projects going at the same time. In the course of my work, I have run across a few candidates with the right skills, experience, and attitude, to work the way we do: directly, efficiently, and independently. As you can imagine, finding people like that is not an easy task. (Please let me know if you know of anyone who might be a good fit.) Also, I will formalize our advisory board, and officially acknowledge the behind-the-scenes experts—medical, construction, media, etc.—who help me when I am in the field, and at home. And we will be welcoming at least one new member to the board of directors.

Additionally, MicroAid will be doing fundraising campaigns through crowdfunding platforms, as well as continuing to approach foundations for grants, and encouraging individuals to donate what they can. As you know, in the places we work, every dollar makes a big impact.

MicroAid still guarantees that 100 percent of donations go toward helping those in need—to the recovery projects in the field. Overhead is funded by the board of directors, certain foundation grants, and specific individual donors.

In January, if my application is accepted, I will be attending the Annenberg Foundation nonprofit development seminar, where I will learn more in-depth strategies for running our organization.

Thank you, again, for supporting MicroAid and our important, unique work helping survivors of disaster after the world’s attention has moved on.

I hope you are all happy, healthy, and secure.

All the best,

Jon

 

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Philippines Houses Complete — July 2015

Jon Ross on Jul 6th 2015

 

 

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The houses in the Philippines are done and I am back in the USA.

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The families are so happy now that they have solid homes that will withstand future storms and last for generations to come.

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Betty’s site – MicroAid construction under way.

 

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Two new homes for Betty and her family.

 

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Betty and her family in front of their new MicroAid home

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Pedro's compound construction underway.

Pedro’s compound construction underway.

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pedro site final

Two new homes for Pedro and his family.

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Pedro’s family in front of their new MicroAid houses..

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As you know, all donations go toward the projects; overhead is paid by me and the board of directors. And once a project is started, I don’t leave the field until it is complete.

That’s what sets MicroAid apart from all the other disaster nonprofits: we help people directly, efficiently, and completely.

Now, we’re working on raising money for the next projects in Nicaragua, Indonesia, and Nepal.

Thank you for the support.
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Jon Ross
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Philippines House Project – May 2015

Jon Ross on Jun 24th 2015

 

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Maopai!

I am in Omawas, Philippines, on the east coast of the island of Samar. An area that is in the direct path of Pacific typhoons. Especially Haiyan (2013) and Ruby this past year.

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I want to update you on the good work we are doing building permanent houses for survivors, and remind you that we stay focused on areas after the world’s attention has moved on. (Rest assured that MicroAid will go to Nepal down the road, when the earthquake survivors will still need our help.)

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As with all disasters, here in the Philippines, years later, there are many people who have not received assistance.

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I arrived a few weeks ago and met with two beneficiary families to start the ball rolling and work on budgets and find foremen to rebuild their homes.

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Betty’s house was almost completely destroyed by the typhoon

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1-Betty: Widowed a few years ago. Four daughters, one son, three grandkids. No recourse after the typhoon damaged most of her house and destroyed her daughter’s and her husband’s next door.

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Betty’s compound – construction underway

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Pedro and the kids lived in what remained of grandma’s house.

2-Pedro: His wife abandoned the family (four girls, one boy). He was doing his best to raise and support them, along with his mom, when the typhoon destroyed their house and damaged hers. He rebuilt as best he could, now they all live in one cramped space. But they don’t own the land, and the owner wants it back. So we’re building on land they own!

 

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pedro’s old house destroyed

Pedro's compound construction underway

Pedro’s compound – construction underway

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Actually, each project consists of a repair or completions of one house and a ground-up construction of a new house. So really, two houses for each family.

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ronalyn on motorbike

Ronalyn – interpreter/assistant par excellence

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Early on, Ronalyn (my local guide/ interpreter/gal Friday/lifesaver) and I went to the local town to buy materials. I had forgotten that in these kind of places you don’t just walk into Home Depot with a list and walk out with everything. We basically cleared the town out of 2 x 4 lumber–we bought all 10 pieces. Ha, we needed like 50. So off to the big town, 40 minutes away, to arrange for more. At the various tiny hardware stores, we cobbled together the rest of the material to get everyone working: nails, cement, sand, gravel, corrugated sheet metal, wire, etc. etc.

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23 betty side framing 4 w duyo

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The houses are as strong and comfortable as possible. I’m using the best lumber (nails don’t pull out), marine plywood, the thickest sheet-metal roofing, putting insulation under the roofs, stucco’ing the walls (inside and out), strapping down the roof timbers so they will not blow off in future storms, and a bunch of other quality building strategies. (I want them to last… for the families and MicroAid as well.)

 

jon and betty

Betty has said that she feels like she’s won the lottery, and, in addition to guyarbano fruit she’s given me, gave me a beautiful squash today. So sweet. (Well, her house is going to be–is–gorgeous. That’s got to be worth a pumpkin or two. :0)  )

 

kids and buffalo

Over at Pedro’s the kids are calling me Uncle Jon. I don’t know how that started, but in Sri Lanka the kids called me “Jon Uncle.” Ha.

 

kids helping get material to the site

kids helping get material to the site

Getting close to the end of the major purchases for the projects. Some additional plywood, lumber, and cement, but mostly in. And on budget. There are a few more weeks of work to be done, and the “punch list” at the end–odds and ends–will take a while. But this is going as quickly as I could have hoped for.

 

jon with orlando

 

They say “maopai” here, “hello,” because they speak Warai not Tagalog. This place, Samar, is like its own country. They are fierce and independent. But they have been friendly and helpful to me. They are aware that MicroAid is a small family of supporters who understand people still need help. They are grateful. So am I.

pedicab maydolong

Thank you for supporting this important work. We are really making a huge difference in people’s lives–directly, efficiently, and completely. The MicroAid way!

All the best from the Philippines.

 

Jon

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Super Storms in the Pacific and around the world….

Jon Ross on Mar 15th 2015

 

Do you remember Cyclone Pam?

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Of course you do.  That was the Pacific “hurricane/typhoon” that devastated the islands of Vanuatu yesterday.
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But will you remember a year from now, or a few years down the road?
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That’s why I started MicroAid International: to stay focused on survivors of disasters even though the world’s attention, and resources, have moved on.  And that’s why you support MicroAid—why we will help the people of Vanuatu when all the other aid organizations have gone home.
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Many of the news stories about Cyclone Pam are comparing it to Typhoon Haiyan—the “super-storm” (the strongest recorded on the planet) that slammed into the Philippines two years ago.
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I am actually going to the Philippines in May to help survivors of that disaster.  I will be rebuilding houses and replacing people’s tools to help them return to self-sufficiency, because, believe it or not, there are millions (yes, millions) of people there who still need our help.  (Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people and displaced more than four million!)
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I hope you will make a donation to support MicroAid’s work in the Philippines, and also in Vanuatu.
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No other organization stays focused on the long-term recovery the way that we do: directly, efficiently, and completely.
I hope you and your family are safe and secure.
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Please help me provide that for those less fortunate.  (And please forward this to anyone you know who might also be willing to support us.)
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Thank you.
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Sincerely,
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Jon

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Good News From Myanmar – January 20, 2015

Jon Ross on Jan 21st 2015

 

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I just got word from our partner in Myanmar that a small project that MicroAid initiated—to deliver water filters to a clinic in a village that was affected by Cyclone Nargis—has been completed.
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It was a small gesture of humanitarian aid that we could accomplish in an otherwise difficult work environment.

Usually, I don’t leave the field until a project is complete, but in this case, because of my visa, I could not stay any longer, and I knew that our local partner would finish the project within a few weeks.
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BENEFICIARY: Ah Lett Chaung Village Clinic (serving 75 patients per week)
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LOCATION: Ah Lett Chaung Village (one hour from Yangon, Ayeyarwaddy Division, Myanmar)
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PROJECT:  Supply water purification/filtration solution for the village clinic.
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PROJECT DATE: December, 2014
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ORIGINAL DISASTER: Water source for the village compromised by Cyclone Nargis, 2008.
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In April of 2008, the most powerful cyclone on record, plowed into the delta region of Myanmar (Burma), killing 300,000 and displacing almost a million people. The accompanying storm-surge destroyed rice paddies, wells, and reservoirs.
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The low-lying village of Ah Lett Chaung, across the river from Yangon, had been without a source of clean drinking water since the storm.
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Even the clinic was without a source of purified water.
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MicroAid provided the clinic with water purification/filtration systems.
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Thanks to MicroAid, the clinic will now have clean water for the staff and patients.  But they will also demonstrate the filters to the families in the village.  If we think they will really use them, MicroAid can donate additional filters to individual households.
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I appreciate your support.  We really are making a difference in peoples lives—directly and efficiently.
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All the best,
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Jon

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Myanmar (Burma) update – January, 2015

Jon Ross on Jan 5th 2015

 

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I am back from the assessment trip in Myanmar (Burma)—re. Cyclone Nargis, 2008—just in time to wish everyone a Happy New Year.
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As your representative in the field, I work hard to identify survivors who are still in need years after the disaster   It is my job to find people who would not be helped otherwise and not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations—that’s the MicroAid way.  We don’t want to use our funds to do something that would be done anyway.  Our beneficiaries have no other recourse.
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Since your donations are only spent on projects—overhead is covered by me, the board of directors, and select foundation grants—those resources are only used when I think they can help the right people under the right circumstance in the most efficient way.
So, that being said, here’s the Myanmar report:
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“Everyone leaves Burma exhausted.”  That’s what the country director of a giant international aid organization told me one day during a meeting.  And he was right; Myanmar is a complex work environment.  It was, by far, the most difficult place I’ve had to navigate.
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In fact, I thought I was going to be able to combine the assessment trip with a project, but that turned out to be futile.  A combination of politics, accessibility, and just plain bad luck convinced me to come back and to preserve MicroAid’s resources for another country—probably the Philippines in 2015.  I was able to identify some situations where we could have helped, but they were not exactly “on mission” (houses or tools for disaster survivors) and there were other aid organizations on the scene.
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Myanmar is a fascinating place, though—full of Buddhist spirit, pagodas, and genuinely nice and honest people.  Unfortunately, they are still oppressed (and repressed) by a military dictatorship.  Even though there have been some reforms of late, there is no change in the plight of the average Burmese.
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There is a lot of development happening, though, and a worldwide interest in the place—it’s a “sexy” travel destination.  Sadly, there are no quaint towns in Myanmar—most have undistinguished soviet-era-style construction and uncontrolled pollution on every level.
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In the countryside, there are still vast areas of natural beauty.  I hope they will be able to keep it pristine.  It will be a challenge.
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As for the survivors of Cyclone Nargis, and other people in need, there is a huge international humanitarian-aid presence in Myanmar—it is “the” place to be for nonprofit organizations, too—every giant ngo from Oxfam and Save the Children to Medecins Sans Frontiers and WorldVision are in the country with huge budgets and staff.  I was able to arrange for one of them to look into the situations that I found in the delta, but was unable to gain authorization to help.
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So that’s it for now.  I am settling back in after a long journey around the globe.
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I like that I am representing people in an effort to help others—the MicroAid concept—and that it is recognized and appreciated in the field.
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I hope you and your family are healthy and happy and secure.
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All the best for 2015… and beyond.
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Jon

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Myanmar (Burma) project

Jon Ross on Oct 1st 2014

 

hello all:
i leave for myanmar (burma) tomorrow on the next microaid international project trip.  i will be helping survivors of cyclone nargis (2008).
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as you know, though microaid, we stay focused on survivors of disasters after the world’s attention has moved on—but there are always people who still need help.
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cyclone nargis devastated the irrawaddy delta  of myanmar—it was the worst natural disaster in their recorded history—killing more than 140,000 people, displacing hundreds of thousands of others, and causing tens of billions of dollars in damage.  (one report said that all the water buffalo they use to pull their plows drowned.)
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through our network of international disaster response organizations and the contacts i’ve made in myanmar over the last year, i have identified many areas where we can help. i never know exactly what we’ll be doing until i do an in-person assessment and baseline study on the ground.  most likely, microaid will be replacing farming tools, rebuilding rice-paddy retaining walls, providing pumps and wells, or other small infrastructure necessities for families or villages.  of course, our goal is to help people return to self-sufficiency.
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myanmar is run by a military dictatorship, and although things have loosened up over the last few years, it will be a challenging place to work.  internet is sporadic at best, even in the capital of yangon.  i will attempt to update you, as usual, but may have difficulty uploading pictures.
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i look forward to providing a full report of our success upon my return, though.
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until then, i wish you all the best in your endeavors.
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and i thank you for your support and good wishes.
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(if you care to donate to the cause, please go to:  http://microaidinternational.org/donate.php)
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thank you.

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