Today I had a good buffet breakfast at the hotel café. I always have a thing with breakfast buffet, I really enjoy all the different variety of food for breakfast. They even have roti canai and tosai, which is ironic coz I never thought Myanmar people eat Indian food (actually they DO eat Indian food). I talk to a Chinese Malaysian businessman working in Myanmar. He told me he doing import of seafood from Myanmar.

At 9am, we had a meeting with all the other ASEAN committee. There were other volunteers from Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand and Brunei. The other ASEAN volunteer countries (Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia) that didn’t manage to come are due to the slowness of the visa approval. I feel really bad for my fellow other volunteers… Anyway, the meeting between the TCG (Tripatite Core Group) was nice, I met Philip Danao, our ASEAN project coordinator, he was so cool and friendly, joking with us along the way. TCG is a newly formed humanitarian crisis task force, collaboration between ASEAN, UN and the government of Myanmar. This model will be implemented to other crisis prone areas in SEA, as in this group the decision making is equally participated by the government, ASEAN and UN. The TCG is unique because the focus is based on bottom up approach in line with ASEAN’s goal of ‘Bringing ASEAN Closer to the people’, where volunteers will be exposed to the culture and social aspects of the local Burmese in order to be more understanding of their overall plights. Thus, increase the trust and efficiency of humanitarian efforts, especially in regards with countries like Myanmar, where the Junta regime has huge amount of distrust towards UN. Involving ASEAN is a good way to be the bridge to break the ice. I am very fortunate to be one of the first ASEAN volunteers chosen for TCG.

Ironically, after 1 year of Cyclone Nargis hit the areas, there’s still so much recovery that needed to be done, as ASEAN volunteers, our job is to assess, plan and monitor the different needs of the rural villagers. The extend of damages caused by the Cyclone Nargis was enormous, significant long term impact on people’s livelihoods including the destruction of homes, fishing boats and critical infrastructures (roads, jetties, electricity, water and fuel supplies and sanitation system), contamination of water and food supplies, especially in the Delta region, known as the rice bowl of Myanmar. I’ll be stationed to Labutta Township, a very remote area near the Irrawaddy River and the Andaman Sea, 12 hours journey from Yangoon by land or 6 hours by speed boat. According to Philip and other experienced volunteers that had been to Labutta, the huge obstacles will be getting the rural people to speak out about their livelihood needs and getting permission from the local Junta Military and village elders. Interestingly, a lot of Myanmar people don’t know the existence of ASEAN, they assume ASEAN is an NGO, this could be due to the inclusion of Myanmar was very recent in 1997 and the government has limited access to sources and news outside the country. I can’t even access to yahoo and other websites in their internet café. Thank god facebook is allowed.

In Labutta, I’ll be the reporting officer, providing monthly reports to the ASEAN central hub in Yangoon. My team consists of me, Azman from Brunei (Project Officer), Zarli and Colin from Myanmar (Assistant Reporting officers), and Snow from Myanmar too (Finance Officer). I am very fortunate coz we have great chemistry together and were never short of a good laugh. In Labutta, we will also be working together with an implementing agency called ACTED, which is cool, coz the volunteers come from all over the world. For my salary, I’ll be given 300,000 kyat and USD300, I think that’s a handsome pay for a volunteer like me 😉

I feel really happy working with the ASEAN committee, the Myanmar people are very accommodating and very interesting characters. Among the international volunteers, there’s the very serious straight talker but kind Colleen from Singapore, shy but very sweet Ting from Thailand, married but very funny Azman from Brunei, quiet but easy going Zai from Brunei too, and NEP hater but chocolate lover Mangala from Malaysia. For Myanmar volunteers in my team in Labutta, there’s the very sweet and pretty Snow, very hyperactive and enthusiastic Colin, very insightful and smart Zarli and very quite but is a reporter for the newspaper ‘The Myamar Times’ Aung Kyi. For our lovely central hub project committee, we have Philip Danao from the Philippines; he just loves to crack jokes and makes us laugh, and his deep dimples makes him always looked so cheerful, no matter how stressful he is. We all call him the drinking/smoking/ party animal; then we have Surya from Indonesia, so friendly, kind and soft spoken, he’s so caring towards the volunteers, never say no when we need his help and advice; finally there’s Agid from Indonesia, he’s sooo serious and sometimes a bit too focused with his work, but he’s very detailed in explaining to us our task in the fields, and when he smiles, he looked so sweet… I met my boss for the Labutta hub, Sok from Cambodia, he was so nice and it made me feel that I can’t wait to get dirty in the remote Labutta, coz all the people I am going to work with are so positive and as enthusiastic as me! 😉