Helping women in one of poorest countries of the world
By Mike Strathdee
As printed in The Marketplace - January/February 2018
MEDA is working to help 25,000 women in Myanmar, but is not involved in areas of the country where violence and conflict are occurring, president Allan Sauder told supporters at the organization’s annual convention.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is in transition from decades of political and economic isolation, and remains one of the poorest countries in the world, he said. MEDA’s ongoing work assists women in Shan and Kayin States to grasp new economic opportunities, primarily in agricultural markets.
“I had an opportunity to visit there last November, and met with some of the women farmers in these states. I was struck by how isolated many of them were.”
Even though MEDA’s partners are well accepted in the remote villages where they work, “it felt like a long road to connect these women farmers with improved farming and business practices and especially with greater access to markets and financial services in the private sector.”
Through conversations with the Canadian ambassador to Myanmar and many potential private sector partners, Sauder realized that “many businesses were looking for a way to develop agri-business links with rural famers, but simply didn’t know how to go about it. Here was a real opportunity for MEDA to be a bridge builder.”
MEDA’s work continues to forge new links and create opportunities for ethnic minority women. At the same time, MEDA, like others, are concerned about developments in the Rakhine region of Myanmar and the violence against the Muslim ethnic Rohingya population. “We are deeply saddened by this situation and pray that it will be peacefully and equitably resolved, Sauder said. “Our work is far removed from this region of conflict, and we don’t expect any direct impact on our current work with women farmers. Funding for this project comes from Global Affairs Canada and generous MEDA supporters, and MEDA does not fund or work directly with the government of Myanmar.”
The nature of MEDA’s work leads it to work in countries that are among the poorest and sometimes most conflict-prone. “In many cases the governments of those countries are unstable at best or sometimes responsible for creating hardship for their citizens. While we may not agree with a government’s policies, we try to ensure that our focus remains on helping poor families secure sustainable livelihoods.”
In response to queries from MEDA supporters about how they can best help the Rohingya, Sauder had two comments.”I would suggest that you continue, on a personal basis, to make your views known to your Member of Parliament or Congress, and encourage your government to help resolve the situation in the Rakhine region,” he said. “In recent statements, the Canadian government has strongly urged the military and civilian authorities in Myanmar to do everything in their power to end the violence now, and to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”
Additionally, he encouraged people to support Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) or other organizations in their appeals for relief aid for the Rohingya in Bangladesh camps.
“At MEDA we are committed to working for peace — in Myanmar and around the globe,” he said. “I believe our calling — creating sustainable livelihoods and building trusting relationships — is ultimately one of the most important building blocks for peaceful communities.” ◆