Up close and personal

CEO Claire Rogers' inspiring first look at World Vision’s work in the field

Welcomed with ceremony

As a World Vision sponsor, I was aware that World Vision is one of the longest serving international non-governmental organisations in Australia, but it wasn’t until I visited the field as CEO of World Vision Australia that I truly grasped just how profoundly transformational our work is for so many people and their communities.

My trip to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was the perfect induction to the World Vision way of working: the effort and resources we pour into building the trust, skills and resilience of individuals and their communities, empowering them to be the change makers that can transform their lives and those of others.

Our first stop was to the community of Loikaw, where we have been working for the past seven years. Visiting a rice mill funded by our Australian supporters, it was great to see how the new mill enables the community to process better quality rice more cheaply both for their own consumption and to sell for more profit. A community-based organisation which we helped establish supports the mill. They have organised the community to provide the labour to run it and land and building to house it. The Loikaw community-based organisation is now investing funds generated by the mill back into community health and education, as well as making small loans available.

Everywhere I went we were welcomed with great ceremony – people went to a lot of trouble to welcome and express their appreciation for the difference our work had made to their lives.

Meeting with the farmers at a nearby seed bank, I discovered that thanks to the generous support of so many Australians their bank has 1,500 deposits – enough to cover a disaster and for farmers to draw upon at the beginning of each season to start their crops. The bank’s seed stock is maintained by the farmers themselves who redeposit seeds with the bank at harvest time.

In the same community, a child-care centre funded with Australian Aid allows parents, especially mothers, to farm during the day while their children are fed nutritious meals and begin their education. Very few of the children in this area attend high school as there just isn't a senior school nearby – they can't get to school without walking or biking a long way. That is changing as the government builds more schools.

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Claire meeting members of the Loikaw community, young and old. Photos: Khaing Min Htoo/World Vision

Meeting Lwin

Just an hour’s drive south of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, is the community of Thanlyin. This is a semi-rural, peri-urban area that to my eye instantly appears poorer than Loikaw.

Here in Thanlyin, one of our oldest programs in Myanmar, we run a wide range of development programs including supporting and enhancing an active and long-standing community-based organisation, a health and vaccinations scheme, income generation and livelihoods programs as well as enhancing and monitoring child well-being.

Thanlyin is also where I got to meet our family’s sponsored child for the past four years, the delightful Lwin. We shared gifts and chatted with each other about our families, my children, his schooling and other things he liked to do. I was chuffed to be able to hand-deliver his Christmas card too. My 13-year-old daughter Maddy had taken a lot of time and effort to decorate the card, so we got a bit of footage of Lwin saying a special hello and thank you to her which I know she will be thrilled to see.

I was blown away by the effort Lwin, his mother and community went to in welcoming me. I am humbled to be able to contribute in this small way and thankful World Vision's way of working enables my investment in Lwin to be a powerful force for change – not just for him and his family but for his whole community.

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Top: Claire meets her family's sponsored child, Lwin Htoo. Left: Claire's chats with veteran farmer, Hla Myat, about the work we do to improve people’s livelihoods. Right: Speaking with Susu and Shen about vocational training and income generation. Photos: Khaing Min Htoo/World Vision

Innovation for a healthier future

Next I met Susu and Shen San, two women who have been participating in our vocational training and income generating activities. Susu now runs a small grocery store from her home selling fresh vegetables and other goods. This gives her family an additional source of income that can insure them a little against the precariousness of poverty.

Susu is also helping in the trial of one of our new cook stoves, an innovation project supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that we are currently piloting in Myanmar. The aim of the project is to develop an accessible solution to the very serious global smoke-related environmental and health issues that devastate communities in the poorest areas of the world. In Myanmar alone an estimated 49 million are affected by the pollution generated by traditional cook stoves, with almost 50,000 dying each year.

Susu has been an instant convert to the World Vision Australia cook stove, which she says has cut her cooking time in half while generating a lot less smoke. So it was great to see her enthusiasm for demonstrating this for me in her traditional outdoor kitchen – and even better to know the cook stove is also improving the health of her family and whole community. The next step is for us to develop new and innovative sources of finance that can make these cook stoves accessible to the millions of poor and remote households like Susu’s.

Using cleaner cook stoves can lead to healthier people and a healthier environment. Find out more

Forced marriage and trafficking survivor Moi Moi shares her story. Photo by Khaing Min Htoo, World Vision

Investing in change

My final meeting was probably the one that moved me the most. It was with Moimoi*, a trafficking survivor who amazingly, and largely through her own efforts, had managed to escape a brutal forced marriage in China. Her story has many heartbreaking twists and turns and yet somehow through her years of pain Moimoi has found a way forward.  Supported by World Vision, she has undergone training, found a job and begun to rebuild her life and trust in the world.

A lovely moment came after Moimoi and I had finished talking and made our farewells. As I watched her head back to her workplace, I noticed Moimoi was walking arm in arm with her World Vision counsellor and mentor, Amy. In a world where so many had let her down, this was clearly a special relationship and I felt so proud that we had been able to provide this support to her. It seemed a particularly fitting way to end another great day getting to know and understand our field work, the relationships that are integral to this and the extraordinary impact our work has on the lives of so many.

One of the things that really stood out about our work during my trip was the fantastic job World Vision does of equipping community leaders who will invest and take ownership of making their communities better places. Our programs for financial literacy and education are vital for the success of these regions in lifting themselves out of poverty. I saw so many examples of this and it works!

Importantly, we drive for community independence in all our programs. This is healthy and vital, helping to ensure lasting change – one of the strengths of our work setting us apart from so many others.

*Moimoi’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Written by Claire Rogers, World Vision Australia CEO