Myanmar is a multi-ethnic state with officially 135 ethnic groups. Some of them - including the Karen - continue to fight with arms for more political and cultural autonomy. The Muslim Rohingya in the west of the country are not yet recognized as citizens. Hundreds of thousands had to flee in 2017 after outbreaks of violence. The regions populated by minorities are often underdeveloped and people often have no access to public health and education facilities due to poverty. Since 2008, Johanniter has been providing medical aid, disaster preparedness and income-generating activities for marginalized groups in Myanmar.
Ma Tin belongs to the Karen, the second largest ethnic minority in the multi-ethnic state of Myanmar. The Karen have been fighting against the central government since 1948, demanding an independent state. Due to these struggles, Ma Tin had to flee her home country at the age of 16. For almost 30 years she lived in a refugee camp in Thailand. "In the beginning, we were only 50 people. When I left the camp, there were refuged about 30,000," remembers Ma Tin.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - UNHCR estimates that a total of 95,000 refugees from Myanmar still live in nine camps in Thailand. Most of them are Karen and Karenni. Thanks to a ceasefire, Ma Tin was able to return to her homeland, arriving with nothing. She called a collapsed bamboo hut her home. "I continue to live in it, because there is nothing else."
In recent years, Johanniter together with local partner organisations have supported refugees such as Ma Tin with agricultural equipment, seeds and poultry farming in order to be able to establish a breeding programme. They also received training on planting and cultivating fields. "Many of the refugees lived for decades depending on fruits of the jungle or aid from the international community. Cultivating a field themselves, setting up their own breeding stations and storing the harvest is something that many of them had to learn again," explains Claudia Zehl, Head of regional desk of Johanniter.
Thanks to the support of Johanniter, I now have the opportunity to feed myself and earn an income," said Ma Tin.
While some are returning, others are still threatened to flee: In Rakhine State in the west of the country, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya left the country for Bangladesh in 2017 after villages were systematically destroyed and people killed and tortured. Those who have remained live in constant fear and have to face exclusion. In 2018, Johanniter started an empowering project in Rohingya communities to handle urgant needs and to improve hygiene conditions.
The Kyauk Kyi community in the East Bago region of southern Myanmar has been inaccessible to aid agencies for years. Fighting between governmental forces and the Karen National Union, a Karen minority organisation, obliged large sections of the population to flee their villages. On the other hand, the use of landmines has severely restricted the remaining population's freedom of movement. People which were injured or displaced by mines and their families have received very little support so far. With financial support from the German Federal Foreign Office, Johanniter and its local partner organisation Karen Development Network (KDN) have launched project activities to improve the lives of about 16.000 people in 40 villages in the region.
The Mon state also is suffering from blazing up conflicts. Access to basic medical care is inadequate and many people suffer from malaria and diarrhoea. Health and hygiene issues are not included in the curricula of schools. Hence most pupils and parents do not know how important health education is and how they can successfully protect their health. Johanniter supported activities and campaigns at 25 primary schools to raise health awareness among students, teachers, parents, and the general population of the Mon State.
Beside the consequences of a prolonged armed conflict, Myanmar is also one of the most vulnerable countries to natural disasters in the world. After Honduras, it was the most affected country by extreme weather events between 1995 and 2014. Cyclones, floods and landslides affected some 13 million people between 2002 and 2014. In August 2016, Johanniter launched a disaster prevention project in Central Myanmar to better prepare and empower particularly affected people.