Myanmar violence is distressing news for Overseas Aid official

COMMUNITIES in Myanmar, to which Guernsey has given support through its overseas aid budget, are struggling as the country goes back under military rule.

The Overseas Aid & Development Commission has helped on several projects, including rebuilding a health training centre which was destroyed by a cyclone and supporting infrastructure to give people fresh water.

Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in south-east Asia, with people earning an average of £280 a month. About a quarter of the population earn £150 a month or less.

Commissioner Dr Nick Paluch has always been keen to visit projects at his own expense and to use his experience as a doctor to help others.

Last year, before the pandemic, that took him to the mountainous Chin State i western Myanmar, where he worked as a volunteer at the clinic funded by the commission.

Since then a military coup has thrown the country into turmoil.

Dr Paluch said it was hard to watch. ‘It is very distressing for me to hear how the lives of my friends have changed so dramatically overnight and how much danger they now face each day,’ he said.

The National League for Democracy won the general election last November by a large majority, but many of their elected members of parliament have been imprisoned by the military junta and some have died in custody.

‘Dr Sasa, who has visited Guernsey and met the Overseas Aid Commission on several occasions in the past, has had to go into hiding for his own safety,’ Dr Paluch said.

‘He has been appointed by the NLD as a special envoy to the United Nations and is helping to coordinate international efforts to end the coup.

‘As we look forward in the coming weeks to regaining all the freedoms we expect and enjoy here in Guernsey, we should remember that in many other countries overcoming Covid is not the only and sometimes not even the biggest struggle that they face.’

The internet has been shut down a lot of the time, but Dr Paluch has been receiving first hand reports from contacts in various parts of the country, among them an upsetting plea for help from the outside world by a friend in the former capital city of Yangon.

Dr Nick Paluch seeing patients at the Hope Clinic in Lailenpi Town in Myanmar.

The individual said how hard life was currently.

‘We wake up every day to go out on to the street to shout for help,’ they wrote.

‘We take all kinds of risks to demonstrate how much we need help and how much we long for a better life. We make peaceful protests for democracy, but we feel helpless under the military who hold guns.

‘The police are shooting at us, beating us and harming us everywhere.

‘The military are trying to destroy our lives both day and night.

‘We have lost many courageous young people while protesting peacefully on the street. It is hard to breathe while we are suffering so much. It seems like the world is waiting for more dead bodies to act. Who can help Myanmar from this brutal violence and military coup?’

Dr Paluch said he formed a bond with the Mara people, who were very welcoming when he last visited in early 2020. ‘Westerners are still such a rare sight that most of them remembered me from the previous year,’ he said.

He helped patients, as well as mentoring health care staff and doing home visits on a motorbike because of the rough terrain.

‘While there I laid the foundation stone for a new student accommodation block sited next to the clinic, which is also being funded by the commission,’ he said.

‘At that time Covid hadn’t yet reached Chin State, but in the middle of March I had to cut short my visit and return to Guernsey because of the escalating Covid crisis everywhere else in the world.’

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