May 19th, 2008
11:38 AM ET

Devastation and Hope in Myanmar

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/19/art.myanmarsmile.jpg caption="Victims of Cyclone Nargis smile as they receive donated goods from a local donor at a monastery outside the capital of Yangon, Myanmar on Monday May 19, 2008."]

Editor's note: Save the Children is the leading independent organization creating lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Scott McGill works for the organization and is currently helping with aid for the victims of Myanmar. He shares his experiences here:

Scott McGill
Asia Regional HIV/AIDS Adviser

Working in a disaster, you need to recalibrate your expectations and loosen up your locus of control — and do it fast if you are to healthily adapt to existing within certain limitations, including handling quite a few "no's".  But these past few days it has been much harder.

Managing the frustration of dealing with obstacles, tolerating the helplessness, telling yourself you are doing as much as you can while being painfully aware that there is so much more to be done.  I see it in the faces of my colleagues every day.  When I told some of them what my blog would be about this evening, they nodded in understanding and with similar tired but encouraging smiles.

Then as I sat down to write, I felt that it was much more pressing for me to talk about the people here facing even greater obstacles and challenge and somehow ingeniously rising above them.  For absolutely certain, this catastrophe is a very tall order in resilience and recovery.  Cyclone Nargis has eviscerated a densely populated part of the country and left barely told horror, vast swathes of misery and a depressingly long trajectory for recovery, which we are all in the development and aid community are only just beginning to come to grips with.

Land that may not be arable for many planting seasons to come, deadly fouled water sources, close-knit fishing villages wrenched apart, sole survivors of extended families of 30 people.  I cannot begin to imagine how survivors and their communities even begin to put it back together.

But if my local colleagues are anything to go by, then there is hope.  Throughout this whole response — despite their own homes being damaged by the storm here in Yangon; their worries about families and friends; their challenges with getting enough power to pump water into tanks, with navigating spiraling prices for simply the basics, and with getting to work despite (a) massive hikes in transport costs, (b) roads jammed with fallen trees and debris — they have been dedicated to accepting only a “Yes.”

Yes, we can corral trucks and drivers, boats and motorbikes to get the distributions out to where they are needed. Yes, we can go into affected townships, partner effectively and respectfully with their community leaders, locate the suppliers, buy up as much as we can and get that to those who need it most.  Yes, we can ensure children separated from their families are kept safe and that, in such turmoil, keep all children protected from any further harm and help them to begin recovering from the trauma of the last week.

There is so much being done and the work has only begun.  Yes, my local colleagues may be “long-suffering,” as so much of the media routinely describes them, but they are so much more than that.  I am learning from them where to channel that anger and those frustrations and keep focused on what I can do and not on what others tell me I cannot.

Filed under: Aid to Myanmar • Aid workers • Cyclone • Myanmar
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. JJ_Orlando

    I am praying that these people are safe and that things will get better for them.

    May 19, 2008 at 11:41 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    I'm glad there is someone in the country trying to help these people especially since the government isn't doing much and won't let other aid workers in. I'm sure the work and the endless streams of "no" are discouraging but I appreciate what you and your co-workers are doing for these people; as bad as it is I shudder to think how much worse it would be without you and your co-workers there. Thank you for your work and caring in what is a ghastly situation.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    May 19, 2008 at 2:42 pm |
  3. lpfoong, Malaysia

    Thank you for letting us know of the courage and tenacity that are still very much alive within the minds and hearts of the survivors in Myanmar. One would think that they would feel hopeless and their spirits broken but instead they chose to rise above their situation displaying their will to live and not give up, still holding on to the hope and the believe that they can and will live through these hard times.
    There are no words great enough to describe the strength and will of the Burmese people. We can only look on in awe and with respect.
    Since they have no intention of giving up, it's only fair that we don't let them down by giving up instead as you have eloquently expressed, to focus on what we can do and not be defeated by the ones who say we cannot.
    The help that all of you have extended and still providing should also be acknowledged. Thank you for being there and giving your very best to the people of Myanmar.

    May 19, 2008 at 2:10 pm |
  4. Dorothy Schmidt

    I am not a political person so I may be so far off on the way I'm thinking but would like to pose the question to those in charge in the U.N; Why can't the people that see all the devastation going on Myamnar just do the right thing for the people that can't speak for themselves and are dying like flys? Can't we just bite the bullet and GO IN with force?? We have gone into other countries for humanitary reasons that didn't hold a candle to this situation. Please respond and let me know why this isn't happening.

    Dorothy Schmidt Kerrville, Tx.

    May 19, 2008 at 1:44 pm |
  5. Susan


    I found out that you were one of the organiations dealing with the
    Myanmar relief effort from cnn.com/impact. I mailed out a check to your USA headquarters in CT about 1 1/2 weeks ago. I asked that it not go into a general fund, but be used for the specific purpose of the Myanmar relief. I understand that Save the Children has been in Burma for 13 years now providing food and essential living items for children and families.

    I realize that your organization is facing many challanges in dealing with the aftermath of this natural disaster. According to your comments the " YES" attitude of your organization and the "YES" attitude of the people already on the ground goes a long way in starting the process of recovery for the people of Myanmar. It will be a long and difficult struggle. It will be the small victories accomplished one at a time, that keep you going. I wish you God speed in your effort.
    Keep your morale up and those of your ground organization. You have already made a difference in the lives of the people of Burma and you will continue to do so.


    May 19, 2008 at 12:51 pm |
  6. Cindy

    Thanks for the continuing updates on the goings on in Myanmar. It's great to get info from there even if it is very few and far between. Keep up the great work. And I hope the aid for the people can get to them faster and won't be hindered by the junta.

    May 19, 2008 at 11:48 am |