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The  Coronavirus Diaries: 'We Will Overcome This Hardship'

The Coronavirus Diaries: 'We Will Overcome This Hardship'

Wednesday August 5 2020

Van Lal Hming Sangi is the Women's Secretary of the Presbyterian Women General Conference in the Church of Scotland’s Partner Church, the Presbyterian Church of Myanmar and describes how the poorest have been impacted by the pandemic.


WHEN the Covid-19 pandemic started to spread worldwide, we were very worried that this will kill us (Myanmar citizens) all as the country is one of the least affluent with no advanced medical services.

The eyes of the people look up to the government to give orders on prevention though local taskforces, lockdown, stay at home, and quarantine. We all are doing a very good job in prevention even before lockdown itself. We practised a stay at home policy as much as possible. Our country adviser Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself showed us how to wash our hands through our media. Six people have died till now (one PCM member from Yangon). The positive cases are going down and there is no lockdown but quarantine is still continued strictly in every town.

Generally speaking, every life is affected by this virus even in a small town like the place I live. While lockdown (it was not total lockdown, people could go outside in an emergency and to buy food) was practised in the town, the vegetable vendors and daily wage labourers were mostly affected. Daily labourers do not have any income since all work was closed. The village council did some distribution of food to those who had no income. Even women vegetable vendors did not get income from their backyard vegetables, even though they were close in distance to the nearby local market, the village council duty chased them away and took all their vegetables. They were forced to go and sell their vegetables 10 km away from our town since the local market was shifted to a football ground there during the pandemic period. Since most of the vegetable vendors are mothers and old ladies, they could not go to that place since they have no vehicles. Now the situation is calmer and life became more normal from July 2020.

One difficulty we face is local conflict: conflicts between the Myanmar Army and Arakan Army, (a separatist militant group) are affecting civilians in two region -  Rakhine State and Paletwa township (Chin State). During the Covid-19 pandemic time, civilians (many are our church members) could not get any care. While the government was announcing a stay at home policy, these civilians were driven out of their homes.. Their homes were burnt, the villages were destroyed. At Hmawbi (near Yangon), they built one displacement shelter and those forced to flee stay there. If one is affected by Covid-19, all will be affected. In the name of the Myanmar Council of Churches, Ecumenical Women's Work (MCC-EWW), we sent emergency relief funds to support them.

Church life and work is affected by Covid-19. The government has extended social distancing every month till now. 2020 is the Golden Jubilee year for MCC-EWW and Phai Synod Women Desk, but we cannot celebrate any Jubilee due to Covid-19.  

During the lockdown period, the women’s basic tailoring training was affected. Since those young women (10 women) are mostly from Chin Hills, they could not continue their course and stayed at our town. As this course gave young women skills which often allow them to gain employment in an existing business or develop a cottage industry at home, enabling them to supplement the family income, we tried to complete the course. They were hosted by church women members during lockdown. Despite a delay, the course was completed. But four trainees who had to travel to the Chin Hills faced a 21 day quarantine upon their return home.

The women desk also runs a one-year programme for young women to do nurse-aid training every year. We usually sponsor four young women from different synods. But currently there is only one student able to take part due to the restrictions on travel and education caused by Covid. The previous batch (four students) also could not complete their course till now as they stopped the course during lockdown, but have been able to restart and are hopeful of completing their course this month.

We hope and believe that if we fight this challenging pandemic together with obedience, we will overcome this hardship and the normal lives will come soon. We have come to realise from this Covid-19 that the most important people are those who provide basic needs – those whom we called the least, the smallest and the voiceless and who have never been paid attention to by the rich and authorities!