Episcopal Relief & Development has been supporting the development initiatives of the Church in Myanmar since 2007. The Church has programmatic activity in all parts of the country, mainly in areas of ethnic minority and tribal populations, the same demographics that also make up the majority of church membership. With a long-term presence in these rural areas, the Church develops programs that not only accompany communities as they climb out of poverty but also speak to the diversity of its residents.
In my various visits to animal husbandry projects, I have seen this diversity. I see a collective spirit where a group of buffalos are gifted to be owned by a cooperative for the shared use of a community. I see enduring character where pigs are distributed to a targeted few in a village with the agreement that the offspring of those initial pigs are then shared with the next phase participants. I see an entrepreneurial quality where chickens are provided to all in a parish and once eggs are hatched there is joint marketing for greater benefit.
Similarly, in microfinance operations, there are microcredit strategies that have a blend of differing savings requirements, loan ratios and interest rates, all to respond to the unique circumstances of the membership of each self-help group. With the right amount of training and monitoring, communities are empowered to make these decisions. In one village I learned about this week, the membership of the microfinance group is limited to children under age 15 with just a savings component to instill a savings culture at an early age.
The Church’s programs are responsive to local conditions, affording appropriate yet subtle adaptations of standard methodologies. I guess this is what successful development looks like. Without a full understanding of local traditions and contexts, and without tailoring a program to match the resources and assets in a community, real development could never be sustainable.