Visiting Report Myanmar – February 2024 – Susanne Schroff

 In Visiting Reports

Dear friends of the SANNI Foundation

In February, I visited the SANNI Foundation’s projects in Myanmar. Three years have passed since the military coup and I thought that at some point something like normality would return.

The situation in Myanmar has reached a level of poverty and hopelessness that I have never experienced before. A reason to give up? On the contrary: our commitment shows the people of Myanmar that we have not forgotten them.

Thank you very much for staying by our side and making a lasting difference to the lives of many people in Myanmar with your donation.

With hopeful greetings,
Your Susanne Schroff

“There’s news,” says Nu Nu after a warm welcome when she picks me up at the airport in Yangon. Nu Nu is in charge of our local children’s projects. “What is it?” I ask.

As we sit in the car, Nu Nu explains: “There’s been a new regulation since yesterday. The military is rounding up men and women without warning. They then have to fight.” Excuse me? After the long journey, I’m tired and can’t really make sense of this information.

In the office of MAM (Medical Action Myanmar), our local partner for over 10 years, I hear more about the new rule. “the military can conscript men between 18-35 and women between 18-27 at any time. For doctors the age to serve is up to the age of 45, even if they don’t want to”. Dr. Frank Smithuis, co-founder of MAM, is worried. “Most of our staff are in that age-group and they are scared, there is a lot of uncertainty.”

The departure was short-lived

In 2012, the first free elections after 60 years of military dictatorship: Aung San Suu Kyi’s likeness could be seen everywhere. The daughter of Aung San, an important campaigner for Burmese independence, won a seat in parliament straight away. Her party, the National League for Democracy, even won an absolute majority in parliament in 2015, while the military remained in government with 25%. From year to year, I witnessed how the country changed. Hotels of all classes sprang up, tourists and investors flocked to the country. There was optimism and a sense of hope that was thoroughly inspiring and something I had never experienced in any country before!

Then: 2020 COVID, 2021 the military coup, civil war and Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced. Many young people have left the country since then and now this new terrible turn of events.

A window of joy for children from the slums

We spend the next day in a park with 50 children from our slum project, all wearing the same T-shirt. These children live in the Hlangthair slum, the largest in Yangon. Otherwise, they have no opportunity to leave the slum. The MAM staff encourage them to play fun games, we imitate animals and much more. I see the children laughing, it is good for the soul and yet I feel heavy and sad. The poverty is unimaginably great, many children are left alone and their parents are simply overwhelmed. Myanmar and its people need our help more than ever!

Visit to the Lotus Clinic and the Motherhouse

In the afternoon, I visit the Lotus Clinic, which was built in 2014 with the support of the SANNI Foundation and has been co-financed ever since. The waiting room is full, people are dependent on this free medical support. Every year, 40,000 patients are treated here.

Then it’s on to the Motherhouse. Thanks to the SANNI Foundation, 16 children can grow up in a sheltered environment in this orphanage. They not only receive food, clothing and education, but also lots of love and attention. You can feel and see that immediately!

They are all waiting excitedly at the entrance for us to arrive. The children are festively dressed and made up, as is the custom in Myanmar. After welcoming us, they show us their rehearsed dances. They laugh and are happy – this is how all children should be allowed to grow up!

Then the children show me how they have learned to make soap. They are all eager to get started. I also meet some young people who have already been released from the sponsorship program. And the best thing is: thanks to the education or training they received thanks to their sponsors, they are now able to earn their own living and also provide for their families.

An uncertain future for a wonderful country

How should this continue? In the evening, we go out for dinner with the MAM team. Some don’t come because they are afraid of being taken in by the military at night. Frank tells us that 4 of his closest colleagues have finally decided to emigrate to Thailand.

I am the only non-Asian in the hotel. The next morning I visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. There is something very peaceful about this place that I only know from places in Myanmar. Strangers approach me and thank me for visiting their country. It must be terrible to feel like you’ve been forgotten by the world.

For lunch, I meet the Swiss ambassador, who has remained in the country throughout the COVID period and even after the coup. The Swiss embassy plays an important role in the peace negotiations between the rebels and the military. “You know, at the bottom of my heart I am an optimist. This fight will also end at some point, but unfortunately it will take some time.”

The people of Myanmar need us more than ever

In the evening, I have dinner with people from the business community and find out what it’s like to be an entrepreneur in Myanmar. The situation is difficult for them too and it takes a lot of patience and flexibility. The entrepreneurs usually find a way out. Those who are suffering in this civil war are the poorest of the poor. They need our support more than ever. The children and their families in Myanmar deserve to be remembered and given some hope and confidence.

Medical Action Myanmar (MAM)

Dr. Frank Smithuis and Dr. NiNi Tun are the founders and directors of Medical Action Myanmar. Frank and NiNi were both with Doctors Without Borders and have been running their own non-profit organization since 2009. MAM now employs 1200 people, operates 20 clinics across the country and organizes 2200 health workers spread across the country. MAM provided an incredible 2 million treatments in 2023 alone.

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