Archive for category Janine Joyce

After Myanmar



Since the return there have been three presentations sharing the stories of brothers and sisters in Myanmar.

People are shocked by how hard it has been for the people. It is difficult to truly convey the magnitude of water conflict. It is even harder to convey the way our actions here affect everyone else.  The one world perspective.

It is hard to convey the stories of hope and possibility in amongst such massive challenges.

People are caught up with their own  problems of working and providing for their families . It is hard to explain that the level of poverty  is such that even those struggling here are still rich in comparison.

Those from earthquake disaster torn Christchurch are overwhelmed as they come through their own stories of upheaval and survival. They can’t imagine what living through another disaster of such magnitude would be like. Actually its worse than that. They can imagine it and the pain overwhelms them.

In some ways the story is too powerful for people to feel that they can make a difference.

But we can, each choice we make has an effect.

I guess all we can do is make a start. Any start. And start again each day.

We can reduce the consumption and waste in our own lives. We learn to open our field of concern and ‘give a little’. We can pay attention to what the politicians are doing and vote well.

It is a collective responsibility and call for a change in the way that human beings live and the connect to each other and the planet.

I don’t think we  have seen something so big.

We could make a difference if we were willing to focus our efforts differently. If we truly understood the effect of poverty on the planet and the way we  wage war on each other directly and indirectly.

The ultimate violence of our practices of over consumption and waste. The way we have developed global systems that value  hoarding and wealth creation.

What I learnt in Myanmar is that when people come together and are empowered to take governance from external actors then they can make a difference.

Communities can create changes. People together make change.

With vision and cooperation and some redistribution of money and resources it is possible.

It is a massive change in mind set and practices. Within myself I learnt that our survival as a species will depend on it.

The scope of this is beyond an academic conference. Talking and creating change makers is a practical process…. triggering guilt does not create change….I hope the conference platform for the peoples stories will have practical outlets…. in the kind of way.

I would like o thank Pushpa for her vision in sparking this pilot Peace builders program. I am grateful that I was chosen to participate.

Have I become a peace builder? The changes are still emerging.

My instinct is that we can all be peace builders wherever we find ourselves.




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Flowers and green

Back in Yangon for  a few days now. Some dry in amongst the rain. The streets are familiar and I feel very relaxed here. I love the bright coloured umbrellas, and all the monks walking in their crimson robes. It is a very beautiful environment.


Yesterday we met with more NGO’s.

Each time we find them it is a source of triumph as sometimes the premises are tucked away and hard to find. Maybe we will add sleuthing to our CV’s??


Yangon is an urban story about water…So there are many more stories to gather… Our visa situation is tight and only gives us 28 days. I have found a very cheap ticket to Singapore and will make the most of the opportunity. I leave  later tonight and will see if I can reapply for another visa.  Hmmm- not sure if it is wise. I guess time will tell. I lose a few days in the field but fingers crossed that it is successful. Namsai is resting and gaining her strength  after being sick for some weeks now.

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There is much we can do together…

Water pond that has been dug deeper and expanded with overspill systems and water ways. Ready for the rain. Dry Zone  Myanmar.

Ywar Tan Shae village water pond that has been dug deeper and expanded with overspill systems and water ways. Ready for the rain. Dry Zone Myanmar.

Climate Change, yes it is. Yet there is much that we can do to support the people who are at the knifes edge of this.

A well for a small number of households costs US $ 300. A massive reservoir pond US $7500. The people happy to give the back breaking labour in the brutal heat and what limited money they have for these projects. But they need partners. Because the scale of this is too big for one small community on its own.

The NGO’s are able to get the money to the people and the strategic skills and planning processes to manifest these big engineering projects. I have been really impressed by the bottom-up planning by the villagers alongside Action aid Myanmar. The village book is a comprehensive document that shows the needs, the resources and the vision for the community. When the money comes the projects seem to happen efficiently and quickly…

The people have lived 2oo to 400 years in the dry zone and they have the knowledge for facing this territory. They understand each other and know the values of cooperation and unity. Yet this territory has changed.

The rain system has changed, the trees are dying and the river beds are empty. The wells have to be dug deeper. When the rain comes it is too heavy for the land.

Like us all they want the best for their children and community. They want their children to go to school, they want to be able to take their people to the doctor and most of all they need water.

They are working to develop ways of storing the flood water when it comes.

They are managing water that has changed from sweet to salty.

They are changing their crops and numbers of animals according to the lack of water.

They are conserving water.

They are migrating to other countries to seek work.

They are filtering and boiling their water to try and not get sick.

They are separating the animal and human access from the water ponds.

They are replanting trees and but at a slower rate than the coconut and tutty trees are dying.

They are watching new plants that they have never seen before growing on their land.

The men, women and children are spending the 4 hours a day gathering water and waiting whilst everyone takes a turn at the well…before school…

They are brave as they recall the rivers and streams and forests of 43 years ago; and the acres of sand and empty water ways now. Some but not all will refill when the monsoon comes.

But it is late again… It is often late…

They are saving money and putting what little they have into community projects.

They know what they need. They need pipelines to bring the water to their homes. They know that electricity will help. They know that the roads will be useless after just a few days of rain once it comes. The much needed rain will bring more problems.

They give easily to each other without counting the cost or expecting in return. They need partner donors who can do the same. The engineers are amazing here. They achieve much on so little. Nothing is taken for granted and nothing is wasted.

Water tank construction. Shared partnership village and Actionaid and ADRA.

Soe Taw village water tank construction. Shared partnership village and Actionaid and ADRA.

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A story of ‘we’

We have been welcomed by the dry zone.

We have listened and listened. The people have  made sure that we have seen their struggle and know what is happening with the climate and in their lives.

I thought that we would be gathering stories from individuals but actually this story  affects all equally. And so it has been a collective story that we have been hearing.

Over the last four days I have played with children, shared food, been shown the villages water ponds and wells, cuddled babies, seen the pumping systems, pulled water out of wells, and today travelled by bullock cart to see one of the ponds.


Soe Taw village

We have been walked around the farm land tracing the water ways and pond inlets and overspills…This has been a surprise to the farmers in the middle of the fields and also the dogs!

We have stood under the trees with the people getting wet in the rain.

All  the villages have said that we have bought luck as after a long time; it has started to rain. It has rained wherever we have gone.  I am so happy that it has. It is needed so much and the people don’t waste water. they really appreciate and make the most of it.

The rain has made it easier for me to listen to the stories. We have wet eyes enough without listening when no rain at all.

I am glad to be standing getting wet with people and laughing as we watch the herds of goats running to get home and into shelter. During the last four days in the field there has also been so much laughter and love.

The common message from people is how appreciative they are of the NGO’s that have been coming in and participating with strategies and  water. projects. We have seen many wells ranging from 100 years old to new innovative ones.

We see simple ponds and much more developed reservoir systems. We sit with communities who have piped running water and those who  must still carry the water by hand or with cows. Those that are in better situations help the others.

All have provided the physical labour for roads, buildings, water tanks, ponds… Each village have put funding into the projects alongside the NGO partners.

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Su Li Pan Village

I feel really humbled by this level of collective vision and unity.

I never imagined that we would be sitting together with villagers like this.

Namsai has been sick since she came to Myanmar and yet she has remained really focused on the people. I am glad to be gathering stories with her.



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The rainy season in the dry zone…


Ananda Pagoda.

Ananda Pagoda.

The rainy season….

 Well it is dry when it should be wet and the temperatures are souring above 40 degrees. The trees look parched, the land is brown and some of the river beds are dry. Where there is water, it is a mammoth engineering task to transport it to the famers. Who incidentally are often the women.

I have valued meeting the people and listening to their stories as they meet these challenges together. We all laugh when one of the women says this rainy season is already better than the last one… it has rained twice… That was yesterday and today.

We have sat for many hours today listening to several communities speak about the issues in their villages. And like it or not the biggest issue is water; sustainable access, quality and storage. As we sit under the roof cover of the communal meeting spaces the temperature soars. It is climate change at its most brutal, yet somehow we laugh, we listen compassionately, as we hear of strategies to engage with various developmental stakeholders. We hear stories of wonder and success as the people come together to meet the needs of survival. The trees are greener because people are protecting them and wells and dams are being built and refurbished. Some village people are replanting the trees as time is freed up from carrying water.

Riny season in the Dry zone. The villages are showing their 100 year old well. But we are 8 weeks into the rainy season and this stream is still dry.

In Yaung village and their 100 year old well.


We have also spend time with several groups of women who are coming together to create shared livelihoods for their families. They are working hard to develop skills and produce saleable textiles. Again it is the lack of water that means that extra income is required away from the land.

Village Book Mothers and Women's group sharing progress on water projects. Action aid Dry Zone.

Village Book Mothers and Women’s group sharing progress on water projects. Action aid Dry Zone.

Actually there is so much laughter when I share our purpose of meeting with them. One woman suggests that it would be helpful if I was a water medium. We all laugh and it is an interesting and unexpected ice breaker. I think, now is not the time to say that one of my cousins has great skills as a water diviner!

I am attracted to a four month old baby who happily snuggles into my arms for a cuddle. It is highlight to hold this baby and commune with his loving aunties as his mum worked.

Of course the Bagan area is breath-taking with over 2500 Buddhist Pagodas found by UNESCO and dating from the 9th Century. The people say that there are 500,000 Pagoda’s and therefore more to find. I am awestruck by the Ananda Pagoda, the oldest and most ‘significant’. The four Buddha’s are enormous in height and the alcoves where they are contained are repositories of peace and coolness. My heart is grateful and happy as we sit quietly in this ancient sacred space. A respite from the relentless dry.

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Su Li Pan Vkillage



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Happenings by their very nature defy definition. Yet if I was to try it would be a mixture of something random yet purposeful; unexpected yet perfect.
I really like being open to the type of random events that invariably lead to connection. Today we had such a happening.
We decided to go to an advertised antiques sale. Not really because there is any room in our bags or lives for antiques. And certainly not because it would be useful for the project. Rather because it caught my interest. For some reason the advertisement intrigued me.
We find ourselves knocking on the door at an inner city residential ward. I start laughing when I recognise the antipodean vowels of an Australian sister. As it happens she is an International humanitarian worker in the process of returning to her country. As such she is selling books and tapestries and beautiful artefacts accumulated whilst living many years abroad. It is interesting to see the inside of a Yangon apartment.
We begin to share stories when suddenly a voice says; ‘Are you Pushpa’s fellows?’
We look over to see a slender brunette woman holding some lovely scarves. Now you all know that Pushpa is the Director of this program, right?
We start laughing. It seems that it is todays happening to meet Susan who is the Yangon Director- Program Implementation for; Save the Children. She is so disappointed with the news that Pushpa is no longer visiting her for dinner tomorrow night. Greetings are shared and we will meet with her when we come back to Yangon after our journey north into the villages with Action Aid.
Happenings, I really like them. Of course, there have been other happenings also.
One evening a smiling Buddhist Abbott invited me to meet everyone at his monastery. It was wonderful to view the special stupa at the top of the five story monastery at sunset. I enjoyed sharing tea and spending time with the young novices.

Here is a small pic of the main Shwedagon Pagoda where we met. The women are sweeping the marble pavement clean.

myanmar pagoda 031

The following day I joined the English language class where the Abbott was a student. There were several foreigners who had all been invited to practice English speaking with students. English was spoken with an American, French and Kiwi accent that morning.
In our group we were lucky that we could move from, ‘hello how are you’, ‘what’s your name’ and ‘are you single?’ The group absolutely loved it when we branched into Maori language from Aotearoa New Zealand. The Maori words; aroha/ love, karakia/ prayer; waiata/ song; kapai/ good and many others catapulted our conversation into all sorts of interesting areas. For two hours we shared ideas about women’s empowerment from Action Aids training material. We practiced various meditation techniques and the monk and I shared understandings about Buddhist dharma.
And whilst this photo doesn’t show it there was a lot of laughter….I promise!

myanmar pagoda 058

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Yes, lets see where this bus takes us….


Sometimes its useful  to wander around a new environment and observe. Namsai and I get on a local bus today. It is hot and crowded.

We don’t know where it is going but this does not matter too much as everything is new. We  pass many interesting places; the shipbuilders yard where large ships are being constructed: a water hospital;  a very large modern bridge to span the substantial Yangon river; the Asian General Electricity company…. Actually severeal hours later it seems that we are no longer in Yangon and we agree that now would be a good time to get off the bus.

By chance we have followed a river that has had a great deal of stagnation, pollution and sewage. People’s homes have backed onto it and once several laughing boys were jumping in and swimming.



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Day One Myanmar

Wash day

Wash day

My co-researcher Namsai asks; “Janine do you know how to Blog?”

Hmm, now that you ask…not really. I have a quick look at various suggestions. It seems that I should write a story that I would be interested in reading. Right. Good. I quite like to read stories that make me laugh or intrigue in some way. I feel bereft of all intrigue.

Namsai is blogging away. The words are pouring from her fingers. It seems that I am bloggingly illiterate… at least for the moment.

This first day has been gentle. I am happy to relax into this new environment as my flight from India was delayed leading to one missed night of sleep. However, my taxi driver sang most of the journey from the airport to the hostel. It was a very nice. Later he takes me back to meet Namsai’s flight. We recognise each other easily and talk into the early hours.

I have walked around the city streets in the morning watching the pink robed monk children chant for alms and receive food and money; I have met wonderful calm smiling people and found a computer adaptor plug in a bathroom plumbing shop.

WE have walked past the large hospital and open drains and groups of men doing lots of drainage maintenance work. Which is good because we have a torrential rain in the evening and the road is flooded within a few moments. After India it seems very green and clean. The states of Tamil Nadu and Andhara Pradesh have not had the monsoon rains for three years now so Yangon seems heavenly to me. The temperature has dropped from Chennai’s 39 degrees to Yangon’s 21 degrees. The humidity is high in both cities. The roads here seem well organised, with designated lanes and there does not seem to be a lot of traffic.

What I am surprised about is how expensive it is for accommodation. So much in American dollars. I met several locals who say that the pace of development has been very fast here. Just one year ago they said it was a green quiet city with virtually no traffic. Now there are hotels and buildings and development everywhere. I wonder how the locals can afford to live with this kind of change. The cost of living is going up fast. I wonder whether people will continue to be calm and relaxed.

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On my way to Burma

It is dark and hot and noisy. Soon, in  a few hours time,  I will go to Chennai international Airport and begin the journey to Burma. I am feeling quiet and  serious as it seems like a big task. A little daunting.

I have spent the last week reading about water conflict and finding out more about Yangon and Burma in general. There have been helpful training materials from Pushpa.

My doctoral study on hold for the next few months whilst this project is underway. It seems wonderful to be able spend some time in the field and I am very mindful of going quietly into this. I have made some contacts with scholars and health professionals from Yangon. There has been fascinating reading on the various NGO initiatives.

I am looking forward to meeting my fellow researcher Namsai and I am glad that this will be a shared project. We will meet for the first time tomorrow night  when her flight arrives from Thailand. We will then look for an apartment and a place to base ourselves.

There is much to learn and I suspect I am moving into a state of readiness. Something is changing within me as I  prepare to listen and observe.



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Preparing to be a story teller….


Once upon a time a somewhat bewildered researcher starts the process of adjusting to a thirty degree change in climate whilst negotiating visa applications in India. The new Prime Minister of India is being sworn in.

She ponders…going from 6 degrees to 44 degrees slows everything…

Water is precious: for survival and for comfort. These things are precious for life and peace.

As I approach this fellowship there have been some happenings. All stories have them. There has been a six day intensive at Bangalore CREST research center on the practical chapter exploring the heart. Participants have practiced peace  through inner processes of attunement. The outer expressions have been very aware and mindful. It seems to be an experience at the opposite end of the spectrum to that anticipated as a Peace fellow in Myanmar…

Time will tell.

I am curious about the culture in which we are about to gather these stories. In particular I am curious about the real storytellers and the ones that we will act as scribes for….

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