Archive for category Namsai Wongsaeree

South Yangon

This past week I got a chance to visit two townships in South Yangon, Dala and Kawhmu. Dala is, from what I have been told by many individuals, the area in Yangon that suffers the worst water crisis. Drinking water is highly needed in those areas in the dry season.

The differences between downtown Yangon and the south, the other side of Yangon river, strike me when I first arrived there. While the city of Yangon is developing in an incredibly fast pace, permanent buildings are rare to be seen on the other side of the river. It seems almost like I was back in the dry zone again, with, of course, more green space and rain.

There are two ways to cross Yangon river; by ferries or by bridge. Taking ferries seems to be a more promising and faster way. It takes around 15 minutes to cross the river with only 1500 Kyat (around 1.5 USD) per car and 100 Kyat (around 10 cents) per person. Though, it took us quite a while to get there and come back since the transportation ferries only come every two hours.

It is a shame to see the amount of waste in Yangon river. Yet, children are still having fun swimming, and men are still showering and get cleaned (?). The water is clearly not suitable for drinking. The mixture of sea and fresh water here is only suitable for some domestic uses such as washing and bathing.


Yangon River


Dala by the river side

Dala by the river side

My first impression of Dala is that everything is lively and colorful. There are people with very colorful clothes and umbrellas walking and biking everywhere. There are some rain storage ponds full of lotus (to prevent water evaporation in the dry season), there are some areas with drainage problem, but so far there is never a flooding problem in this area.



A JICA sponsored storage pond built by the NEPS

A JICA sponsored storage pond built by the NEPS

Kawhmu, however, is quite different. It takes another hour on a bumpy and muddy road to get there. The road is very dangerous for  locals, whose main vehicles are motorbikes. Fortunately, the road is being improved. There is an immediate plan, funded by JICA, to build the road after the rainy season starting in October. This will be a good livelihood improvement for the people living in these areas.


lotus rain-storage pond, Kawhmu  



Fence protecting animals and people to get water directly from the Pond, Kawhmu

Insufficient drinking water in the dry season is the main problem in South Yangon. People would store as much rain water as possible in the rainy season, with containers, tanks, storage ponds, and they would use the water in the dry season. Tube well is not an option here because of underground water salinity problem. In certain years (which is mostly every year now), when the rain is late, people would suffer. Starting from April and May, right before the rainy season, is when water is running out. Many rely on donated water, many, working in Yangon city, have to carry water back home after work.

Donation is not enough and long-term solution is needed here in South Yangon.


Acknowledgement: I am grateful for the National Engineering and Planning Services (NEPS) for making this filed visit happened. This “private company but doing works like nearly non-profit style” focuses their works on water facilities planning services and have built storage ponds in South Yangon area. I am also grateful for JICA, all the donors, and the locals who took time sharing their stories with me.

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Feeling blessed in Yangon

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

“We (I) will help you”

I have been told this sentence over and over again. Everywhere I found myself here in this beautiful city of Yangon, I got nothing but generous help. A kind of help that I would never have imagined of…

I have been working and receiving help from Burmese locals this past week. Sincere, caring, talented, trustworthy, and kind are the first adjectives that popped up in my mind when thinking of how to describe them. Surprisingly, this blog is, by far, taking me much longer than usual. I am not sure if I can do them justice in conveying how amazingly loving they all are.

Coming here not knowing anyone and having almost no proof of my identity, I had thought that building trust would be a difficult challenge. I can’t be more wrong. My premature assumption was clearly proved to be invalid.


A UNDP National Consultant trying to call and successfully connecting me with everyone he knows that works on water issues…

A retired pro-rector and an adviser on environment and education showing up in the guest house and taking me around to meet the people that he knows can help…

University professors agreeing to help with anything they can, from sharing their knowledge of the issue to directing me to the right people…

Senior engineers, consultants, and directors agreeing to take me along in the field, offering help with translation, and resisting my failed attempts to pay for my own breakfast, lunch, and snacks…and all agreeing that they now have a new “daughter”

A business owner coming to find me, offering her whole day (and potentially more days) taking me to meet with her friends who know of and experience water crisis, helping to find a translator for the VDO clips Janine and I had filmed in the dry zone…

A monk, a doctor, a reporter, and many individuals taking their time and patiently sharing me their stories and thoughts…

A local NGO calling and offering to come find me…


Meeting one person leads me to many more. Unexpected help is being offered.

Burma is an absolute definition of beauty. Beautiful country, beautiful culture’s’ (and I would like to stress my “s” here), and beautiful people.

I can’t be more thankful. I keep wondering what I have done to deserve all this.

“Are you Buddhist? In Buddhist, if you are good, the good thing will come to you”

Right. Now I will just have to live up to what has been given… Not easy.

Shwedagon Pagoda (2), Yangon

Shwedagon Pagoda (2), Yangon

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Unforgettable Interview

Today I had an interview that I would never forget.

My day started off with an unfamiliar sound of phone ringing disrupting myself from writing following-up emails to different organizations and people I had been meeting with this week. It had been a long week and I was glad to have an expected phone call, which led to an unexpected interview. I just recently rented a sim card and glad that it has proved to be very useful. Sim cards in Myanmar are very expensive, it costs 48 USD just to rent one for 15 days, and that doesn’t include any top-up packages…

The person calling was a student and a good friend of my ex-supervisor. We have been introduced to each other through emails and I knew him as a Burmese activist working on water issues. He offered to meet with me anytime within two hours. My gut was telling me that this would lead to something really important, without further hesitation, I jumped into a cab rushing off to see him.

Turns out that the person I met was nothing but ordinary. A graduate from Cornell, a writer, a long-term political activist, a first leader of the All Burmese Student Democratic Front (a student-led revolutionary group fighting against the Burmese government in 1988), a chairman of an NGO, a political prisoner…the list can go on and on…

Mr. Htun was tough, kind, and open. The kind of person who had been through unimaginable life struggles, yet still find love in humanity. The kind of person who had seen the worst sides of human beings, yet still believe in human dignity. He slowly talked me through his past, telling me how it was to be a revolutionist, how it was to get a death sentence and had to resettle in the United States, how it was to be separated from a family for years, how it was to spend five years in prison…

“Like animals.” was the answer I got. “I will never want to go to the zoo again, animals in those cages…”

Being maltreated by his countrymen doesn’t stop Mr.Htun from loving his country and the people. His NGO, the Civil Society for Myanmar (CSM), will be ready to run in the coming August. Mr.Htun is hoping to distribute drinking water to those in need.

I truly wish him success.

“Do you feel safe enough in your country?” “Can I share your stories?” I asked after he lightly told me about being followed by the Burmese intelligence agency.

“I am US citizen now. I don’t care. I just want to help people.” he simply answered.

Courage is among so many other things I learn from him.

ps. Thank you Leslie, my ex-supervisor, for making this happened and thank you, Htun, for the inspiration. 🙂

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Reflection of Dry Zone

IMG_7113 IMG_6984

Eight days in dry zone was probably one of the most challenging experiences in my life, but also the most meaningful ones. There was so much that I have observed, listened, and learned. I am thankful for the stories the people have been openly sharing with us.

Weather is, no doubt, one of the most important factors in human lives. Having the privileges to somewhat “control” the weather, either by air conditioners or heaters, makes me take the powerful effects of weather for granted. Being in the dry zone, where my body and brain could only barely function because of the heat and humidity, I finally realize ‘for real’ for the first time in my life how tremendously the weather affects us and how little (if not none at all) we can control the weather.


Climate change is a huge problem. The problem that none of us can overcome without serious combined efforts.

To sustainably tackle the problem of climate change and the lack of water, people of dry zone are trying. Dams are being built, ponds are being dug, and pipelines are being installed. Hundreds of trees are being planted, but unfortunately, not many will survive. Not enough water for consumption, not enough water for household usage, not enough water for irrigation also means not enough water for trees to grow. These people are seeing some of their efforts going to waste, yet they won’t stop trying, they won’t stop hoping…

The people are strong. They are very strong. Yet, it is still not enough.

I am now back in Yangon drained and unwell. I am getting some rest and recovering. Yet the people there are still trying…

MVI_7050  IMG_7052


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Life in Dry Zone



It has been five days since we have been in the dry zone of Myanmar. As the name “dry zone” suggests, this area receives minimum amount of rainfall and access to water resources seem to be the biggest issue.

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On our way to the pond, where everyone comes carry water Phalan kan Village, Myaing Township

As soon as we arrived, despite the rainy season, I can see clearly that the land is dry and sandy. Tree leaves seems to be smaller in order to adapt to the weather. The weather itself is extremely hot even comparing to Yangon where we departed from.

I have been learning so much in the past few days. I have been so welcomed and well taken care of by everyone here. “You should just stay with us” and “You are welcome back anytime” have been told to us over and over from the villagers we visited. Every village we visit, there are always food and drink offered to us (some even packed snacks for us!). People waving fans trying to get rid of the flies for us, people trying to hold umbrellas for us…

I am very thankful. I have been very blessed and now I wonder what I can do for them.

Though their communities are very strong and they are pulling together all the resources they have got, people here really need help. They need help from external actors and the international community. We have been asked to share their stories, their difficulties dealing with the lack of water. Hours and miles per day they have to go carry the water, the poor quality of water they face, the time they could have used to do some other productive works, classes the children could have gone to, babies the mothers could have been looking after…the list seems to be endless.


Surprisingly, many of these stories are told with laughter. It is just wonderful to see how they support and understand each other. I truly believe that the world has a lot to learn from them.

It has been raining here in the dry zone.

“You bring good luck, you bring rain with you”

I really wish I could…

ps. photos to come when WiFi allows me…

2014-06-19 11.12.20

School for him?



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The Three ‘Annoyers’


Being here in Yangon I find three things rather annoying, and after training myself to look at things through the “water lens”, all these are somewhat related to water.

First, food poisoning. I haven been having constant food poisoning ever since I got here. Locating bathrooms has become the first thing I do when leaving our guesthouse. Janine, fortunately, have no problem with this. All we have been eating is hot meals and all have tasted and felt clean. I am starting to wonder if this is something to do with the water.

Second, mosquitoes. They are everywhere – from our humble guesthouse to a five-star hotel, from dawn to night. A westerner backpacker, also a medical student, we met while taking a circular train around Yangon, mentioned that he was taking pills to prevent Malaria. The presence of mosquitoes is not at all surprising when I saw water stagnation almost everywhere from the railway’s window…

part of Yangon river

part of Yangon river

Third, taxis. The fact that all the taxis drivers have been very friendly and helpful does not cancel out my annoyance of having to negotiate the price on every ride I am getting. Coming back in Myanmar this time, I was asked to pay almost twice the price I paid last week at the airport. I negotiated with several drivers and all of them insisted the same price. I got very upset at first thinking that I was being ripped off only to find out later that there was flooding in the city and it had taken them hours per trip.

“Water really is a big issue”. The sentence Janine and I keep repeating to each other…

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Frustration and Calmness


Patience has always been one of my weaknesses. Being a part of the peacebuilders fellowship and having to work in the field where not everything can be planned ahead, I am already feeling my patience being tested. I have always enjoyed flexibility and not having to sit in an office all day has been my ideal job, but waking up in the morning and not exactly know what to expect is a whole different story, especially in a place where I am not used to. I want to get this work done. I want to get it done properly. It is real people and their true suffering we are talking about after all. Not certain on how to walk that path is getting me anxious…

The almost unbearable hot and humid weather, which often followed by a heavy rain, coupled with unstable internet connection add up to my frustration. Thanks to Janine’s calmness and continued reassurances that keep me relaxed and optimistic.

Just when I started to get restless again and felt that I had to be doing something ‘concretely’ productive (though wondering around the city, talking to people, and taking a bus out of town were an unforgettable experience to explore the dynamic of the city), Janine and I heard back from the ActionAid Myanmar. We both had a good feeling about this and we were right.

We met with Dr. Ahamad, the country director, briefly and had a meeting with Dr. Kumar, who is an Advisor-Governance and Field Operations. Both doctors were very kind, informative, and welcoming. Dr. Kumar sat calmly on the other side of the table while Janine and I explained him about our fellowship and our expected outcomes of the project. He then kindly agreed to take us along to visit the villages and to live with the locals. Just before leaving his office, Dr. Kumar turned towards me and said “They won’t think of you as a foreigner”.

“I don’t speak the language though”. I argued (which I probably should not have given his amazing experiences and the lack of mine).

“They won’t”. He repeated with a reassuring smile.

Thinking back, this is one of the reasons why I chose to come to Myanmar. I was hoping that my identity as an Asian, among many others I identify myself with, would allow me to “fit in”. I am hoping that the people would open up to me and share their stories if they wish…

Again, I am writing this blog on a plane ride. Due to my family emergency, I have to come back to Thailand for a few days. Coming to the airport right after the meetings, I am still wearing a “longyi”. It would be interesting to see how people, including my family, react seeing me in this. This will be another small social experiment for tonight.

Smiling to myself, I take another deep breath and remind myself that things will be just fine…


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First Impression of Yangon


Due to flight delay, I arrived Yangon late last night and did not get to see much of the city but I was very excited to meet Janine, my working partner here in Yangon. Having similar goals in mind for this project or simply because of her calm and caring personalities, we got along well and very much looking forward to working together.

My first impression in Yangon is that the city is more developed and westernized than I had expected. It almost seems to me that the city itself is changing and modernizing rapidly that maybe the people might not be able (or maybe do not want to?) to follow the pace. It is very interesting to sit in a totally western café (you can only pay in US dollars) and look out side to see people carrying a tray of fruits on the top of their head or eating betel nuts. Maybe because of the opening economy of the country, Yangon is surprisingly a very expensive place to live in. There is a high demand for everything, including accommodation, which Janine and I have been trying to sort this out and we will have to continue doing so.


Bogyoke Market, Yangon

One other thing that really strikes me is that the people are really nice and friendly. I came in the country not having any picture in mind about how the people might be, but they would have met my expectation in any category. Right when I sat foot at the airport, a couple of teenage girls just kept smiling at me that I got self-conscious and was wondering if I dressed inappropriately or if there was anything on my face. People are really open and helpful with general information about the city and directions, but being a foreigner in a country that I do not speak the language, I also keep reminding myself not to trust anyone so easily and double check everything. However, doing this kind of work when I need to build trust with the people and gather their stories, I wonder where should I be drawing that line and boundary when I start working…

Overall my first day in Yangon was long but interesting. I am really looking forward to observing and learning more from this city and the people. I am looking forward to hear about their stories of water issues as well as any other stories they are happy to share.

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Preparing for Yangon


I am honored to be selected as a CCS peacebuilder fellow 2014 to Myanmar and have been looking forward to it ever since. This will be my first experience working in the filed and I am very much excited as well as nervous about it. Planning my trip to Yangon, Myanmar, I keep reconsidering whether I am ready for this work. My flights and hotel (for the first few nights) are booked, and if nothing goes wrong, I should be able to obtain my visa in couple of days. With logistical preparation aside, I also keep wondering whether I am emotionally ready for this.

After finishing my intensely enriching first year of graduate study at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy focusing on international security and international conflict resolution and negotiation, I left the lovely city of Boston and went travelling in Europe while visiting my family. I am writing this blog on the plane ride to Bangkok, where I am planning to apply for the visa. Tired but happy to finally travelling back to my home country, I am also worried and stressed. Political situation in Thailand is unstable and unpredictable after the coup de ‘tat on May 22. After the coup, curfew has been placed in many areas of the country. Rumors are flying everywhere and there is an obvious distrust among the divided people throughout the country. Hearing and reading about this got me very frustrated and stressed. I am frustrated because no matter how much I want Thailand to overcome this long-standing political crisis, there is only little, if not nothing at all, I can do. I am frustrated because I feel powerless.

All this got me thinking about the work I will be doing in Myanmar. Realizing how upset I am with the political situation and conflict in Thailand despite the fact that this has very small direct effects on me, I cannot imagine living in a conflict where the stake is as high as one’s survival. Water conflict, in a sense, is not a win-lose conflict because no one can/should lose his/her fundamental right to survive. Peaceful conflict resolution and negotiation seem to be an appropriate way out. With that said, I am very excited about the program and looking forward to sharing stories of the people and my own stories with you. I will do my best in reflecting their living conditions, ways of living and perspectives, and I truly hope that these stories can make a difference. Until next blog!

At thousands of feet above the sea level


Twitter: @wangshuiqing

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