Myanmar: Humanitarian Foundation Leadership changes

Metta - loving kindness

ONE of the country’s longest-running non-government organisations, Metta Development Foundation, is expecting greater opportunities to contribute to development under the new government, its recently departed executive director says.

Daw Seng Raw told The Myanmar Times last week that Metta had “over time gained respect and trust” from governments, communities and donors, and this left it well placed to make the most of opportunities that arise under the new system of government.

“The new government represents an opportunity to address the community’s needs in new ways and we hope to take up these opportunities,” she said.

“Furthermore, since states and regions have their respective administrations headed by local people, there is a better understanding of the local context and this allows more space for humanitarian intervention,” she said.

Daw Seng Raw recently made way for a new executive director, U Sai Sam Kham, as part of the most significant changes in senior personnel since Metta was founded in 1998.

Retired professor U Tun Aung Chain was also selected to replace Dr Saboi Jum as board chairman. Most leadership roles were until recently held by founding members, such as Daw Seng Raw, and she said the organisation would continue to develop with a younger management team.

“There will not be any changes in its direction and culture. The transition process is part of the evolution of the organisation – from founding members to energetic successors who will have a positive impact on the organisation as well as on the communities it works with,” Daw Seng Raw said.

The new executive director was already a management team member and is well known among staff and partner organisations, she said, adding that the transition process began in 2007.

“More and more responsibilities have been delegated to the branch office administrations since then,” she said. “We are blessed to have committed staff and volunteers, with little turnover.”

Metta was established to assist disadvantaged communities regardless of ethnicity or religion, and respecting different cultures and values, she said.

Its activities also focus on post-conflict needs and creating space for people with different backgrounds to work together, cementing the peace process and developing their regions.

Flooding in Kachin State and the tsunami in Ayeyarwady Region in 2004 were the impetus for moving into humanitarian assistance, Daw Seng Raw said.

Metta “takes every opportunity to initiate long-term development work with a local focus”, she said. “In this way, the organisation progresses on to building capacity in rural communities, creating conditions for peace, and promoting environmental sustainability.

“Metta also concentrates on joint interests and needs with existing partners and continues to enhance disaster risk reduction measures along with communities prone to the threat of disaster.”

“Metta contributes services in collaboration with the local communities and encourages local contributions, except in times of emergency.”

The organisation implements community-based projects in six broad fields: agriculture and forestry, education, health, livelihoods, emergencies, and development and capacity building.

In July, Metta ended a three-year Nargis rehabilitation project in the Ayeyarwady delta but continues to implement some programs in the region through a five-year “Regeneration Initiative” that runs until 2014.

Most recently, it began relief programs in Kachin State, she said.

“Metta is now providing emergency relief assistance to those rural citizens in poverty distress or sheltering in religious compounds in collaboration with the Kachin State government,” she said.

Integral to the organisation’s agriculture and forestry program is its Farmer Field Schools (FFS). Since the program was launched in 2000, 772 facilitators have been trained and more than 1300 FFS established in Kachin, Shan and Kayah states and Ayeyarwady Region.

FFS have trained more than 33,700 farmers and the organisation says the program has contributed to increased rice yields, with little or no external inputs such as chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

“Besides offering relevant and specific training, Metta also provides tools and equipment, [mostly] for agricultural activities.”

Daw Seng Raw said Metta’s philosophy of “participatory action research”, whereby communities learn to identify their resources and needs and then collectively formulate a development action plan to improve their lives, would continue under the new leadership team.

“Further emphasis will be on cross-cutting themes, such as good governance, gender and ethnic equity, environmental protection and capacity building at all levels,” Daw Seng Raw said.

Source: Myanmar Times

Photo Credit: Metta Foundation