One day in Myanmar… with Monique Erbeia
Monique Erbeia, administrator for Entrepreneurs du Monde, was invited to represent our association at the 2014 Women’s Forum which took place in Myanmar. She shares her impressions of the country and our activity there with us.
Arriving at Yangon, the economic capital of Myanmar, is surprising: the spacious boulevards of this town which is in the process of economic development are lined with luxury boutiques and advertisements for global brands. Thousands of women and men are at work. Street children are too. After the tropical heat, the golden light and the vitality of the town, the traffic jams surprise me: lots of new cars and even a few luxury cars can be seen alongside numerous bicycles and overloaded buses transporting men and women in very unpleasant conditions. These contrasts strike me from the moment I arrive.
Dala, a totally deprived, densely populated area just outside the capital
Alexandre Goutchkoff, manager of Entrepreneurs du Monde in Myanmar, greets me and sets me on my way to Dala, to the south of the Yangon River. After a crossing taking barely ten minutes I discover this suburban area which is mostly rural, marshy and undeveloped, primarily due to the absence of a bridge linking it to the town centre. Since the 1980s, the influx of several displaced populations, following conflicts and the rural exodus, weakened the social fabric and revealed the communities’ economic and social vulnerability. Today about 150,000 people live in this area which was affected by cyclone Nargis in 2008.
The difference from the town centre is striking. Here I see many rickshaw bicycles, scooters, small wooden houses and meagre stalls lining the dirt roads. The area is very animated, nestling in lush vegetation, but living conditions there are very tough. People have little access to basic services such as education, training, health, electricity and financial services.
That is where Entrepreneurs du Monde comes in
Since 2013, Entrepreneurs du Monde have been providing assistance to community groups (Self Help Groups) in Dala in partnerships with PU-AMI*. Entrepreneurs du Monde helps them to set up a self-managed fund enabling them to access credit, savings, social security and to finance community projects on an ongoing basis.
* PU-AMI : Première Urgence-Aide Médicale Internationale (an NGO which supports people in humanitarian crises).
In 2014, in order to also support the most vulnerable populations in the development of their income generating activity, Entrepreneurs du Monde set up a microfinance programme, Sont Oo Tetwin (“Entrepreneurs “ – SOO). This provides them with saving and credit services as well as training.
My meeting with the local SOO team takes place at lunch time, when the three loan officers return from their site visits. Operations supervisor, Myo-Myo Zin, welcomes us and introduces me to the team. One of the loan officers explains what they do, and shows me the training materials, questionnaires and report forms which follow the Entrepreneurs du Monde methodology. This loan officer monitors approximately 200 micro-entrepreneurs.
In the afternoon we leave to meet a community group. After twenty minutes on a scooter, of which half was on a poorly maintained minor road, the environment changes completely once again. We arrive in a rural area, where people live traditional lifestyles, with livestock and crops and a small cluster of houses surrounded by paddy fields.
The group welcome us in the community hall. The twenty one members of this Self-Help Group are all women. They carefully listen to their representative calculating out loud the outgoings and deposits. These are kept in individual files and the group ledger provided by Entrepreneurs du Monde. The average individual loan is €44 repayable over five months. Interest payments supplement the community funds. This enables the financing of a health centre, maintenance of clean water supplies or assisting a group member who is faced with a particular hardship. The Entrepreneurs du Monde officer trains the group in management skills and practical matters such as managing the household budget, child protection etc.
Today, Entrepreneurs du Monde has over 600 borrowers in 5 areas of Dala and continues to support fifteen community groups representing 400 members. Its 3 year goal is to support 10,000 families.