Bill Brower is a Field Program Officer with GlobalGiving who is visiting our projects throughout Southeast Asia. On February 23 he visited the headquarters of Proximity Design, the successor organization to IDE-Myanmar, in their Yangon office.
“We have better customer satisfaction than Apple with the iPod.” Jim and Debbie Taylor, who started IDE-Myanmar and head up its current incarnation as Proximity Design, seem to have taken the best bits from the business world, including measuring and paying meticulous attention to customer feedback, and integrated them very effectively to the approach of their non-profit organization. Jim describes them as a hybrid in another way, employing almost entirely local staff and making all decisions locally but taking advantage of international networks and talent where appropriate. It’s a different kind of development, very much in the vein of what Bill Easterly and others call for, which learns from decades of collective ineffectiveness. It is accountable, appropriate and driven by the needs of the community. It is this approach that the Taylors and their staff brought to their disaster relief efforts following Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, and continue to bring to many of the communities affected by the storm.
Although I was unable to visit the communities they work in as I lacked the appropriate permits to travel outside of the approved foreigner areas, Jim showed me videos and maps and explained in detail their approach and results, which painted a picture of an organization not originally set up to do disaster recovery but which effectively drew on its local staff, infrastructure, and connections and its experience implementing projects in the affected areas to provide some level of relief to over one million people in the six months following the cyclone.
While other NGOs who didn’t already work in Myanmar were stuck in Bangkok trying to get in, IDE was providing emergency shelter, locally sourced tarps and drinking water. After helping to provide this immediate relief, they switched their efforts to where their expertise was—helping 58,000 farmers regain their livelihoods after the storm knocked out their crops.
And contrary to the worries and expectations of many, Jim said none of the funds they received from the outside were diverted by the government (including money from GlobalGiving donors, which he described as “critical”). Like any good business, they could track the supplies they gave out following the storm down to the household.
While this project is no longer receiving donations on GlobalGiving, donors should know that their contributions went to a good organization that helped and is continuing to help many people in an extremely difficult situation. Thanks for your support!
Here is a recent update from project leaders Jim and Debbie Taylor. You also might be interested in reading the following brief write-up about IDE Myanmar that appeared in the Stanford Social Innovation Review:
We are now focusing our efforts on helping farm families to recover. The monsoon paddy planting season is upon us now and farmers are desperate for rice seed, tilling help, fertilizer – they are anxious to have a crop this season, otherwise they know they will have nothing to eat in the future. We're providing farm families with a package of inputs such as seed, fertilizer, tilling help and etc. that will come out to about $190 per household. For example, it costs $20 to help families prepare their fields, $30 to buy them rice seed that they've lost, and $40 for fertilizer.
Our delivery approach in providing shelter tarps and clean water baskets has been to by-pass the towns and deliver straight to villages. A list of families needing shelter is compiled with the help of village elders and also by visual inspection of homes. We distribute the supplies transparently and fairly, by having a public gathering of all village households, calling up the list of names individually and handing over the tarps directly into the hands of families.
As of 12 June:
-452 villages have been reached by our teams
-32,830 households (175,000 people) have received shelter tarps
-3,387 clean water baskets have been installed, benefiting approximately 350,000 people
We really appreciate your help – it has gone directly to providing shelter materials and clean water supply for cyclone victims. The families who receive help are so grateful – after receiving a plastic tarpaulin for their roof, they told our staff, "We're going to sleep well tonight!" What an understatement….they had previously been sleeping under the dripping rain and huddling under coconut palm fronds. Now they want to till their fields and have started to do it by hand! These people are tough and courageous and deserve all of the support in the world.
Jim and Debbie
IDE’s first response to cyclone Nargis survivors is to provide clean water supplies for large groups of homeless men, women and children now gathered in temporary encampments, monasteries, and schools in the worst affected areas of the Irrawaddy Delta. Lakes and ponds are the most common drinking water sources in these coastal areas, and serious outbreaks of dysentery (and possibly cholera) have already been reported in these areas where surface water is now contaminated with decomposing animals and humans. To reach the largest number of people in the shortest time, IDE is using its “water basket” in conjunction with WaterGuard rapid chlorination and IDE treadle pumps. The Water Basket is an inexpensive, highly portable 200 gallon container made from locally available plastic tarp material. A single filling of one Water Basket provides the minimum daily water requirement for at least 250 people. Rapid refilling with treadle pumps can easily provide clean water for up to 1000 people each day.
Our teams are currently setting up over 100 Water Basket systems per day reaching up to 25,000 people. Each installed WaterBasket system typically costs US $23.
We are also training other organizations to set up these clean water supply systems themselves. We are offering technical briefings and making Water Baskets available free of charge to all these groups. Over 250 have been provided thus far.
We’re also providing cyclone victims with temporary shelter materials to the large numbers of families still residing in villages that were destroyed during the cyclone. In the target areas, up to 95% of homes were destroyed. Traditional building materials are not available during this time of year, so rural households do not have materials for basic protection from the elements. IDE is providing plastic sheeting procured locally in Yangon and locally available bamboo poles. We are currently providing materials to shelter 25,000 people each day.
IDE is also providing food and basic necessities for groups of homeless survivors. This is being done through cash transfers of between US $5 and $15 per family. Most monasteries have well managed distribution systems that are targeted and fully transparent. Families will use these donations to purchase rice, cooking oil, salt, medicines, pots and pans, blankets, and other basic necessities. We piloted this cash transfer approach during the days immediately following the cyclone and are now using it with all 27 teams. We are currently trying to reach 10,000 families a week with this type of assistance.
Beginning in late May, we will begin our medium-term agricultural recovery strategy, which will provide assistance to 25,000 small plot farmers who require seeds, fertilizer, irrigation pumps, and other inputs.
Thank you for your generous assistance. It is needed now more than ever as the people of Myanmar still lack the basic necessities of life in the aftermath of this tragedy.
The following is a message from IDE Myanmar's director, Jim Taylor:
Almost two weeks after the cyclone tore through the Delta, thousands of families are now lined up along the high ground of rural roads with nothing to eat and virtually no shelter. Hundreds and hundreds of devastated but accessible villages have still not received one ounce of assistance. A massive public health crisis is emerging as people who are weak, traumatized, malnourished and often injured have no shelter or food. The amount of aid reaching victims is just a trickle compared to the millions of people in desperate need.
IDE Myanmar has mobilized 27 teams (about 100 staff members) to directly help families in 11 of the hardest hit areas. One of the most urgent needs is safe drinking water. To reach large groups in the shortest possible time, IDE is using its “water basket,” an inexpensive, portable 200-gallon water storage device, in conjunction with WaterGuard rapid chlorination systems and IDE treadle pumps to quickly refill the baskets. A single filling of one water basket provides the minimum water requirement for 250 people. Our teams are setting up 100 of these systems a day, reaching 25,000 people. We are also training INGOs and local CBOs to set up these clean water supply systems themselves. We are making water baskets available free of charge to all these groups; over 250 have been distributed so far.
IDE is also providing temporary shelter materials to the large numbers of families still residing in villages whose homes were destroyed during the cyclone. Traditional building materials such as palm fronds woven into thatch for roofs and siding are not available during this time of year, so rural households do not have materials for basic protection from the elements. IDE is providing plastic sheeting procured locally in Yangon, which can be used with locally available bamboo poles to construct roofs. We are currently providing shelter for 25,000 people each day.
Thank you for your generous donations. Our assistance is really getting to people in need, right now. The logistics of this effort is formidable, across a flooded and ravaged landscape. We’re procuring everything locally and prices for plastic sheeting are rising everyday. The latest realistic estimates are that over 100,000 people have died and about 2 million people are affected. This is indeed a crisis of unimaginable proportions.
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