By Naw Phoebe, Save the Children Myanmar
Tiptoeing over sacks, pots and rolled mats, I found myself lost in a maze of people and belongings they’d managed to salvage.
I was at the Shwe Yin Myaw Pagoda in Hpa-an, capital of in Kayin state in southern Myanmar, along the Thai-Myanmar border. Following severe floods the pagoda is now being used as a rescue centre.
Nearly 25,000 people have been displaced from their homes. There are 79 evacuation sites. I’d come to visit a few of them and find out what living conditions are like.
Two girls gave me a tour of the camp at Shwe Yin Myaw Pagoda.
At the crowded communal kitchen where I saw women trying get on with preparing meals for their families.
The girls told me that they still has clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing. Though there are long queues for the toilets.
But the crowd and noise in the pagoda was slight compared to what came next. More than a thousand displaced people are currently living at the Hpa-an’s sports stadium.
Entering the arena, it was bustling with children playing, vendors selling snacks, vegetables and other essentials – not unlike a regular sports event. Women took turns to cook for their families in a single kitchen while men headed out to work.
The place was so full of people that there was no privacy for babies sleeping, mothers breastfeeding or young girls.
Next, we headed out of the state capital to the more remote areas no agencies had reached.
The roads were completely flooded. So we took a small boat to a village called Shwe Gun in Hlaing Bwe Township.
It brought us to a monastery where nearly 70 flood-affected families were staying.
People’s belongings were everywhere. A little boy and his mother showed me the small space where they slept. It looked a tight squeeze.
Women cooked in enclosed areas of the monastery with children playing around the stove – a potential fire hazard.
Lots of people I spoke to told me they were unhappy about being away from home, forced to live in overcrowded conditions, without privacy or basic comforts.
We gave out emergency kits of essentials such as toiletries, towels, toothbrushes and household cleaning items.
It’s not clear how long families will have to stay put. But they certainly need urgent support to maintain good levels of hygiene, nutrition and protection.
Schools have also been shut temporarily due to the disaster, so children are missing out on valuable learning hours.
At the monastery, towards the end of the day, I sat with the mothers, watching the children play.
It was remarkable and heart-warming to see the joy and laughter of the children – despite their living conditions – as they made up games to play together.
It’s testament to their resilience in adversity.