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A journey to Lailenpi and back again....
Trip Report, by Christopher Jones, Executive Director, Health and Hope UK
SPOILER: If you would like to skip to the video update, scroll down half-way or click here to watch on our website...
The journey to Lailenpi in western Myanmar (Burma) took 72 hours.  And that was quick.  Starting out from London on Monday afternoon, we travelled almost non-stop until Thursday evening.  
Lailenpi is a small town nestled in the jungles overlooking the border with India. It is very remote. The last section of the journey involves a 15 hour drive on rough mountain roads passing through just a handful of villages and one 'town' with a small cafe.  Previously the trip from Yangon took four days alone, with the final stretch taking a back-breaking 18 hours on a motorbike.  As such we were grateful that the government had compacted the partially built road post the last monsoon, enabling us to arrive in the comfort of a 4x4.
I was travelling with Terry Fahey, a civil engineer from Engineering Ministries International (EMI) and Frances Barnsley, a midwife.  Terry was making his first visit to Lailenpi to help plan the potential construction of an airstrip in conjunction with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF).  Frances was making her seventh visit to the region, to provide the next stage of training in maternal and neonatal care for local women who work as Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs).
 
We received an incredible reception upon our arrival, with all of the townspeople lined up to welcome us, followed by speeches, dancing and prayer.  With most villagers spending their lives living and working within a 10-mile radius of their home, and a journey to Yangon costing a potential lifetime of savings, there is immense gratitude for those that make the journey.
We've produced a video update of Health and Hope's latest work, click below to watch or read on for a more detailed overview...

The Clinic

Hope Clinic is now functional again post Cyclone Mora, bolstered by the return of two doctors who have recently graduated from our Freedom to Education Project (FEP).  Having studied abroad for the last eight years, Dr Beichotha and Dr Shwehulian are now able to provide a regular clinic for local townspeople and the surrounding villages, seeing around 75 patients each week. 
The clinic also acts as a centre for outreach work, storage and management of pharmaceutical supplies and a clinical training base for midwifery training.

Maternal & Neonatal Health Training

Health and Hope have been running Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA) training since 2013 providing essential midwifery skills to local women. As a result, many lives have been saved, with the local under-5 orphanage closing down in March 2018 thanks to the reduction in maternal deaths during childbirth. 

At the beginning of 2018, seven of the most experienced local women were invited to take on a new role as a local trainer. Each of the trainers were to visit 2-3 remote villages close to their homes to help expand the reach of the service. Key to the success of this new approach was how effective the local women would be at running their own training courses, in addition to whether they would be accepted in their local communities. 

During our trip, Frances undertook a review of their work.  Wonderfully, the trainers had been able to deliver training to 91 new TBAs covering all ten core topics in basic training. In addition, birthing bags and clean delivery kits were distributed through the network of trainers.
Frances then visited some of the villages on the back of a motorbike. After a gruelling ride over rough mountain tracks, she arranged a three day assessment for the women who had received the local training.  In addition, she continued to up-skill and update the knowledge and professional practice of the trainers who attended a five day workshop at Hope clinic.

Frances writes, "I was so surprised how much the local women knew. I had never expected the trainers to be able to deliver so much of the course and so well. There were obviously differences between the villages, however overall, topics such as hand washing and knowledge of diet were excellent. There was still a need to support the women in greater understanding of the mechanisms of birth and they continue to need more practice in emergency drills, but this will come with time."
"I think what struck me the most, was the impact of the training on the women's self-esteem. It was clear how the initiative had raised their status within the village which had a knock on effect on their confidence. Previously they were very insecure, lacking the self-belief that they had the ability to benefit from the training in Lailenpi. However, because they had the opportunity to practice with a local trainer and then meet us in person, they overwhelmingly expressed a deep desire to attend the full training course. The support of their local community is vital for this, and this was confirmed again and again by the village elders. 

Overall, there was such excitement and joy in learning together, it was absolutely thrilling to be a part of it!"

The Training Centre

It's incredible to look back to just one year ago and see how much progress has been made on the building of the training centre post Cyclone Mora.

When the project started, the local tradesmen initially refused to dig foundations at 20' spans, asking us to hire 'professional builders' from outside the village.  They had never dreamed of being able to construct a building of this scale, nor did they feel they had the skills to do it.  But through the provision of field engineers and through careful supervision and encouragement, the training centre is now really starting to take shape.  Best of all, the local townspeople can look back at what they have accomplished with their own hands, standing tall and proud of their accomplishments. 

In fact, we were delighted to host our first week long training in the building, despite the fact that it has no roof, or even a coat of paint on the walls!  In December, twenty-eight Area Coordinators, who provide in-situ support for our network of Community Health Workers, gathered for the launch of our new healthcare project and took up residence in the training centre.  This has been followed by training for educators in January, and two further trainings of health workers and Traditional Birth Attendants in February.  

Whilst still incomplete, the training centre provides an invaluable space for the ongoing work, whether training in health, education or agriculture.
As you can see from the photographs, we are nearly there with 85% of the funds raised.  We also have funding to furnish the classrooms, however we are now looking for USD $50,000 to put the roof on the training centre, as well as complete the plumbing, electrics and glazing before the monsoon rains start in May.  We would very much welcome financial support for this project, so please do get in touch if you feel you can help!

Freedom to Education Project (FEP)

While launching two new projects in health and education during the trip, what struck me powerfully, was that starting these new projects would have been impossible without the last nine years of investment in education. 

The photo above is an example of this. Six of the Health and Hope staff members in the picture graduated from the FEP over the last three years.  Two doctors, one teacher, one accountant in training, and two science graduates - who are both now key leaders in our sustainable agricultural project. 

In rural Chin State, there is now a trickle of young educated local leaders returning to serve their communities, determined to make a difference.  It is an incredible achievement, much of it thanks to your support.

This year, three nurses (pictured below) will join the team in Lailenpi after having completed their internship year in Yangon.  They will return to help develop the health programme in the rural villages and contribute to the running of Hope Clinic.  It's an incredible achievement for them, their families and the local community. 

It's hard, on returning to the UK, to capture all of the achievements... I hope that this trip report goes someway to doing this, but there's so much more to share, particularly lessons learnt from the local church and community, in addition to:
  • work on the future airstrip
  • the ongoing health work in the local communities
  • an update on the new education project
  • progress made on the sustainable agriculture project
If you would like to hear more about any or all of these projects, then do please consider booking a Health and Hope speaker for your school, company, church or mid-week group (see below for more details).  

We'll also be sending out more details on these projects over the coming weeks, as well as providing more regular updates on our website and Facebook page.


With many thanks for your ongoing support,
Christopher Jones
Executive Director, Health and Hope UK

 

Booking a Health and Hope speaker

Over the coming months, we're offering the chance to for you to host a Health and Hope speaker at your school, company, church or mid-week group, either in person, or via an online seminar. 

In addition, for those of you who have been motivated by Dipar, who features so powerfully in our Education for All video, there will be the opportunity to have her speak at an event near you between May - June 2019. 

If you would like to take advantage of any of these opportunities, please call us on 020 8144 5701‬ or send an email to Philippa (philippa.wilford@healthandhope.org).  We'd be delighted to hear from you!
Planning for an airport in Lailenpi is still in progress.  A video showing the latest challenges is available on our website: https://healthandhope.org/our-work/video
Produce wrapped in banana leaf packages from the sustainable agriculture project
Local women trained as trainers from our maternal and neonatal healthcare project enjoy time together partaking in reflective learning and professional skills development.
Copyright © 2019 Health & Hope UK, All rights reserved.


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