Myanmar, Asia

MYA05 - Bright Hope Myanmar Development Projects: Partnership Reports

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Report Date: May 31, 2015

Report from BHW Myanmar Partnership Facilitator Following Visit in March


Key Person: Samuel Thang

Recent Events

Loan Programme

gratefulThe loan programme has been expanded to include 19 people. While the majority are self-supporting Pastors, there are now several women benefiting from the programme as well. Most are involved in some kind of church ministry.

There are a number of factors that continue to help the smooth functioning and growth of the loan programme:
• excellent leadership and facilitation provided by Samuel 
• compulsory attendance of members at the group’s meetings
• well documented records kept by the Secretary and Treasurer

The meetings of the group are lively and allow discussion, encouragement and accountability for people working in challenging contexts. 

At the loan group’s meeting in March, many spoke up in thanks for the opportunity to participate and of the significance of their small businesses (and resulting income) to their families and ministries. 

There have been several business successes and while a few have suffered setbacks the overall results of the last year have been positive. Even in those businesses that have struggled there are some good lessons being learnt, and all borrowers are continuing to make their repayments. 

The programme members have agreed that a portion of the compulsory savings will be earmarked to provide a guarantee, should it be necessary, for loans of those who may not be in a position to make repayments under particularly trying circumstances. 


developingThere continues to be political unrest in the country, especially in the north and north-west, and several violent incidents have seen fighting in these areas. Earlier this year there were student protests from Mandalay over academic freedom which were put down violently by security forces.

The easing of internal migration has allowed more people to travel and children continue to be sent to Yangon both to improve their own chances of work and education and for safety reasons.

Myanmar continues to change rapidly and many of the poor people in the country are falling further behind despite generally well-intentioned efforts of the international community to assist. For the majority of people, jobs continue to be scarce and the pay very little while the costs of living have skyrocketed. Increasing openness with the outside world has brought a significant increase in foreign visitors and investment, though this tends to benefit a small sector of the society. It is hard to see what benefit this has brought to those without the capital base to take advantage of the new opportunities or the consumer goods now available. This is, of course, what micro-loan programmes such as this hope to address - giving access to resources otherwise unavailable and to allow the marginalised to become self-sufficient. 

Prices of staple food continue to rise regularly while wages remain static. As an example, an average labour wage is about 4000 kyats ($3.50US) per day while 1kg of chicken costs 3500 kyats and a bus ride costs between 500 and 1000 kyats. Anecdotally, we see the main result of increased foreign presence in Myanmar has been to put huge upward pressure on the cost of land and consequently on rent as demand for accommodation outstrips supply. This has affected a number of those connected with this loan program, making it an even more vital source of income for those participating. 


Personal Stories

very gratefulWhile we were visiting about 14 of the loan recipients were able to come together for an informal meeting to discuss how the loan programme was going and we heard several stories of the difference that the programme had made in the lives of them and their families.

One pastor who has 38 children in his care took a loan of $350 which he used to buy a motorcycle. The income from the use of the motorcycle has generated a good profit, half of which is used to repay the loan and the remainder used for his ministry expenses. He expects his loan to be repaid within a year and to then save for a second motorcycle.

Another man took a loan which was used to buy the raw materials to make jelly, which was sold every day. About a third of the net income is put aside to repay the loan with the remainder used for living expenses and to restock supplies for the next batch of jelly.

One retired pastor had been struggling to get by on a very limited income and poor health made him unable to undertake more physical work. He had taken a loan which he used to invest in the business of a friend. The return on the investment has allowed him to make ends meet and make repayments on the principal.

We visited a woman who is raising her three children in a small two room house in a village outside Yangon. Their family had been working in ministry in Thailand among Burmese migrants but as their children were unable to go to school there she returned to Myanmar with them, and had also taken on the care of her nephew. Her husband remains in Thailand and sends back what money he can, though this is not enough for the family to live on.

She took a loan from the programme which allowed her to buy three pigs and raw materials with which to make liquid soap, which she sells in her village to buy food for the pigs. This arrangement has given them enough income to buy food and when the pigs are old enough she plans to sell them for a reasonable profit.

She also told us, in a story we heard repeated by many, how the rising cost of living is a major source of uncertainty for the poor in Myanmar. Demand and speculation for land has contributed to her landlord doubling her rent over the last 6 months, with further rises possible. This uncertainty has made her wary of investing in a home garden as there is no telling if they will be able to still be able to live there at harvest time.  


Partnership's Influence within the Community

loan recipientVirtually all those in the programme are involved in their community in some way. Most are pastors, which in Myanmar almost always seems to go hand in hand with a high degree of social responsibility. They frequently have numerous people in their care and are pivotal people in their communities.

In a wider sense they are also engaging with their local communities to provide assistance and support, especially to those with less means to support themselves.


Current Issues and Challenges

Prices for food and accommodation continue to rise as Myanmar's economy surges ahead. The foreign investment and opportunities have yet to touch the lives of the poor. As Samuel explained, "What good is it if a car now costs $6,000 instead of $16,000 when most can't afford $60 for food?”

The increased growth in the participation in the programme is a mixed blessing. More members mean that more people will be given a hand up and the opportunity to provide for themselves and their dependants. It also creates more work and responsibility for those volunteers administering the programme and at some stage a decision will need to be made on what is the best way forward with the programme, and whether to cap its growth or divide it into two separate programmes in some way.

Many of those who had begun to raise pigs past year have had a difficult time with a number of the animals dying from what appears to be a seasonal disease. Most borrowers appear to have been able to break even and all are continuing to make repayments on their loans. Members are not eligible to take another loan until they have repaid their first, and have a level of group accountability for each other.

It is pleasing to see that even when the situation is difficult that those involved are able to work together and maintain the integrity of the programme. 


Prayer and Praise Points

Praise for:
• the continued growth of the programme and the developing skills of those who are participating in it
• the lives that have been blessed by the programme, with people able to take opportunities that would have otherwise been unavailable
• that there is continuing interest in growing the programme and that there are people who are willing to dedicate their time to it's maintenance

Pray for:
• wisdom in planning for and approving loans
• success in the businesses which are started
• safety and work of those in the programme 



While Myanmar changes apace the situation for most of the poor has grown even more precarious. There are more business opportunities available, though the cost of entry has risen and the economic situation for labourers and subsistence farmers has significantly worsened. Loan programmes such as this one continue to be an effective way to make a significant and long term difference in many lives, families and communities.

There is a developing awareness of the basic financial concepts needed to run a successful business and the programme appears to be well run and administered. I look forward to seeing the local leadership rise to the challenges that they face and to seeing more of what changes this programme has been able to make in the lives of those it reaches.