“I am facing a ‘new normal’ life now,” says social worker from Myanmar about his work during COVID-19

“I am facing a ‘new normal’ life now,” says social worker from Myanmar about his work during COVID-19

Sep 7, 2020

31-year-old Saw Eh Gaw Htoo is a humanitarian worker in Myanmar. We asked him some questions to learn about how he started his job, what challenges he has had to overcome, and the impact of Covid-19 on his work. 

How did you become a humanitarian worker? Why did you choose this job?

Before 2008, I was a normal government staff member and I worked as a junior clerk in the township administrative office. After the Nargis cyclone struck the delta regions of Myanmar, I decided to work as a social worker to serve vulnerable people, including those in rehabilitation programs. My desire and passion is to serve communities in need, to cultivate a peaceful and harmonious society.

Why did you join People in Need specifically?

I was quite interested in working in Rakhine State, where there are lots of camps for internally displaced people. These camps are in need of help and face troubles, so I looked for an opportunity to work there. I got the chance to work in Rakhine State with People in Need, so I moved to Mrauk U and worked as an Emergency Project Coordinator under the direct supervision of Katja and Thibault Paul with MHF’s Emergency Project. In total, I have worked with PIN for over one year on different projects and I am still working with PIN on the FAO project in Southern Myanmar.

What is your current position and what work are you currently doing?

Currently, I am working as a Project Manager for the FAO Emergency Distribution Project. The purpose of the project is to support flood-affected farmers from three states and regions. Now, I am doing recruitment work for the FAO project.

Can you describe what your average day looks like in the field?

I coordinate with the local stakeholders, donors and partner CSOs, and manage my team regarding our activity plans and activity implementation processes. I also work closely with the finance team regarding financial processes and I report daily to my supervisor. These are my average daily tasks.

How has your work changed because of Covid-19?

It has changed in quite an amazing way and we have had to struggle to complete our daily tasks and work during Covid-19. It has restricted most of our activities that involve directly dealing with beneficiaries. We had to figure out how to change our usual implementation approaches, and most of our activities were delayed because of Covid-19. Some staff were challenged with working from home. However, we need to be aware and follow the guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS) for our own safety and that of others.

Are your daily routines different? How are you protecting yourself and the people you are supporting?

There has been a big change in my daily routine. Now, I need to follow the safety guidelines from the MoHS. I take care in my daily work by taking masks with me everywhere, using hand sanitizers frequently, and following the social distancing rule. As a project manager, I prepare the required materials for my team and office to prevent the spread of Covid-19. For example, I place face masks, hand sanitizers and gloves in the office for the project team and the beneficiaries. We have also prepared a hand-washing station in the office.

Do you see some new challenges arising due to the disease? For example, access difficulties, stigmatization, lack of trust or other dangers?

There are several challenges; for one, most of the people in here seem like they are not afraid of Covid-19. If we cannot follow the guidelines and rules from MOHS, we will be in trouble. Raising awareness in the community will be an issue for project implementation. In the meantime, the government is focusing on cooperating with non-government organizations regarding their work that is relevant to mitigation and preparedness.

Also, because of Covid-19, some prices have increased in the local market, like transportation and general products.

What are the biggest challenges or obstacles you have already overcome? What did you learn from them?

The way the infrastructure works in Rakhine State gave me challenges while I worked there. Due to the demands and needs of the IDP, and the government restrictions on infrastructure work, we did not have so many choices regarding what we could complete. But through the hard work of the team and great support from our liaison team, we built good communication and coordination channels with local authorities and stakeholders and accomplished the project. It was great and the whole project team was in unity and harmony.

How have the lives of people and their communities changed due to coronavirus?

Coronavirus has affected the whole community in many ways involving education, health, basic needs and income. There have been economic consequences and a lack of job opportunities.

Have the people you are supporting changed their views on humanitarian workers due to coronavirus?

Most vulnerable people seem to feel positively towards us and some are negative. Mostly they appreciate the INGOs that have provided support to them, and they understand our work well.

Are you personally afraid of the disease or the economic consequences connected with it?

Yes, of course. I am afraid too. That is related to the sustainability of the economy of the country, and the special situation now is that we are in the election period.

How is your family dealing with the new situation?

We have decided to follow the awareness-raising guidelines released by MoHS and WHO. We carefully always listen to updated news and put safety first.

Is it now more difficult to combine your work as a humanitarian worker with your family life? What has changed?

As a social worker, I have to take care of many things in my daily life (personal schedule, ethics, motivation, behavior). However, one more thing I have to take care of now is health. I love my family and take good care of their health. That is why my work nature is restricted a bit to protect my family.

Has the Covid-19 emergency response changed you in some way? If so, how?

Of course, I am facing a ‘new normal’ life now. 

Author: People in Need