Diakonia - People change the world

Bridge of Life

A bridge can give life a radical change. Through a suspension bridge, more than 1000 people in northern Myanmar got improved access to education, health facilities and the market.

Sum Khai village in the township of Thenni in northern Myanmar, has only 26 households occupied by 117 ethnic Shan who mainly speak the local language. Less than ten people can speak Burmese, which is the official language for public administration. Other than participating in religious events and ceremonies with Buddhist neighboring villages, Sum Khai is largely isolated from the wider society.

U Aike Kyaw is one of the village development committee (VDC) members. He shared that until 2014, the village had no schools, markets or health facilities. Villagers normally walked 45 minutes into Thenni town center for these, and on the way they had to cross a wide stream via a wood and bamboo bridge built by the villagers. Almost every year during the monsoon season, the bamboo bridge is destroyed by heavy rain and flash flooding. Hence villagers had to constantly reconstruct the bridge with the same available resources–bamboo and wood– from the nearby forest. The flooding in 2013 was particularly catastrophic because not only did it wipe out the bridge but drowned two school children as well. The village was traumatised by this tragedy and parents refused to send their children to school when there is heavy rain.

Back in 2010 villagers sought the government’s help in constructing a bridge, upon the suggestion of a member of the Kyar Phyu (White Tiger) political party. The township administration told the villagers to come up with 25% of the cost, amounting to 5,000,000 kyats (around USD 5,000) for this project. It was a big challenge to collect this amount from the Sum Khai villagers and they did not know how to organise this process.

When World Concern Myanmar (WCM) started their community development project in Sum Khai village in 2011 they realised what challenges faced the people. Through the World Concern’s facilitation and guidance, a village development committee was formed in Sum Khai and people were equipped with mobilization and planning skills for the development. Gradually, VDCs realized their rights as well as their responsibilities. As solution to the money collecting problem for the bridge, the VDC conducted wealth ranking exercise in the village and identified the appropriate amount of contribution from the villagers. World Concern also contributed 1,000,000 Myanmar kyats for the suspension bridge construction in Sum Khai.  Finally in 2013, Sum Khai VDC submitted a full proposal to parliament and obtained approval and financial support to build their suspension bridge.

The construction of the suspension bridge started in January 2014 and was successfully accomplished in May 2014; the 6 feet wide and 144 feet long bridge cost 25,000,000 kyats in total. The suspension bridge is more flexible– it can withstand typhoon winds, and can float in water during floods. Through this suspension bridge, more than 1000 people have improved access to education, health facilities and the market. At the same time, VDCs in Sum Khai have gained confidence to engage with duty bearers for the development of their village.

Text and photo by Diakonia's partner organization World Concern Myanmar