creative ways of tackling poverty

I know I say this a great deal, but one of the great privileges of working somewhere like Tearfund is the chance to be a small part of something much, much bigger, and to work with people making the kind of difference that you dream of – and to be inspired by them.

Yesterday was the International Day of Rural Women – and Rev. Mai Ki, one of Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals has been selected as a laureate by the Women’s World Summit Foundation and awarded the prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life for her work to tackle poverty and famine in Chin State, Myanmar.

2012-11-14 07.32.24This is Mai (with Tearfund’s CEO, who was visiting her).  She grew up in an illiterate farming family in rural Myanmar – in an area that suffers from an extreme and rare famine, which is caused by a 50-year bamboo flowering phenomenon. The bamboo, which only flowers once every 50 years, attracts a plague of rats, which then attack human crops and other food stores, leading to famine and disease.

But Mai was able to attend school, and was successful enough at her studies to be able to travel to India to study for a Masters for Theology.  For many, that would have been the chance to leave their past behind – but not for Mai.  Despite the fact that the most recent bamboo flowering, in 2006, led the destruction of about nine-tenths of the harvest and the bamboo traditionally used for homes and building, Mai chose to return home to use her education and skills to make a difference in her community.

She is now the first female minister of the Mara Evangelical Church in Myanmar, establishing church and community based initiatives to tackle poverty in the rural areas. She works with women, helping them to taking the lead in developing themselves and their families, and challenging established practices and attitudes towards food, environment and sustainable living in existing village institutions, structures, the church and different faith groups, and Tearfund, through the Inspired Individuals programme is supporting her by helping her with church mobilization strategy and developing her vision for tackling poverty in the Mara community she works in.

Mai Ki says one of the biggest obstacles she faces is men’s attitudes:  “At first time men afraid that I will teach women liberation [by] which they mean women will over rule the men in the family and some husbands do not want to send their wives but later it is no more problem.”   I love how calm she is about that!  But this is because as she trains women in family management – helping women to manage their time, and the resources in the family – they learn to unlock the potential, resources and capabilities of each member of their family, including their husbands – who retain rights and responsibilities in the household. When my colleagues talk about Mai, they talk about her remarkable ability to see the equal worth of every individual whether able or disabled, men or women, child or adult and to engage them in transforming their lives and homes. And so, step-by-step, her programmes transform the communities of her province.

I’d never heard of the WWSF before, or these awards  – which honour creative and courageous women around the world for their contribution in improving the quality of life in rural communities, for protecting the environment, imparting knowledge and standing up for human rights, development and peace. All of the women on the list sound incredible – and I am so glad that Tearfund is working with one of them.