Myanmar (formerly Burma) is located in South East Asia and is home to some 54 million people from 100 ethnic groups, meaning over 100 languages and dialects are spoken. Myanmar shares borders with India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand.
Despite significant natural resources, a large labour force, and being located in an area of dynamic economic growth, Myanmar is one of the least developed and poorest countries in Asia and the world. It ranks 148 out of 188 countries in the 2015 Human Development Index. In Asia, only Afghanistan ranks lower. About 26 per cent of the population is living under the poverty line and 70 per cent of the population live in rural areas .
Ninety six per cent of adults in Myanmar are literate, according to official statistics. However, the literacy rate varies within states. Increasingly, dropout rates and high student/teacher ratios are becoming challenges for the country’s education sector.
Myanmar has some of the worst health indicators in the world. The under-five mortality rate is 52 per 1000 live births and the maternal mortality is 200 per 100,000 live births . Thirty five per cent of children under five are stunted . This data varies widely between rural and urban areas. HIV prevalence has significantly declined from 0.94% (2000) to 0.47% (2013) . The shortage of health professionals is a major challenge for Myanmar along with low level of financial investments in the health sector.
Myanmar is rich in natural resources. However, human activities and climate change is severely impacting its environmental conditions . Declining forest cover, commercial and illegal logging, deforestation, natural disasters, increasing population growth, and mining are some of the major factors affecting the country’s environment .
Working in partnership with the Australian Government, AVI first sent volunteers in 1988 to provide humanitarian assistance to refugee communities living along the Thai-Burma border. In 2012, AVI opened on office in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, and has managed 200 volunteers to work with NGO and government bodies, supporting Myanmar’s health, education, political and social reforms and economic growth in the private sector.
Main focus areas
Improving education outcomes
A big focus for Myanmar is to improve education outcomes. We respond to this by supporting teachers and education professionals through mentoring and training. From curricula development in tertiary education, to improved vocational training and language courses.
Government organisations have invited support in many areas, including language, communications and organisational development expertise. Australian volunteers assisted the establishment of legal aid centres and the peace building process with the Myanmar Peace Centre and the United Nations’ peace building program. Governance also extends to supporting national and international NGOs, as well as social enterprises to implement projects for marginalised communities like youth, women and people living with disabilities.
Enhancing economic growth
Volunteer assignments aim to enhance the country’s economic growth, through support to social enterprises and organisations that enable the private sector. Through support to organisational development, volunteers are enhancing the effectiveness of the Union of Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Mandalay Chamber. The number of social enterprises - businesses established for social purposes - are growing in Myanmar. Australian volunteers are supporting such organisations through specialised positions, like chef trainers, or developing skills in business management.
Supporting post-conflict and humanitarian efforts
The volunteer assignments along the Thai-Myanmar border aim to improve the health, including psycho-social support/mental health; education and disability inclusion amongst the refugee populations. Within Myanmar, volunteer assignments are supporting government and international organisations in the peace building efforts.