As Myanmar, Cambodia and Bangladesh celebrate New Year this week, I was reminded of my childhood when we celebrated the water festival in the city that was then Rangoon.
Myanmar has 12 festivals, one each month around the full moon day. But Myanmar’s New Year water festival, Thin-gyan, is the most famous, often with street celebrations as well as various religious activities. It usually falls around mid-April and it is celebrated over a period of four to five days ending in the New Year.
There is a great deal of friendliness and goodwill among people during the festival. The sprinkling of water is intended to symbolically “wash away” one’s iniquities. In major cities such as Yangon and Mandalay, garden hoses or locally made water shooters and other devices from which water can be sprayed are used, in addition to simple bowls and cups. Sometimes water balloons and even fire hoses have been used. It is the hottest time of the year and a good dousing is welcomed by most.
During the Water Festival, the Myanmar government relaxes the restrictions on gatherings. However, the lack of water in recent years has restricted the use of large quantities of water in some parts of the country.
Martin was six when his small bamboo home in Myanmar’s southwestern jungle was blown away by a terrifying 145mph tropical storm.
I ask him what he remembers most from that night and the small, talkative boy is quiet for a few seconds, then smiles nervously: “I couldn’t hear other people calling out or crying, I could just hear the screaming voice of the wind.”
In minutes, houses where generations of people had lived were snatched from the ground and splintered across the land. Essentials like food, money and clothes were thrown into the nearby river and for miles across the land. Countless people were killed. In one village down the river, one out of every two were taken by the wind.
“It was dark and the wind was all around,” Martin says of that Friday in 2008. “My dad picked me up from our home and ran and ran. We didn’t know where to go or where to hide, but we went to the school.”
Myanmar – the country formerly known as ‘Burma’ – faces small, localised cyclones every year. But nothing on the scale of Cyclone Nargis. Martin’s family, like many others in the village, ran in that May darkness, but they didn’t know where to or what to do when they arrived at their destination. Rebecca Murphy, CAFOD’s disaster risk reduction expert says: “This is the key moment when the initial effects of a disaster can be managed. So many lives can be saved just by ensuring a community has access to an early warning system, knows where to go and what to do when a cyclone hits.” Continue reading “Building a future after Myanmar’s biggest natural disaster”
Laura works in CAFOD’s communications team in London. She tells us why she has decided to do double the baking this Lent to fundraise for CAFOD
I’ve always loved baking. But I’ve been doing a lot more since I became a mum. That’s why I’ve decided to double my baking this Lent to raise money for CAFOD’s Lent Appeal.
Since I had my son Alfie, who is now two years old, I’m at home in the evenings more anyway and I find baking a great way to relax and unwind after a busy day. Not to mention the treat of a home-baked cake that you get to share with your family at the end. And I like the thought of Alfie having a treat where I know exactly what’s gone into it, with no nasties.
There’s something so calming about baking that I don’t find with other cooking. Maybe it’s the precise measurements and instructions that give me a sense of control in a chaotic world. Or that every time you take a freshly-baked cake out of the oven, you can’t help thinking that a little bit of magic’s happened. The sloppy mess that went into the tin transforms into a spongy, golden, morsel that smells deliciously of warm, sugary sweetness.
“The wind was circulating fast and glass was flying everywhere,” says Flora Badanoy, 39. “The roof was blown off by the gale. It felt like there was an earthquake. We were terrified. Then the hwater started coming in, with a strong current. We opened the front door and more water came gushing in. I thought it was the end of our lives.”
The Guiuan peninsula in the Philippines was the very first place to be hit by Typhoon Haiyan, shortly after midnight on 8 November 2013. Winds of up to 170 mph struck the coast and huge waves swept in from the sea, flooding coastal villages like Flora’s.
“We were not expecting it to be a special typhoon,” says Flora. “The local officials told us we had to evacuate, but they didn’t say it would be so powerful. We were not warned that there would be floods. We’d heard there would be a ‘storm surge’, but we didn’t understand what the phrase meant. It wasn’t a phrase we used in our language.”
Our Fundraising Writer Mark Chamberlain visited Myanmar in 2014 to learn about the effects of storms and extreme weather. Myanmar is the focus for this year’s CAFOD Lent appeal which is being match funded by the UK government.
In June last year, I was lucky enough to spend some time with U Than Win, Martin, Kyin Nu, Zin Thu Thu and U Win Myi the fisherman in Myanmar. While staying in their communities, I kept a diary and made a list of points about surviving the jungle. Here are eleven things I learned:
1. Footwear is essential. No matter how hot it is and how liberating the sensation of the jungle floor on your bare feet is, don’t be tempted to walk around without protection. The jungle is alive with spiders, snakes and the intimidating ‘scorpion king’. Bites can be lethal because both communities were are a long way from a hospital.
2. The ‘scorpion king’ is a giant centipede. It won’t kill if it bites, but it will hurt. A lot. Make sure you move your bed away from a wall if you are near one – this is so it doesn’t creep into bed with you for a snooze.
Young climate bloggers from St James’ Catholic High School tell the story of their CAFOD training weekend ‒ the fun, the challenges and the inspiration.
“Don’t use your hairdryers …” was one of the first pieces of advice we were given on arrival at the Othona Community in Bradwell on Sea “Hairdryers use more electricity than all the ovens, lights, fridges and freezers in our community joined together. If you use a hairdryer it could overload the system.” As the Orthona Community was off the main grid, frizzy hair it was to be. This was the first of many lessons learnt whilst experiencing sustainable living. The hard work and fun was about to begin.
This blog is written by Rachel McCarthy who works in the CAFOD Theology Programme. It is the first of a series inviting you to share your joys and hopes, and to pray for people living in poverty at Lent.
As we journey through Lent, take time to reflect on your joys, hopes, concerns and inspirations by keeping a hope journal. In a spirit of solidarity, we hold in our prayers the joys and hopes of our global family.
By Rachel McCarthy, Theology Programme Communications Coordinator
The season of Lent is fast upon us. It is time to prepare for the traditional acts of giving, praying and fasting, as we journey with Jesus through 40 days and nights.
Lent is a season of reflection and renewal. A time of growing in faith and looking deeper at our lives to be re-centred on God and our neighbour. A time to deepen our prayer life and to grow in faith. A time of giving and sharing with our global family.
And then there is fasting. We might give something up such as chocolate, and we make a special effort on Fridays to abstain from the goods we usually take for granted. A few times I have fasted for 24 hours during Lent. Last year for example, I fasted in solidarity with people in the UK who are living on the breadline and are forced every week to go to food banks to feed their families.
I have to admit, for me, fasting is never easy. Although food poverty is an issue close to my heart, I found it very difficult to stay focused during these 24 hours. I found myself being more tired and irritable with others around me. I was tempted to winge, to draw attention to myself, in the hope that others would feel sorry for me.
But this is precisely the temptation which we must avoid. In the long hours of our fasting, we must wrestle with our demons, and stay focused on God. In a very real sense, fasting is the act of emptying ourselves, so that we can turn away from all that separates us from loving God. It’s a time of trial, when we rekindle patience and hope for the resurrection. Continue reading “Lent: a time for compassion”
Our 25 new CAFOD young climate bloggers are launching One Climate, One World for children and young people today at Brentwood Cathedral. They have been training with CAFOD in media and campaigning at the Othona Community in Essex. They will be blogging on climate and environment issues throughout 2015. Here are their very first blogs:Continue reading “Introducing our new CAFOD young climate bloggers!”
Across the world, disasters disproportionately affect those who are already living in poverty. A changing climate is set to make this situation worse. Cleofas Friego lost her home and her means of making a living because of Typhoon Haiyan (known in the Philippines as Yolanda). She says:
“The typhoons we had before were not that strong compared to what we have now.
“Typhoon Yolanda affected us because it destroyed almost all our coconut trees, which is how we earned our income. It takes about six years for coconut trees to grow back. We used to harvest three times a year. Now we have difficulty finding sources of food for our children.
“CAFOD and Catholic Relief Services helped us to set up a new garden. We will plant vegetables, so we have food to eat. If I ever get to earn a living again, I will rebuild my house, send my children to school and send my disabled child for medical treatment.”
A new start?
Thanks to your donations to our Philippines Typhoon appeal, Cleofas is starting to make a living again. But the Philippines is repeatedly hit by typhoons, which could leave farmers like Cleofas having to start again from scratch.
CAFOD’s campaign, One Climate, One World, asks British political leaders to work with other countries to secure an ambitious international deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and to support the transition from polluting fossil fuels to sustainable energy. Add your name to our climate petition today.