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Mothers’ Union Myanmar – care for the elderly

18 Sep

Saturday 13 September

I am lucky to find myself back in Myanmar for a short time, and today to my complete surprise, we found time in our schedule to go and visit one of MU’s most successful projects here in Myanmar – a care home for the elderly. The home is located about an hour outside of Yangon, in very rural countryside. As an indication of how fragile things remain in Myanmar, I was required to seek permission and register with the government, as a foreigner, before visiting the area.

Mothers’ Union Myanmar set up this home back in 2005, with members pledging 10 bricks each to the building of the site. Since then, the home has grown and developed to its current size. It is a modest facility;  it only has capacity for 20 women and the women share dormitories together with very basic facilities. What I saw today really moved me because as with so many things here in Myanmar, challenging situations are met gracefully, with a quiet but steely-eyed resolve to serve the community.

The home accepts women of all faiths and none – currently they have 8 Christian residents and 8 Buddhist residents. This is again indicative of the way that MU in Myanmar operates – while very much being an organisation of the Church, they are aware that they operate in a context where the majority religion is Buddhism and the MU recognise that the needs of families are similar regardless of faith and ideology. The way that MU is able to positively interact with, and engage, the Buddhist community here in Myanmar can teach us so much about what we are called to do, and who we are called to serve, in our Christian faith.

The ladies sleep in two shared dormitories (separated by ability/mobility), and they are looked after by 3 full time carers who cook all their meals and provide round the clock care. The carers have recently finished nurse training, while a local Doctor visits once a month to ensure these women receive due medical attention.

Impressively, the home is entirely self-sufficient; MU Myanmar receives no external funding to support the running costs (which are around 800 US dollars per month when the home operates at full capacity) which means that all 8,000+ members throughout the Province are relied on to support the home. This is no easy task, and encouraging contributions and donations can seem like an uphill battle at times, as many of us I’m sure, will understand! While these costs may not seem like a huge amount in a Western context ($3,400 fundraised in 2013 amid great need for funds elsewhere in the Province) it is so affirming to see such a commitment to provide quality care for the elderly, amidst many other great challenges that the MU here are trying to respond to. So often, care for the vulnerable and elderly can be seen as a low priority, and Myanmar is no exception to this. The women cared for in this home have so many stories, with such a rich history of living through more than 8 (or even 9) decades of tumultuous change in Myanmar, but for different reasons they find themselves alone in later life, dependent on the love and provision from the MU through this care home.

As someone whose elderly grandmother has struggled with different (and largely impersonal and clinical) care options in the UK while being treated for dementia, and amidst an ongoing discussion in the UK more generally about care provision for the elderly, I couldn’t help but pause and reflect… What could we learn from MU in Myanmar about the way we care for the elderly and vulnerable in our communities?

We hear often of the amazing work being done by our grassroots members all around the world, but only recently have we been able to more widely publicise the work being done in Myanmar  (and even now, I am careful to wait until I am out of the country before I post this blog). Please continue to keep the members of MU in Myanmar in your prayers and give thanks to God for their unwavering commitment to build on the work started by Mary Sumner all those years ago.Home for Aged 3 Home for Aged 2 Home for Aged 1


Successful second workshop in Guyana for ‘Awaken’ programme

13 May

In a hot and clammy room last week, 15 facilitators from across the Diocese of Guyana (made up of clergy, MU members and youth leaders) came together to spend a week learning about the next stage of the ‘Awaken’ process (otherwise known as Church and Community Mobilisation Process).

The journey began in 2011 when the Mothers Union first prioritised CCMP as the way forward for the Diocese, and in 2013 the first workshop was held. This recent workshop is the second of four workshops to be held to build the skills and confidence of facilitators, empowering them to go out into their church, then their community, to engage with locally identified needs and challenges, having first focused on what the bible can teach us about issues of poverty and social challenges. Already many of the facilitators have completed a series of interactive and thought-provoking bible studies in their own church communities and much of the feedback has been positive; “we didn’t know the bible could be so accessible and relevant like this” and “we are so hungry to study the bible more in this way” were just some of the comments facilitators received. So often the bible is presented to poor communities as something that is ‘black and white’, and something that only the privileged can access and debate. But through CCMP, church communities are encouraged to think deeper about bible scripture, and explore what it might say about how they should interact with their fellow communities. CCMP is ultimately about switching mindsets from dependency and fatalism (someone else will help me, I can do nothing to help my own situation) to one of hope and empowerment (as a community we have these resources and we can work together to solve our own problems, we don’t need to depend on anyone but God) and this transformation is already starting to begin in grassroots communities across Guyana.

As we’ve previously discussed on this blog, the journey is a long one, and quick wins won’t happen. But the change we see will be lasting, and deep, and Mothers’ Union will be responsible for helping to facilitate that! With several more workshops to go, the facilitators in Guyana need your prayer and encouragement  – even more so given that they are the only Mothers’ Union group to be doing Awaken (CCMP) outside of Africa, and they will hopefully become a strong case study for other countries in the region to be able to adopt CCMP.


Here the facilitators are preparing their role plays for the bible studies; this is Jesus walks on water.



Some of the workshop was spent reviewing creative skills such as drawing – so much of Awaken is based on being able to creatively help people to visualise the bible as well as their challenges and ideas, so it’s key that the facilitators feel confident in their ability to deliver things creatively!



Here, (from L-R) Thelma, Patricia, Father Alfred, Corville and Albertha are demonstrating the different ‘lenses’ people view life through, as part of a discussion in understanding how people approach life and why that might be.



And in this last photo, you can see some of the facilitators who are joined at the table by some community members. We spent one day of the workshop visiting a church community of one of the facilitators, near New Amsterdam. Here the facilitators were encouraged to practice their newly learned skills for getting to know a community; in this picture the facilitators are drawing a seasonal calender getting the community members to fill in as much as possible. Along with resource mapping, and a history timeline, these three skills were taught to facilitators to enable them to go out into their communities and map out all of this information as the next stage in the process. When this is done, the needs and challenges will emerge, as identified by the communities, and the next stage of the process can begin – finding solutions to those problems and dreaming dreams as a church and community. 

Hopefully this gives you a bit more insight into what goes on in the CCMP process; it can often sound more complicated than what it really is all about – connecting churches and communities back together again; mobilising them to act together to solve their challenges. And MU is at the heart of this!



Highlights of Myanmar Mothers’ Union’s Centenary Celebrations

17 Feb

World Wide President, Lynne Tembey, and myself, were very privileged to be able to attend the centenary celebrations held in Yangon, two weeks ago. To maintain sensitivity to our presence in the country, I have waited until now to put these pictures up whereas normally we like to blog as we experience things in order to give you the most up-to-date and fresh news!

The celebration was marked with three days of activities planned, and 1,700 members from all 6 dioceses came to attend. The centenary celebrations were fully integrated into the Church with Archbishop Stephen Than very involved in all aspects of the occasion. It was actually held on the grass lawn inside Bishops Courts, and many helpers from the Youth Association, Clergy and Men’s Association were involved in the preparations and set up. 

Here are a few of the best pictures we managed to capture while sharing in these celebrations. I hope you enjoy them, and that they help to share the incredible drive, passion and love found among the MU members in Myanmar. From them, we have much to learn; their fellowship is a real inspiration.Image

1,700 members worship during an evensong service.


Archbishop Stephan, Provincial President Nan and World Wide President Lynne officiate over the opening ceremony.


The Men’s Association and Holy Cross Theological School are represented, with a shop selling food and drink to participants.


Feeding the 5,000 (or 1,700!) one of many pans of rice being cooked during the celebrations…


Communicating to such a large number of people presents some challenges (and volume!!)


WWP Lynne presents the Provincial President, Nan, and Archbishop Stephen with a gift.


Facilitating group discussion on future plans for MU


The young face of Mothers’ Union in Myanmar; this is Elizabeth – who was recently appointed as the second Provincial CDC. 


As we attended Eucharist on the Sunday, there was the opportunity for many members to attend a service in the Cathedral for the very first time.


A joke shared, and some of the laughter that filled the celebrations…




Mothers’ Union in Myanmar celebrates Centenary event

11 Feb

Over 1,700 members from all 6 Dioceses within the Province of Myanmar came to Bishopscourt in Yangon, to attend a 3 day celebration of Mothers’ Union in Myanmar last week.

Highlights from the Parenting Programme’s recent International Training

3 Dec

What have we been doing in Guyana the last 2 weeks, I hear you say? Well, we were there to train existing parenting group facilitators to become coordinators (first week) and train existing facilitators and coordinators to become trainers of facilitators. Perhaps that’s not too clear! The WPP has grown so much in various countries around the world. In 9 countries in particular, it became apparent that facilitators alone were not able to keep up with the growing demand of the parenting programme as it expanded and the time was right to train some people to help steer and manage the programme. Several years ago, the Central Mothers’ Union started to plan this international training. It would bring people from each of these countries and build the skills and capacity of key individuals who would then go back to coordinate the programme and see out the growth/expansion of parenting groups to communities with both new and existing facilitators. It was decided to do this internationally, and away from the UK as mentioned in my last post.

So once all 18 participants had arrived (all with their luggage – in the end!) the training began with lots of icebreakers and energisers to help form a strong group bond. We spent the first day looking at the basics; what is the WPP? Who is it for? How does it work? We then moved on to look at the role of a facilitator, how to coordinate and encourage facilitators (and the different roles of coordination) before moving on to look at how to train new facilitators in the second week. This represents a significant step up in what we expect from trainers  – they have to live and breathe being a good facilitator in order to set a good example to the new people they will train up. We had many distinguished ladies in attendance – from Provincial and Diocesan Presidents, to wives of Archbishops, provincial coordinators and seasoned parenting facilitator ‘veterans’ – what was so positive though, was that for the duration of the training it didn’t matter what ‘hat’ any of us wore in normal everyday life; we were all united in our purpose there in Guyana, working side-by-side as equals to learn more skills through which to better serve our communities. What a blessing!

By the end of the second week, having spent 7 long days inside the conference room, and a day travelling all the way down to New Amsterdam to visit a successful Guyanese parenting group (as well as attend an official graduation ceremony) everybody was understandably… exhausted. But the energy and enthusiasm that remained was amazing and everyone had well-formed action plans of how to drive the programme forward in their country. 2014 looks set to be a very exciting (and busy) year for us all as we strive to reach more parents, and take the parenting programme to new heights around the world. 

Here are some of my favourite pictures from the training:


The group poses for a photograph with their certificates after graduation. From Left to Right, top row: Thelma Foote; coordinator for Jamaica, Salome Leipa; Regional Trainer for Africa, Flavia Vergara; trainer for Argentina, Mercedes Tarragona; trainer for Argentina, Esther Gooden; coordinator for Jamaica, Evelyn Smithen; coordinator for North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba, Merle Bailey; coordinator for the Windward Islands, Phyllis Raghunanan; coordinator for Trinidad and Tobago, Elizabeth Sealy; coordinator for Trinidad and Tobago, Celia Dodds; trainer for Canada, June Morgan; Diocesan President for Mothers’ Union in Guyana. Seated: Simone Paul; trainer for Guyana, Rt Rev Cornell Moss, Diocesan Bishop of Guyana, Lena Edmonsen; trainer for Guyana and  Kathleen Snow; trainer for Canada. Missing from the graduation were Mary Vunagi and Edith Koete; coordinators for Melanesia and Rhoda Wabukala and Sophia Mwaniki, coordinators for Kenya – unfortunately their flights had had to be scheduled before the graduation took place. 


Meet Shermiza; recently trained as a facilitator in Guyana under a partnership with the UNFPA and Mothers’ Union. She teaches Islamic studies and is just about to graduate her first parenting group within a muslim community. Shermiza is a great example of what a parenting group facilitator should and can be, and she was received very well by our international trainees. As the MU Chaplain from Trinidad – Rev. Nolly Clarke – recently preached, ‘the ministry of the Mothers’ Union is not just here within the Church, it is out there, out in our communities’.


Keeping energy levels up with songs and exercises…



celebrating Universal Day of the Child at St Sidwell’s Anglican church in Georgetown, Guyana


Fun energisers with our sisters from Melanesia


Enjoying a final night together as one big group…



International Training Event for the Worldwide Parenting Programme

20 Nov

in 2012 we started to plan for an international training of trainers to expand the worldwide parenting programme and build the capacity of the senior facilitators/coordinators in different countries around the world. This was in recognition that as the programme is now in over 20 countries, there is a real need to train more facilitators in more communities, as well as strengthen the local ownership and management of the programme.

So here we are in Guyana, the home of our Worldwide Parenting Trainer Sheran Harper, where Central Mothers’ Union is hosting an international training for the WPP. We have 19 people from all corners of the globe joining together to attend this training.

It has been a long journey to reach this moment, and a lot of prayer was needed as we encountered many hurdles with flights, visas not coming in time, and of course the potential of luggage (and people) not reaching their final destination… But thanks to prayer and hard work, everyone arrived safely by Sunday night and we are now into day 3 of the training. 

We look forward to sharing more news with you all as the days go on, but for now here is a picture of the group together that shows the participants from; Jamaica, Canada, Argentina, Kenya, Solomon Islands, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, NECA and Windward Islands. It is a wonderfully diverse group of so many different nationalities as well as a diverse range of experiences within the parenting programme; from Guyana where parenting groups have been running for 10 years to the Solomon Islands where they are just completing their first successful parenting groups. 


This training symbolises the way that we as an organisation have improved how we work; this is the first international training for the parenting programme since 2009, and the first to be held outside of the UK. This really emphasises our commitment to South-South learning, recognising the great skills and wisdom found within Mothers’ Union volunteers and leaders around the world.

Please continue to pray as we gather for this exciting training, and plan ahead for an exciting future for the parenting programme worldwide…


Mothers’ Union in Myanmar

30 Aug

Last week, I returned from a two week journey to the Far East that saw an amazing time of fellowship and working together with the Mothers’ Union in Myanmar, and then with the Mothers’ Union in Korea. In both places, Mothers’ Union are doing inspiring work, under some often challenging circumstances. Quietly getting on with their ministry, working incredibly hard and showing the ultimate dedication to their work; some of the  CDCs in Myanmar have been working for over 30 years and show no sign of stopping or slowing down any time soon. They are an inspiring and formidable group of highly organised and switched on thinkers who know exactly what they want to do and how to achieve that.

The structure of Mothers’ Union in Myanmar in particular is unique as they have kept the system of working through their Community Development Coordinators. In 6 dioceses, each has 2 CDCs, with one being field based and the other more office based. There are 2 Provincial level CDCs as well, that work with the Provincial Mothers’ Union staff as well as the Provincial staff in the Church of the Province of Myanmar. Mothers’ Union is one of four key pillars working withing the Church of the Province of Myanmar.

Each of the CDCs are individually very inspiring women, who are humbling to meet. They have an enormous capacity for a vast array of different skills; from encouraging better parenting skills, to training people in the Mothers’ Union Myanmar Micro-Credit programme and in some dioceses – even becoming part-mountaineer… In Mandalay and Myitkyina Dioceses they often have to walk through dense forest and mountains by foot for days to reach the villages where they work and at the most extreme this is a 40 day trek.

The one thing that really struck me though, was how isolated they feel sometimes. This seemed strange given their incredible passion for their work, and their energy to get things done. In spite of that, because of the conditions in which they operate they can feel cut off from the global Mothers’ Union family, and isolated in their work from the other Dioceses. Therefore it is more important than ever before that we stand with them, praying for them and their work and show them the love and encouragement that global Mothers’ Union family is so good at giving.

Mothers' Union Community Development Coordinators in Myanmar

In Myanmar we visited Toungoo and Mandalay dioceses, seeing all the work that happens there as well as spending wonderful time with all the CDCs together in Yangon. This is just the beginning of a new and stronger relationship between Mary Sumner House and Mothers’ Union in Myanmar, and the road ahead is an exciting and positive one that will see us learning a lot as we strengthen the global family of Mothers’ Union.