Two Librarians at the Center of Flood Relief Efforts in Myanmar

Myanmar is in the early stages of recovering from devastating floods that have displaced 384,900 households and affected more than 1.6 million people. While the government and relief organizations have organized a strong response to the floods, access to food, health services, and communications is still limited in many remote villages and townships. In the wake of crises, access to information is critical. Time and again, librarians have demonstrated that they have the agency to connect people with one of the most critical assets in the wake of a disaster — information.

Beyond Access champions the concept of a modern library. A modern library leverages technology and trained staff to make information a dynamic asset. The value of a modern library is amplified in the wake of a crisis. Here is the story of how two librarians in Myanmar are providing modern library services to communities affected by the floods. Their stories are representative of how Myanmar’s library community has risen to the challenge.

You’ll seldom find San sitting behind a desk. San Kalyar Khaing is a librarian at the Taikkyi Township Public Library. After participating in Beyond Access training last year, San describes her library as now a ‘user-oriented library’. Located in close proximity to five relief camps that accommodate nearly 1500 people displaced by the massive floods, the Taikkyi library has played a key role in relief efforts. Equipped with tablets, a mobile router with connectivity provided by Ooredoo, journals, and the latest newspapers, San mounted her motorbike and made rounds to reach community members at the nearby relief camps. There, she distributed printed materials and arranged activities with the tablets for children who have been stuck in the camps for weeks with minimal educational diversions.

Back at the library, a young pregnant woman, currently residing in a nearby relief camp, visited the Taikkyi Public Library. San approached the woman, asking if she needed any assistance. She learned that the mother-to-be was not sure of her due date, so the librarian provided a tablet and helped her use Ooredoo’s maymay mobile app that helps calculate when her pregnancy would come to term. She then shared additional resources with the young woman on how best to prepare for the birth of her child and helped her find contact information and directions to the nearest mobile health clinic in the relief camp.

San Kalyar Khaing explains the Ooredoo maymay application. The first app of its kind in Myanmar, maymay is designed to provide maternal health information for women

San Kalyar Khaing explains the Ooredoo maymay application. The first app of its kind in Myanmar, maymay is designed to provide maternal health information for women. Photo Courtesy Myat Sann Nyein

In response to the flooding, representatives from a number of government departments were dispatched to document relief efforts and to report back to their home offices. Many of these representatives turned to the library for support. San provided the government staff with connectivity, and showed them how to use the tablets to load images and submit reports. San’s work demonstrates the critical role of public libraries in facilitating information flow in times of crisis.

San Kalyar Khaing teaching government representative how to upload and share photos of flooded areas

San Kalyar Khaing teaching government representative how to upload and share photos of flooded areas. Photo Courtesy Myat Sann Nyein

Ko Than Tint Aung is librarian at the Pwint Phyu Library. Before the floods, Ko Than shared weather forecast information with the community and continued to offer free access to tablets and the internet before the mobile network was compromised. The library was ultimately destroyed in the flood, but Ko Than continued to provide library services to the surrounding communities, particularly through the use of the library’s mobile devices. Ko Than and colleagues coordinated evacuation efforts, helping displaced persons reach one of the area’s 18 relief camps. Ko Than also identified affected villages and coordinated relief distribution to remote, inaccessible villages in the rural areas of the country. The librarians continue to relay information back to relief and recovery organizations, enabling them to cover a larger area and provide relief services to more people.

The Pwint Phyu Library was damaged during the flood, but this did not stop it's librarian, Ko Than Tint Aung, from coordinating evacuation efforts to get community members to safety.

The Pwint Phyu Library was damaged during the flood, but this did not stop its librarian, Ko Than Tint Aung, from coordinating evacuation efforts to get community members to safety. Photo courtesy Ko Thant Tint Aung

In Myanmar, Beyond Access is working with a network of 55 community and government libraries to support a new model of library service. In partnership with the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation (MBAPF) and Ooredoo Myanmar, the Beyond Access program trains librarians in identifying and adapting to changing community needs. In the wake of this crisis, librarians in Myanmar are front and center in the response effort.