Human

The land of white elephants

 By Roberto Iadicicco

In Myanmar the land of the white elephants, precious stones, rice, and, above all, sesame and the peanuts, Eni Foundation visited some remote villages of the hinterland. Eni Foundation will focus on developing a project involving the government, local communities, the university, with a single aim: to provide safe water… 

“If you meet someone without a smile give them one of yours”. No proverb is more representative of the people you meet in Myanmar. You notice it first at Yangon airport when, loaded up with luggage, they give up their seat to you in the visas area. And even more when you’re amongst them, from the streets of the city to remote hinterland villages. And  it is precisely from these villages that the exploratory mission of the Eni Foundation begins, in a land of white elephants, precious stones, rice, and, above all, sesame and the peanuts, from which people in remote rural areas, draw sustenance, trade, make their children study – when they can – until graduation of which the display the photos in academic uniform in dark huts, without electricity, or, for some, with the little that is produced by a solar panel.

Myanmar, the land of smile

At the first village we are welcomed as guests of honour, with what little they have made available to us: tea, sesame and peanuts. After years of isolation, they welcome us with great curiosity and always respond to a smile with an even bigger smile. The village chief receives in his wooden house with a thatched roof. He is a sort of mayor, and authority for the men, women and children who, with dignity, work in the fields, repair the roads from landslides and mud, lead animals to pasture animals in search of water that has collected in springs and shallow wells from the recently ended rainy season.

And yes, this is the biggest problem, even if they avoid giving it too much weight: water is either scarce or it is dirty. The monsoon season doesn’t only irrigate fields and fill tanks, but can destroy what men have worked hard to build as it pitilessly alternates with the dry season. After the last harvest, supplies are stored for the four months in which everything stops and they have to live on what they have: including whatever water they are able to find and distribute.

Water is the biggest problem: is either scarce or it is dirty

Meanwhile, the children grow up and go to school. The village provides education up to the age of 10, then they have to go to town, by whatever means possible: a cart pulled by oxen, the only thing, apart from our off-road vehicle, able to travel on the muddy and inaccessible trails; or an old moped that can even carry three passengers, back and forth to the bus stop, on the far off road, where they also go to sell the produce of the land, to buy some essentials, go to the hospital to give birth, when the situation worsens and it is not possible to stay in the village.

This is a real problem for people: the villages are so isolated, difficult to reach, kilometres and kilometres from the nearest city, the only one with a hospital. We are in Magway, a region in central Myanmar, the second largest of the seven into which the country is divided, and an area of ​​some 45,000 square kilometres. The capital is Magwe, on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. It is around the city that interest of the Eni Foundation has developed for the people who live off the land, far from civilisation as we understand it, but where, sporadically, close to a Buddhist monastery, in the temple, you can find an internet connection, a smartphone, a tablet, to get in touch with the world. Here, without doubt, the web has overtaken television, replacing it directly: the net requires less electricity, which they don’t have or which comes only from the sun.

The village provides education up to the age of 10, then they have to go to town...

In the villages we visited our initial impressions were confirmed: the hospitality, kindness, availability, peace and, above all, the smiles, almost gushing in place of water, which for everyone remains the essential element that is missing. There is just too little, and it runs out as the season changes, leaving a memory that will remain until the next rainy season. Everything depends on water; crops, the survival of the livestock that produces milk for mothers and children, the oxen that pull the carts, overcoming the insidiousness of mud roads to bring essentials for families, in exchange for peanuts and sesame .

So it on water that the Eni Foundation will focus, developing a project involving the government, local communities, the university, with a single aim: to provide safe water. But also the availability of this precious resource for crops, with the improvement of techniques in order to increase the variety of products and thus vary the diet, by making it more complete. All this in an effort to improve health, particularly that of women and children. In line with the spirit of the Eni Foundation and the many projects that, for over ten years, it has been developing around the world; in all the places where we have gone, all the people we have met, and have helped. We will do the same in Myanmar, a wonderful land of smiles and white elephants. Greetings, as the locals say … Mingalarbar.

SEE MORE: “Life is changing…” by Eniday Staff

about the author
Roberto Iadicicco