Optimism amid increasing challenges in Myanmar

Mr Marcus Busch, past president, Canadian Lutheran World Relief. Photo: Margaret Sadler
Mr Marcus Busch, past president, Canadian Lutheran World Relief. Photo: Margaret Sadler

Between 1 and 7 February 2019, I had the privilege, along with Margaret Sadler, to visit the LWF country program in Myanmar, where we were hosted by David Mueller, the country representative.

As our host said, the reality of modern-day Myanmar is “complicated.” Pre- and post-colonial history, ethnic diversity (including religious differences), and evolving quasi-democratic institutions overlap to account for the complex picture that is contemporary Myanmar.

Of course, the forced flight of the 700,000 predominantly Muslim Rohingya in 2017 from northern Rakhine State to the no man’s land between Myanmar and Bangladesh is what has recently catapulted Myanmar onto the world stage. However, LWF’s role in the country’s humanitarian sector goes back to 2008 when Cyclone Nargis devastated the southern delta region, and an emergency team from LWF Cambodia went to the capital Yangon to assist in aid efforts. The program has since grown to include support to internally displaced people (IDPs) primarily in the westernmost state of Rakhine. The IDPs consist of citizens of Myanmar (mostly Buddhist) and Rohingyas who are considered as outsiders. At the local level the two communities live side by side in relative harmony, but divisions and antipathy increase between them as one ascends the sociopolitical ladder.

Women’s group meeting in one of the camps for internally displaced people in Myanmar. Photo: Phyo Aung Hein
Women’s group meeting in one of the camps for internally displaced people in Myanmar. Photo: Phyo Aung Hein

While LWF Myanmar continues to offer emergency assistance to IDPs in collaboration with the government and other international non-governmental organizations, it is also involved in development activities given the long-term displacement of thousands of families. The IDPs in Rakhine live in host and settlement villages and in Rohingya camps. While all three levels of settlement may look similar, each one is subject to increasing levels of security control by the government, which increasingly faces challenges from a secessionist movement.

Through funding from Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR), LWF Myanmar provides the host communities and IDPs with training skills and kits for beauty salons and dressmaking, cookery, vegetable and fish farming. I remain very impressed with the LWF staff—local and international—as they work in this extremely stressful environment. From what I could observe, the support offered to date has been conscientiously and actively engaged in improving the lives of IDPs in Rakhine State.

Marcus Busch is a former president of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Lutheran World Relief, a long-standing partner of the LWF.


In 2018, the LWF country program work in Rakhine State supported nearly 95,500 IDPs and vulnerable host communities in mitigating the risks posed by disaster, improving food security and access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, and promoting human rights and education.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of Lutheran World Federation policy.