“I could save lives in the community”

Maria Santto
Image: Maria Santto

Dedicated school children help peers prepare for disasters in Myanmar.

The large courtyard is hot and dusty. More than 500 girls and boys in school uniforms sit in a dozen of classes listening to their teachers.
In a separate building, an excited group of pupils with red caps and Red Cross logos are getting ready. It’s time for an evacuation drill. 
These 30 pupils and five teachers form the disaster management committee at one of the public schools in the Township of Hlaing Thar Yar on the outskirts of Yangon.
They have been trained by the Myanmar Red Cross in disaster risk reduction, first aid and good hygiene. Now they proudly share what they’ve learnt with their classmates to make sure that others can protect themselves from disasters that may occur.
 — I don’t want people to lose their lives. I don’t want to die, and I don’t think no one wants to die, 11-year-old Su Pore Chit explains when asked why she volunteers. 
— We believe that students can bring their knowledge to the adults at home. If I share the knowledge to the students, I could save lives in the whole community and even the whole world. That’s my reason.
Myanmar’s capital Yangon is susceptible to earthquakes and cyclones. Its poor and densely populated industrial Hlaing Thar Yar Township also faces fires, flooding and rapidly spreading diseases.
Therefore, Myanmar Red Cross staff and volunteers support the population in reducing the risks of disaster and being better prepared for emergencies with various activities in the community. In the schools, this includes evacuation drills and sharing information on how to act if a disaster strikes.
At the school, Su Pore Chit and her dedicated peers make sure that they visit the classes they haven’t yet trained in facing disasters before the actual earthquake evacuation drill starts.
By including poems, songs and practical examples they ensure an engaging and memorable sessions that the students listen attentively to. Then it is time for the action.
— We went to the allocated classrooms to do the earthquake drill. When the teacher blew the whistle for three times, we had to protect ourselves by going into the position of “drop, cover, hold,” explains 12-year-old Si Thu Tun, a boy obsessed with football.
His team mate Su Pore Chit adds:
— Then the teacher blew a short and a long whistle. We sat up and held the shoulder of a friend in front of us. This is a sign to say that I will save my own life as well as my friend’s. Later, the teacher blew a long whistle. After that, we lead the children out to the safe area in the field.
Team members are trained in first aid and can help their peers should a real disaster occur. 
— Doing the drill is very important. We cannot predict exactly when the ground will shake. Attending the drills can give me the knowledge to protect myself when it happens, says Su Pore Chit, who hopes to become a doctor when she grows up “to make her parents proud.” 
Si Thu Tun’s parents are also proud of his commitment to saving other people’s lives, but he has a clear goal for the future: to become a professional football player just like his idol Ronaldo.
These school activities are a part of Myanmar Red Cross’s comprehensive efforts to reduce disaster risks and build resilience in this urban area.
Other activities include waste management efforts, community preparedness and awareness-raising, disaster mitigation and wider national dissemination of lessons learned.
These efforts are supported by the Danish and Finnish Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and funded by the European Union. 
Text by Caroline Haga, Finnish Red Cross
Photos by Maria Santto, Finnish Red Cross