May 2011 Commentary
Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar, Foundation Trustee Chair

In 1962 all nongovernmental organizations were banned in Myanmar (formerly Burma), and the country has not had any active Rotary clubs ever since.

But, in 2005, a California Rotarian founded the Myanmar Orphanages Safe Water Management Project. Rotary districts 3360, (Northern Thailand) 5230, (Central California) 6580, (Indiana) and 6740 (Kentucky) have each provided support. The project system consists of a compressor and pump placed atop a required proven, existing tube well at any given orphanage site, providing simple access to water for three vital applications: food preparation and drinking, personal bathing and laundry, and sustainable crop irrigation. To date, 18 systems have been completed, and 14 more are in the pipeline – the latter due to five Special Initiative Grants by The Rotary Foundation.

The clean water also provides better health for the children. For instance, skin diseases disappear with the access to clean water. This water system project covers several of Rotary’s emphases – health, hunger, and water and sanitation.

There is today a cautious optimism in Myanmar. Changes will not occur overnight. However, this might be a prudent time for Rotary to explore the possibility of reentering Myanmar. It will take time, but everyone who wants to harvest a crop knows that the seeds will have to be planted well in advance, and now may be an opportunity for Rotary to plant those seeds.

I believe we have the connections, both inside and outside of Myanmar, to start making contacts for the purpose of bringing Rotary back. A Rotary club once again in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) would make a super example of Rotary Building Communities – Bridging Continents through Service Above Self.