‘Humanitarian heroes’ reach out to fellow cyclone victims

16 May 2008

[Source - bostonherald.com]

YANGON, Myanmar - From shopkeepers handing out free rice porridge to medical students caring for the sick, ordinary people in Myanmar are stepping in to help cyclone victims as the military regime severely restricts international aid.

Taxi drivers, factory owners, college students, teachers and other Yangon residents - many of whom lost their own homes - are among those organizing grueling trips into the Irrawaddy delta, the hardest-hit region.

“They are true humanitarian heroes,” said Bridget Gardner, International Red Cross representative in Myanmar, after touring an area where volunteers were giving first aid to the injured.

They are taking up collections at businesses and donating food, clothes and water. Some who are too poor to give money or supplies are offering their labor to help clear debris and rebuild villages leveled by the May 3 cyclone.

“We feel sympathetic to the cyclone victims and want to help them in our own way,” said Daw Mya Win, who runs a small grocery in a northern Yangon suburb where many bamboo shanty houses were destroyed.

The 49-year-old woman cooks rice porridge every day to feed anyone who comes. She also sends pots of the thick viscous mixture of rice, water and seasonings to some of the thousands of homeless who have sought shelter in the country’s Buddhist monasteries.

The U.N. says up to 2 million survivors are still in need of emergency aid. The military junta has restricted most foreign aid workers from entering Myanmar.

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