40 Young Volunteers Travel to Celebrate Twenty Two Thousand Rural Women
26 Oct 2016
It is 9 o’ clock ona quiet Saturday morning in Yangon and 40 university students are gathered in the garden of the UNDP office, fervently waiting to know to which Myanmar state they are going to travel to the following week. The sun is shining and the UN blue umbrellas are not big enough to offer shade to such a cohort. It has already been one year! These fantastic students have been volunteering to teach rural women how to use mobile technology, to write theatre role plays that make it easier to understand the internet, and to record inspiring audio stories for rural women who cannot read.
One year ago on International Rural Women’s day, October 15th, 2015, the Myanmar first Rural Women’s National Network, May Doe Kabar, was officially launched. Few months later, May Doe Kabar’s very own iWomen - Inspiring Women App, an application co-designed by Myanmar rural women and young tech women, was released. The iWomenApp has now hit the 6,000 active rural women users mark.
One year on 22,000 rural women across eight states in Myanmar are getting ready to celebrate a triumphant first year packed with victories and achievements. 2016 saw May Doe Kabar becoming the leading National Network for rural women in Myanmarand receiving official registration from the Government of Myanmar. The network’s31 member women run civil society organizations have worked extremely hard towards raising the social and economic status of poor women and towards offering concrete skills on how to tackle gender based violence. May Doe Kabar has also negotiated its first trade deal whereby all network members can now buy through an installment plan, first class guaranteed mobile phones at discount prices.
40 iWomen volunteers are getting ready to travel ten thousand miles via air, bus and boat to meet and help May Doe Kabar women to make their 26 events a success and to help rural women to master mobile and internet technology.
It is noon when the 26 locations and the different volunteering teams are announced. Senior volunteers, who have already traveled for iWomenApp before, are teamed up with junior volunteers. There is huge excitement mixed with a little apprehension. Some volunteers will need to travel to areas new to them to meet ethnic women’s groups who do not speak Myanmar language and have never used a smart phone before. They will need to be creative in finding new ways to explain what the internet is and what the benefits of using smart phone technology are to women who live such remote lives.
It is 3 in the afternoon, senior volunteers and iWomen team are rehearsing seven role plays dialogues which will be used to engage with rural women and inspire them to become iWomen App and technology champions in their villages.Some dialogues compare the Internet to a library full of books, where Google is the librarian and the books are the web pages; some dialogues are debunking the myth that Internet is evil and connecting to it might be dangerous for the entire village.
One week on, all the volunteers are back in the UNDP gardens sharing their experiences and their achievements. Volunteers who have travelled to theethnic groups of Shan state have struggled with installing the iWomen App on low quality cloned phones coming from the neighboring China; volunteers who have travelled to the remote mountainous area of Chin and Kachin State have struggled with low level of internet connectivity and local dialects; volunteers who have travelled to the southern regions of Ayeyarwadyand Mon State found that poor rural women are still afraid of connecting to the internet, seen as something evil. Despite the many challenges, all the 40 iWomen volunteers are extremely proud of what they have contributed to accomplish in less than one week: 26 iWomen App and technology sessions across 8 States and Regions, 1500 IT literacy booklets distributed,800 new iWomen users, 2,000 rural women now mastering mobile and Internet technology and inspired to become iWomen App and technology champions in their villages.