The Big Issue : Edition 448
34 THE BIG ISSUE 26 DEC 2013 – 9 JAN 2014 “THEY CALL ME Nargis. My wife, daughter, gone...” In Burma (also known as Myanmar), memories of Cyclone Nargis linger, like its scars, though people are finding ways to restore balance to their lives and get back on their feet. Five-and-a-half years after the unprecedented destruction wrought by Nargis, Po Htwe finds himself with two families: a new life with his second wife and baby daughter, and the extended clan of Helping Hands, a backyard furniture and textile co-op in Yangon, Burma. “When I first came here I saw smiles that didn’t reflect what was really going on,” says Annie Bell, an Australian expat who helped found Helping Hands three years ago. “People overwhelmed by trying to survive; getting to the third week of the month and not having enough to eat... Po Htwe has just come so far. Before, he wouldn’t really speak; he couldn’t look anyone in the eye.” Steadily rebuilding his life, the gently spoken carpenter with a cyclone for a nickname now faces another challenge: his baby has tuberculosis. This time, however, he isn’t on his own. Because chronic illness and poor education are national issues, Helping Hands placed a support fund at the core of its income-sharing arrangements. Workers are assisted with clinic visits, and children get their school fees paid. Wages are almost three times the local average of A$20 per week, and the five original stakeholders have each been able to buy land. “It’s only because things are pooled that it can be shared,” notes Bell – who has a partner, Italian designer Valeria Turrisi, to mentor the grassroots initiative. Helping Hands supports a couple of rural villages on the other side of Yangon River with rice and school fees, and has also been able to assist setting up some small local businesses. PHOTOGRAPHSBYTIMWEBSTER IN THE WAKE OF A DEVASTATING CYCLONE, SOME DISPLACED BURMESE PEOPLE ARE FINDING A FOOTHOLD IN THE CRAFT AND FURNITURE INDUSTRY.