Empowering Women in Myanmar

Pictured:  Newly elected village group chairperson Ma Aye Me Soe (3rd from left), with villagers and the CUFA/AFAP team, from right: Melanie Hardman (Program Manager), Volod Vasylenkov (Corporate Liaison Manager), Justin Alick (AFAP Action on Poverty), Kyaw Zin Myo (Myanmar Country Program Manager) and CUFA Deputy CEO Rebecca MacFarling.

March 2016, Myanmar: CUFA this month officially welcomed Justin Alick from our key donor AFAP Action on Poverty to Myanmar with a visit to three emerging women’s self-help savings and loans groups in the villages of Tha Yet Chaung, Suk Su and Ywar Tan Shae Sout Wine Gyi, in remote Taik Kyi township.

While very different in terms of leadership, stages of development, geography and demographics, the villages shared two common links: zero access to banking or micro-finance, and a steely female presence determined to make things better.

As well as developing grassroots community savings banks, the aim of CUFA project funded by AFAP is to ensure that women have equal access to life-changing financial services.

CUFA Deputy CEO Rebecca MacFarling explained: “Women make up large proportions of the membership base of self-help groups, largely because their husbands work away from the villages or in the fields.

“The women involved in these groups are strong and determined to make a difference to their communities,” she added. “Mostly they want education and opportunities for their children, to expand the small businesses and farms they already run, or to invest in bigger community solutions, like health centres.”

Ma Aye Me Soe (pictured above, 3rd from left) is one such example. When the CUFA project came to Ma Aye Me Soe’s remote village of Sout Wine Gyi, it didn’t take her long to work out that there was only one way to help raise living standards in her community: become a leader.

She started attending all the training sessions and then nominated herself to be a committee member. Before long she was voted in as chair of their Self Help Group by the other villagers, no mean feat in a country where major decisions are often deferred to the elders.

“I want to see this Self Help group be a success and sustainable: we are aiming to open a health centre in the village,” said Ma Aye Me Soe. In her new role, she makes a point of sharing CUFA’s training and information with other participants who can’t attend the meetings.

“At the very first meeting, I didn’t understand how the Self Help Group could alleviate the villagers’ poverty,” admitted Ma Aye Me Soe. “But attending training regularly made me understand and get confident,” she added.

“Even though I am young, I will cooperate with elder people and respect their voices. I will try my best for my people,” said Ma Aye Me Soe.

We look forward to working further with our friends at AFAP, and thank them for their support and enthusiasm.


Myanmar is not only the largest country in Southeast Asia, but also one of the poorest: more than 30 per cent of its population live below the poverty line, with average national income a staggeringly low US$220. Discover more about CUFA’s work in Myanmar here.


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