Cablegate: Field Observations of Unicef Burma
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS E F T O SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000158
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/03/2014
TAGS: EAID PGOV PREL BM UNICEF NGO
SUBJECT: FIELD OBSERVATIONS OF UNICEF BURMA
Classified By: COM CARMEN M. MARTINEZ FOR REASON 1.5(D).
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Thirty-five percent of Burma's children
are malnourished, while one out of ten dies by age five,
according to UNICEF. Emboff traveled with a UNICEF team to
Karen and Mon States recently to observe UNICEF's field
operations. Embassy Rangoon is highly supportive of UNICEF's
activities in Burma and hopes U.S. funding for these programs
remains strong. End Summary.
2. (SBU) ON THE ROAD WITH UNICEF:
UNICEF works in 62 of Burma's 324 townships (counties)
running projects targeting rural health, basic education, and
water resources to help the country's vulnerable children.
Emboff joined seven other diplomats, UNICEF's new Country
Director, and local authorities in a visit to project sites
in Mon State January 19 - 21. Mon State, in southeastern
Burma, is home to the Mon ethnic minority, which speaks a
language in the Khmer family. Mon State is relatively
peaceful today, apart from some residual banditry/insurgency
in its southern district. We traversed parts of Karen State
and noted that farms, villages, and towns there were visibly
poorer and run down, probably a result of a half-century of
3. (U) USE THE LATRINE, WASH YOUR HANDS
One of UNICEF's major activities is helping community schools
teach and practice "The Four Cleans." We visited several
schools that had UNICEF-assisted potable water projects,
sanitary latrines, and programs to teach students healthful
habits regarding toilets, drinking water, clean hands, and
safe food. With diarrhea the second-leading killer of
children after malaria, instilling even these health
fundamentals can save lives.
4. (U) DIPLOMATS AGAINST BRAIN DAMAGE
UNICEF has a very successful program to iodize Burma's salt
supply. The group visited a salt evaporation company and
inspected the iodine-adding process. Thanks to UNICEF's
efforts, the majority of Burma's salt is iodized and the rate
of goiter and related problems, including potential brain
damage, is much reduced. The company had white baseball caps
printed for our visit with the admonition "Prevent Brain
Damage" emblazoned across the front. NOTE: This gaggle of
diplomats probably caused some confusion and amusement among
locals as we later visited many villages, all wearing our
caps bearing this slogan.
5. (U) "I visited a prostitute and now have AIDS"
UNICEF provides teachers in rural schools with training in
special life skills dealing with sensitive issues like
reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. We witnessed a
role-playing class in a middle school in which students were
tasked with acting out difficult situations. One seventh
grader got up in front of his classmates and the foreign
visitors and said, "I went to the city last weekend. While
there I visited a prostitute. Now I have AIDS." The
role-player hung his head in sadness, his classmates loudly
applauded his presentation, he beamed, and sat down.
6. (SBU) A MON PTA
We met with the Parent Teacher Association at Wargaru Primary
School. None of the parents spoke a word of Burmese, let
alone English. We had a spirited, thrice-translated
discussion about their aspirations for the community, their
families, and the school. It was at this location our
Burmese military escort got out of their trucks and deployed
in defensive positions in the woods around the school. None
of the children spoke any Burmese when they started
kindergarten. None of the government-supplied teachers spoke
Mon and there was no printed material in Mon in the school.
We later visited the neighboring high school and saw a
language lab and computer room donated by an expatriate Mon
living in the United States. The high school's students,
despite starting school without speaking Burmese, scored much
higher than average on the national high school exam.
7. (SBU/NF) VOLUNTEER "MICROSCOPIST" WANTS OUT
UNICEF provides supplies and equipment (a traditional
doctor's "black bag," etc.) to volunteer midwives and
volunteer health assistants in rural clinics who support the
salaried nurses and rare doctors. Nurses recently had their
salaries doubled to about $10 per month; the volunteers work
for tips. We met one volunteer who was trained to work with
a modern microscope to identify malaria in blood samples.
She proudly showed off her microscope and rudimentary lab to
the UNICEF group and accompanying GOB health officials.
After the group moved on, two diplomats remained behind to
examine the lab. At that point the young microscopist
grabbed both diplomats by the arm and pleaded in English, "I
want to go to another country."
8. (SBU/NF) COMMENT: Unlike UNDP, UNICEF Burma is not
prohibited from working with elements of the Government of
Burma. Indeed, targeting the health, education, and public
water sectors almost by definition must involve at least
local authorities. UNICEF has been very effective in most of
its programs, but had a reputation of being somewhat
administratively lax. This may have been due to its
partnership with elements of the GOB (for some of which
"administratively lax" would be a big improvement) or to past
UNICEF management practices. With a new, experienced Country
Director on board, along with a new UN Resident Coordinator,
we expect UNICEF to continue or expand its ongoing good
works, while doing so in a shipshape manner. END COMMENT.