Author: Myoset Nyeinchan, October 20 2016 - Why we chose “"real people" instead of actors to feature in our Public Service Announcements (PSAs), TV adverts sharing simple solutions to prepare for cyclones, flooding and drought.

When her husband ran away with another woman, 35 year old Thin Thin Aye was left alone in her small palm-leaf house with eight children to feed.

Standing in a dark room flanked by rickety floorboards and broken walls, she tells us what she fears most is the unpredictable weather in the delta region of Myanmar.

“What I’m worried about is not only wind and rain. We live near by the sea and we don’t have protection when the water level rises,” she said.

As a daily worker earning $3 to $4 a day, she can’t afford to strengthen her delicate bamboo house or to stockpile food in advance of Myanmar’s cyclone season from May to September, where violent storms rip across the country.

Her limited resources haven’t stopped her from preparing for disaster though. In the flickering candlelight, next to a small statue of Buddha, visitors may spot a plastic bag with some documents inside. The bag, containing her family’s identification papers, is tucked away discreetly by the altar, a safe, memorable place. In times of disaster, she can grab the precious package and take it along with her family to the village’s emergency muster-point by the local school.

Simple, do-able solutions

We visited Thin Thin Aye’s village, in Myanmar’s cyclone-prone Irrawaddy Division to collect real-life stories for a new series of radio and TV public service announcements (PSAs) on preparing for extreme weather and climate related issues. After exploring different TV formats – including drama and factual reconstruction – our research revealed that people preferred to hear solutions about preparing for extreme weather from people like them, rather than actors.

As a result, Thin Thin Aye’s simple ‘plastic bag’ solution is featured along with a number of real-life stories including a 64 year old woman who converts a clay pot into a portable fire-pit in case of flood; a mother and child who use a school building for shelter as it is one of the few brick buildings in their area able to withstand cyclone-force winds; and a mother who keeps an emergency bag full of the things her 14 year old disabled son might need in preparation for seasonal floods.

The PSAs are being broadcast nationally, but we’re seeing the impact at community level too. We recently travelled back to visit Thin Thin to find that her filing system had expanded since our initial filming. She’s now the trusted keeper for the land, registration and birth documents for most of her village!

If she can do it…

Through the use of mass media, we’re making sure that ‘do-able’ solutions from people like Thin Thin Aye, are been shared with as many others as possible. We hope that when people hear and watch her story, they’ll think ‘if she can do it, then so can I.’

BBC Media Action’s PSAs are part of ongoing efforts to strengthen the resilience of people in Myanmar to extreme weather since 2008s devastating Cyclone Nargis.


Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Myanmar.

Image credit: BBC Media Action

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