Just a few years ago, Ywadaw, a Catholic village in central Myanmar with about 220 families, was a disorganized and underdeveloped community. But the village has been transformed due to the villagers' efforts and some help from Karuna Mandalay, the social service agency of Mandalay Archdiocese.
Joseph Rein Moe, 53, told UCA News the transformation took hard work but was worth it. As an example he recalled how the village's only transportation link was a muddy or dusty track, depending on whether it rained.
With the rains came flooding. "I went to the market walking through mud," he said. "It was very difficult for the villagers. I had to carry my bicycle on my shoulder."
The lack of a paved road, however, was not the only problem. Ordinary villagers had little say in running the village of more than 200 houses since only the elders gave orders. People didn't know how to manage money or health emergencies. Children only attended school for a few years at the primary level.
But Karuna Mandalay launched an education and small-scale infrastructure project in June 2004. The project taught villagers about leadership skills, sustainable agriculture and development principles.
Villagers also organized a road-building committee. They collected sand, stones and donations that amounted to 1.9 million kyat (nearly US$1,500) from villagers and began road construction in April 2005. Karuna contributed technical and financial support. The road was completed three months later.
The villagers also learned how to raise animals for meat and improve their agricultural productivity, by harvesting two rice crops a year instead of one as well as vegetables. The new road allows the villagers to take more products to the market.
With the increased earnings, the people improved their living conditions. Families have begun to replace their bamboo houses with two-story wooden houses, of which 25 have been built to date.
In 2008, the village school will become a middle school offering education up to age 13. Village meetings have also become more democratic, allowing for more participation of women as well.
Authorities have designated Ywadaw a "model village." Archbishop Paul Grawng of Mandalay attributes the village's success to villagers' "spirit of unity and teamwork."