MS. MYAT MOE THWE
Ms. Myat Moe Thwe’s journey in the disaster management field is one of turning personal experience into passion and desire for advancement. As Director for Coordination and Research Division in Myanmar’s Department of Disaster Management, Ms. Moe is responsible for international cooperation and coordination on disaster preparedness, relief, response and recovery for the nation. Her busy schedule sees her coordinating between local and international disaster management organisations on the development and implementation of policy and guidelines, undertaking disaster risk management research, and also being Myanmar’s go-to person for the nation’s ever-expanding engagement in the regional One ASEAN One Response movement.
It was, however, a more personal reason that ignited Ms. Moe’s passion for all things disaster related. Experiencing the full brunt of Cyclone Nargis when it stormed through Myanmar in 2008 not only affected Ms. Moe directly, but also voluntarily participated in the emergency relief and response operations and family reintegration programmes that took place in the days, weeks and months following the significant disaster. “The needs were so immense and broad at the time” Ms. Moe recalls, “but resources were very limited. There were very few organisations who could support early disaster relief, and even many of the responders ourselves were also victims of the disaster”. While providing whatever form of physical and emotional support she could, the engagement of numerous international disaster management organisations in the time following the disaster saw Ms. Moe involved in training and capacity building ‘on-the-ground’, that allowed her to learn more about what she had just been involved in, and learn lessons about disaster management on a daily basis.
“Experience is the best teacher – and learning from experience is the most important tool for individual development” says Ms. Moe.
“There were mistakes that I made during that very first experience due to the lack of knowledge and skill in dealing with disaster. However, this in turn drove my passion to learn more about disasters, and further pursue skills in disaster management.”
When taking about the present – and the future – for disaster management in Myanmar and the ASEAN region, Ms. Moe is quick to highlight the importance of technology to support improved preparedness and response for the communities. She identifies the important role of technology, and how it can support increases in human capacity for disaster management practices. “We have ideas and experience related to disaster management, but they need to be combined with technology for increased outreach and speed”, explains Ms. Moe. “By doing so, our valuable ideas can be transformed into technical tools for effective management” she continues. With this idea in the forefront of her mind, Ms. Moe led the development of a mobile application called Disaster Alert Notification. Ms. Moe explains that it is a simple yet useful example of utilising technology for communicating and disseminating information on disaster, allowing for an integrated and common platform through which people can obtain information easily and communicate in the face of disaster.
All innovation and technology aside, it is Ms. Moe’s humanitarian values and empathy that clearly form the base of all that she does. She states that “disaster teaches us to be more humane, humble, tolerant and resilient, and these are the kind of values that are so important even outside times of disaster”. Ms. Moe believes that these humanitarian ideals should be nurtured, and the collective strength that overcoming disaster requires should be continuously developed. She is also a strong believer in preparedness, saying that “disaster preparedness should be part of people’s everyday life, with education and awareness raising directing us to do the right things in the wake of disaster”. It is these values that Ms. Moe instils in herself throughout all facets of her work and life – reminding us that for disaster managers, work and life are often one and the same. “I seek to make my working environment feel like home, which means developing friendly relationships with my colleagues, and thinking of them as my family” she says. Ms. Moe emphasises the importance of mutual sharing and caring, and finished by reminding us all that “some external factors are out of our control, so we must accept this reality and make life more enjoyable for ourselves and others”.
Written by : William Shea | Photo : Personal collection of Myat Moe Thwe