Myanmar: The Heroes of the Storm

Jeltje Danhof

Jeltje Danhof is a Dutch ob/gyn specialist working with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Myanmar. Danhof is part of a team providing aid in the wake of recent severe flooding. Read her MSF blog The Cyclone Diaries here.


The water has gone down a bit and the wind has eased, meaning the roads have become a bit more passable.

We can now use our cars to visit the shelters of people who lost their houses. There are five shelters in town where over 1,000 people have gathered.

We put together two medical teams and go over with drinking water and medication. Fortunately not too many people are hurt.

I visit an orphanage that stands in solitude in the middle of a large lake. Everything around the building has been flooded.

I look up at the building, standing up to my waist in the water. From the first floor 160 children stare back at me.

The children don’t have any clean drinking water left. I gather some strong boys and spend the rest of the afternoon dragging bottles of drinking water to stock them up, walking back and forth through the flood water.

The children think it is wonderful to see. They haven't been able to go outside for nearly two days and are bored out of their minds. It is a welcome distraction.

At the end of the day we have a meeting with other aid organizations to coordinate activities.

We will take care of the medicines, doctors, and nurses, others will take care of plastic sheeting, soap, and buckets. The full day of walking through the water start to take its toll, my eyes almost drop shut in need of sleep during the meeting.


We have a busy day. My colleagues and I take a medical team to the various shelters in the town. I join another aid organization's team exploring villages in the south; they check the collapsed houses and I assess the medical problems since the storm. The water has gone down to a level that most roads are now usable.

After treating the wounded, it's important to make sure people can safely rebuild their houses so they can sleep and cook.

We go into villages and list which houses have been damaged and what items are needed.

An old woman accosts me on the street and beckons me to her house. A tree has fallen on the roof and half of the house has collapsed. The floor is now wet and muddy.

Once inside, she starts to cry. Even though we don't speak the same language, I can understand what she is saying.

I hug her, and for a moment we stand together, with our arms wrapped around each other.

Luckily, I don't see many wounded as most people went up into the mountains prior to the storm to find safe shelter there. Now they’re trying to pick up their lives again.

The Following Days

I'm impressed by how well people are coping. All around us I see people repairing their houses, stores reopening, the streets are returning to normal.

Our days are filled with mapping the damage from the storm: How many people have a damaged house? How many people can't drink clean water anymore?

I train our local staff in how they can identify and treat diarrhea and the most common infections, so they can assist people who need treatment.

The cyclone has made a deep, lasting impression on me.

Within a couple of days we were able to provide medical care to hundreds of people with our mobile medical teams. We visited all the villages and mapped the damages, so people could get the materials to rebuild their houses.

We wouldn't have been able to execute this whole aid operation without the help of our local staff.

These are the people who have been most affected by the storm, because they want to help the people in their community.

These people are the true heroes of the storm.

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Jeltje Danhof