“When I received the letter [certificate] from our Village Administrator, I could not stop reading the statement again and again. It really indicated that the land was registered under my name. Yes, it’s in my name.” –U Soe Myint

We were silent on advocacy.

There’s not a single mention of ‘advocacy’ in the country strategy of Habitat for Humanity Myanmar, and that’s intentional. When we were brainstorming in October last year on strategic objectives and programs, we thought advocacy, or promoting policy or systems change in land management system in Myanmar was not  a good idea.

First, we didn’t know exactly what change to promote. Our understanding of affordable housing market and access to land in Myanmar is fairly limited. This is the first time Habitat Myanmar would embark on a project to build houses directly in the country.

Second, Habitat Myanmar is working with the government for the first time, which has just ended decades of military rule. We didn’t want our self-introduction—by way of the country strategy document – to elicit unwanted questions or make the government uncomfortable upon seeing ‘advocacy’ in the document.

But we told them what we needed.

The majority of households in the project site do not have proper documentation showing ownership or right to the land they occupy. And this is not uncommon for many families in Myanmar, particularly in the rural areas.

During initial meetings with the local authorities in Thanatpin, Bago, we reiterated that Habitat Myanmar needed proof of land tenure to be able to build houses for partner families. We explained that we could not risk investing resources in structures that could be stopped or demolished any time because they shouldn’t be there in the first place.

The government understood our requirement, their part. They were happy that Habitat Myanmar had chosen Bago for the project.  Not only would we – with support of automaker Nissan – build houses and toilets for their constituents living in poverty, we would also improve their community ponds and public school facilities, among other things. Habitat for Humanity is the first international NGO to partner with them in Bago.

And the government did it for us!

In October 2016, we met with the Bago Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation and Bago Prime Minister to inform them that the project was then ready for implementation. By March of the following year, 25 families whose houses were scheduled to be constructed between February and June 2017 have received their respective land certificates! The remaining 10 families whose houses will be built after the monsoon months, October through December, will also receive their respective land certificates in time. 

True to their promise, the office of the Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation helped Habitat Myanmar with the land registration office that issues the land certificates. All in all, this achievement is the reward of utilizing a stakeholder engagement approach as our project implementation strategy. In this approach, Habitat Myanmar’s role was to facilitate the community and other local stakeholders to conduct joint planning processes and build their capacity to implement and manage the program.

Habitat Myanmar’s stakeholder engagement process is a proven methodology that can be divided into four stages.

  1. Preparation: Habitat Myanmar prepared to engage the community by assessing the program area, defining our identity in the area, and analyzing of local stakeholders.
  2. Engaging and visioning together: In the second stage, Habitat Myanmar staff engaged with communities, regional authorities and local stakeholders to assess what was already being done to improve the community resiliency. During this stage, a diverse supporting committee comprised of local key officials and stakeholders was formed, and community-owned vision and priorities were developed.
  3. Planning for working together: Habitat Myanmar and the supporting committee jointly developed detailed project plans to address the emerging priorities, including agreements on what will be done, what is needed, what each stakeholder will contribute, and how stakeholders will collaborate. Habitat Myanmar often brings project models and other technical expertise to this planning process for local adaptation. The major highlight in this instance was that, after properly screening the history of the land occupied by the families and their tenure statue, the Township Administration Department – in collaboration with the land registration office – issued land certificates to the families.
  4. Managing together: The communities and stakeholders led implementation, and joint monitoring and learning systems were established. These systems provide meaningful information, allowing for capacity building and addressing the need of the communities in collaboration with Habitat Myanmar.

Looking back, and forward.

We learned three primary things from this experience.

  1. View the government as a partner. Habitat Myanmar does not need to do it alone, or even lead the process in making land policies and systems work for our project. Sometimes, the government simply needs to understand what we require from their end, and when they do, they can find ways for us.  
  2. Connect with influencers and champions. While we work directly with authorities at the village and township levels, we made sure we have the blessings of community leaders, whose support assisted with project facilitation.
  3. Believe that we can do more. The scale of this experience is not something of which we can be proud. This is our first and we started small. However, the potential is there for this to become a systemic approach that will work for other families. We were hopeful once, and we will be again.

Further, we are aware that security of tenure and proper documentation is a problem much larger than Myanmar, and that’s why we’re thankful that Solid Ground, our global advocacy campaign to improve access to land for shelter, is helping to bring partners together and working with governments around the world to address this foundational issue.