«I went to the Irrawaddy delta as a reconstruction adviser. Initially, I was not sure whether I was up to the task, but I was thrown straight in at the deep end and in fact found my feet without great difficulty.» The main office from where Mikhail Broger and his team operate is located at the heart of the delta in the small village of Bogale. «From there we go from one building site to the next in one of the five boats at our disposal, criss-crossing countless branches of the Ayeryarwady region.»
Fifteen building sites under way
In 2008, the region was devastated by Cyclone Nargis in which 140,000 people died or disappeared. Four years later, the work of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) is focused on reconstruction and prevention, in particular building hurricane-resistant schools.
«These buildings perform a double function,» explains Mikhail Broger, «school and community centre on the one hand and hurricane shelter on the other. The project comprises a purely technical component that we manage with our team of engineers in the field, and a social component, which involves raising awareness among local communities of the aspects of prevention, risk reduction, maintenance, as well as of hygiene and waste management.»
Since the project was launched at the end of 2009, 18 schools have been inaugurated in the Irrawaddy Delta. By the end of the project Mikhail Broger’s team will have completed some 40 schools.
He is currently overseeing 15 sites. «It can become a real logistical headache,» he says. «Depending on the currents and the tides, some of them become inaccessible. Another difficulty that I am encountering is communication due to the lack of a common language. The training of the engineers, which does not always correspond with Swiss requirements, is one aspect I personally give special priority to. In our work, skills transfer is very important.»
Overcoming cultural differences
Broger, who is from Geneva, likes to take part in other village activities such as meetings concerning the project or the various social or cultural events. «Overcoming cultural differences is for me without doubt one of the most interesting aspects of my mission, but also the most demanding. In addition to the technical expertise needed to be accepted into the SHA, it is also necessary to be able to communicate in several languages, as well as to be diplomatic and tactful.»