A Tale of Two Villages
Building a stronger future for the people of Sin Ma and Hta Ni, Myanmar
The villages of Sin Ma and Hta Ni are divided by a small river outside of Pyapon, a bustling town in the Ayeyarwady Delta of southern Myanmar. Like many inhabitants of the Delta region—the country’s predominant rice-producing area—the villagers of Sin Ma and Hta Ni are mostly rice farmers, many of whom supplement their incomes with other micro-business activities. Pyapon serves as their point of access to the broader Burmese market, especially the former capital city of Yangon.
Although there are no roads connecting the two villages, Sin Ma and Hta Ni are a close-knit community with fewer than two hundred households. Like many villages throughout Myanmar, the families of the villagers have lived there for generations, and their lives are closely intertwined — their children attend the same primary school, they farm the same crops on adjacent plots of land, they experience the same rainy seasons and the same dry seasons, and they share many of the same moments of good fortune and hardship together. For each household, the success of the community means success for the family.
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis—one of the deadliest and most destructive cyclones in recorded history—made landfall on the coast of the Ayeyarwady Delta, causing more than 130,000 deaths and displacing countless others. The villages of Sin Ma and Hta Ni were almost entirely destroyed.
Only twelve houses were left standing after the storm. The whole village was flooded. All of our crops were lost. We were forced to stay in the nearby monastery for months. But we rebuilt together, slowly but surely.—Ma Thi Dar
In the months and years following Cyclone Nargis, the villagers of Sin Ma and Hta Ni steadily recovered from the destruction. Their resilience is a testament to the strength of their community, which continued to lend a helping hand until every last home was rebuilt. Today, many of the families grow more rice than ever before and benefit from higher incomes.
Sin Ma and Hta Ni’s economic and agricultural improvements are in part thanks to the support of Proximity Designs, a social enterprise that designs products and services to improve the livelihoods of underserved rural families in Myanmar.
Many of the villagers of Sin Ma and Hta Ni are clients of Proximity Finance, the microfinance company owned by Proximity Designs. Proximity Finance provides a variety of loan products to smallholder farmers across Myanmar. The Crop Loan, Proximity Finance’s most popular loan product, provides vital season-long working capital in cash to cover input costs such as seeds and fertilizer, along with hired labor, tools, and harvesting equipment. The Livestock Loan helps farmers purchase and raise animals such as ducks and goats, generating additional income throughout the year. Proximity Finance also offers Small Business Loans, which provide micro-entrepreneurs with the capital they need to expand their businesses.
Sin Ma and Hta Ni also benefit from Proximity Designs’ Farm Advisory unit, which provides a range of specialized services to support farmers throughout the growing season, including techniques for seed selection, soil health, fertilizer usage, and pest and disease management.
Before Proximity Designs, we grew our crops, but we didn’t know how to grow them well. Now we know how to grow rice well, and our yields show it. — U Hla Myint
U Hla Myint (pictured at top of page) is a rice farmer in Sin Ma and father of six children. He has been a crop loan client of Proximity Finance for over four years, and uses the loans to help manage the twenty-nine acres of land that he and his family own. U Hla Myint grows rice paddy primarily for commercial use, along with bananas, coconuts, and other crops on a smaller scale to feed his family. The rice they grow each year serves as their primary source of income.
When discussing his loan and his experience as a farmer and borrower, U Hla Myint emphasized the greatest benefit of Proximity Finance from his perspective — the low interest rates:
We used to borrow money from informal lenders at high interest rates, because there was no other option in our community. With Proximity, our interest rates are half of what they used to be.—U Hla Myint
He noted that while his family’s disposable income fluctuates each year with the price of seeds, fertilizers, and other necessary farming inputs, the lower interest rates offered by Proximity Finance have contributed to the improvement of his family’s economic situation overall.
U Hla Myint hopes to improve his rice business in the coming years so that he can keep sending his youngest three children to school. His greatest aspiration, like many parents in Sin Ma and Hta Ni, is a successful future for his children. And like many other aspects of his life, these hopes and aspirations are tied to the future success of his community.
Every family here is contributing to a fund to build a bridge between our villages. One day we will have a road that makes it easier for our children to get to school. — U Hla Myint
Just as they rebuilt their community in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, the villagers of Sin Ma and Hta Ni are continuing to build toward a more prosperous future for their community.
Proximity Finance has been a part of MCE Social Capital’s Microfinance Institution (MFI) portfolio since September 2017, when MCE made its first loan of $1,500,000 to the institution. MCE is proud to support Proximity as an investor and enhance its ability to reach rural communities like Sin Ma and Hta Ni in Myanmar.
Story and photos by Harrison Pharamond, MCE Impact Analyst and Communications Associate