“My three month trip to Myanmar began slightly slower than anticipated. Following a 24 hour delay to my flight and then lost baggage I eventually arrived at my accommodation on the 29th around midday (though my bags didn’t arrive until 24 hours later). I was immediately struck not only by the intense heat of the city, but also of the welcoming and friendly nature of the Myanmar people. It’s impossible to escape the smiles of local people which really make you feel at home, especially after a long journey!
On my second day I went to the Prospect Burma office to meet Hnin, the country manager here in Yangon. The 30 minute walk to the office was a rather sweaty affair, but as soon as I was in the office Hnin was wonderfully welcoming. It is hard not to be inspired by the work that Hnin does here in Myanmar. Being the face of the charity and setting up the Yangon office is a wonderful achievement for Hnin, as well as a ground-breaking step for the charity. I couldn’t help but feel we had found the perfect fit for our Yangon office. During my first two weeks in Yangon Hnin and I worked hard in tandem with the UK office to finalise the short list of applications to our scholarship programme. Alongside our work we also visited an education fair where Hnin presented Prospect Burma to potential scholars, and Hnin also taught me a lot about local culture and traditions.
During the two weeks in Yangon I also spent time at Sky Age, an education centre set up by Ko Saw Thet Tun. His aim was to give the children of political prisoners and from underserved areas of Myanmar the chance to learn life skills as well as English. As they had just moved to a new bigger building I spent the first few visits helping them to move, and was really impressed not only by the work ethic shown by the students, but by their skills and community spirit. Furthermore their tenacity to learn English is inspiring. There wasn’t 2 minutes when someone wasn’t asking me how to say something in English or asking me what my home is like. Learning about the students’ lives, experiences and their drive to learn really put into perspective how much we take our education for granted in the UK.
Two weeks into my visit my work was stopped by the New Year celebration and water festival, Thingyan. This brought the city to a standstill with huge water fights and a general party atmosphere. Needless to say I was soaking wet for four days straight. It was really special to be amongst the local Yangon people who were always looking out for us and making sure that we were having a good time. A visit from two university friends during the ten day holiday meant that I got a chance to see some of the country. A three day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake was a fantastic insight into how people in central Myanmar still live today, with a massive emphasis on agriculture. We saw fields of rice, tea, chillies, cabbages, cucumbers, garlic and potatoes to name just a few. I then spent a couple of days in Hpa-An, a small town close to the Thai border crossing. This gave me the chance to see a variety of pagodas and caves set in a mountainous region.
With my first month over I think that the thing which has had the biggest impression on me is the ambition of the Burmese people to change the future. Everywhere you look around Myanmar there are education centres, schools and organisations all looking to make a difference. It is a truly inspiring place to be, and with a two week stay in Loikaw where I will be visiting multiple education projects to look forward to, I think there is a lot more to come. I can’t wait!”
Joe Massey, Prospect Burma Volunteer