It’s been months and I still haven’t taken the time to write about my trip to Myanmar, and I desperately need to.
During this week-long trip it was my responsibility to train teachers (many of whom have not gone through professional teacher training) how to teach more effectively. I was on a team with two other elementary teachers, both colleagues here at the international school where I work. We joined a VASE team. This team was made up of 12 high-school students who would be in charge of giving English lessons to children from Pre-K to 5th grade at St. Matthew’s Orphanage Center (SMOC) in Pyo Oo Luwin.
VASE stands for (I actually had to look this up just now, oops!):
Vision: Gain a better vision of God’s world and ways we can serve in it.
Action: Raise awareness, involvement, and support target areas.
Service: Intentionally provide useful services that leave a lasting impact.
Evangelism: Share God’s story and his love in all we do.
We, the 12 students, 3 teacher chaperones, and 3 Professional Development teachers (me!) arrived in Yangon late Saturday night, where we were greeted by Pastor Philip and a few youth from SMOC and shuttled to the bus that would take us ten hours up the mountains to Pyo Oo Luwin. We were warned by members on our team who had gone on this trip in the previous years that it would be cold, so I was prepared with my winter jacket and layers of clothing. Then, we stepped onto a luxurious bus, and I say luxurious in the most posh way possible. This bus was decked out. We had large recliner seats with thick blankets, a screen in front of us with headphones and control over the air conditioner. Teams in the past had never experienced this. After feeling super nauseous from the plane ride and waiting in the slowest immigration line (I mean, I am pretty sure they were playing World of Warcraft instead of stamping our passports or something), this bus was a beautiful gift for my body. I fell asleep during the majority of the bus ride.
Which was looooooooong.
It took us about 12 hours (with a stop for breakfast) before we made it to Motel Eden. After dropping off our luggage we headed over to SMOC. The looks on the children’s faces when they recognized teachers and students who came the year before (this was one high school student’s fourth time coming) was pure joy. But even the students who came on the trip for the first time didn’t take long to bond with the SMOC children.
That first day we spent the afternoon playing basketball and soccer and jump roping and playing duck duck goose. Or at least, I spent that time watching all of the kids do that. The amount of hugs I received filled my loved tank to overflowing (sorry, was that too cheesy? It’s hard to tone it down when you’re talking about the Kachin people, they are so incredibly loving and gracious).
From Monday through Thursday, every morning was dedicated training teachers. Shirley, Sarah and myself (the PD team) tried to prepare as much as we could before we arrived, but there was so little that we knew about their education system. Half of the teachers were 18-20 years-old and grew up at SMOC. They were eager to learn, but hesitant to participate. For most of them, English is their third language (first Kachin, then Myanmar, thennnn English). It wasn’t until we gave them a project to do together on Day 2 that we saw how they really interact with each other. The jokes and jabs filling the room while teachers who had barely said a word the first day were eager to offer an opinion.
After our first full day at SMOC we learned that the children here are taught until 5th grade, after which they must pass a test to attend the public schools. Teaching to these tests is a must, if you answer a question correctly, but in the wrong format, it is marked wrong. It is all about rote memorization. Bringing our expertise from an inquiry based school wasn’t going to cut it with these teachers. They wanted to understand why we did what we did, but how they can improve teaching the way they have to teach.
During meal times Mr. Smith shared with the adults that these children usually only eat rice donated by the community. If they are fortunate enough two to three times a week they might have something mixed with the rice, beans, vegetables. So many of the fifth grade girls were the same size as first and second graders at my school.
We learned about the kind of food these kids eat on a daily basis while enjoying the most delicious meals at the orphanage. SMOC brought in people to cook for us, since their staff couldn’t feed our team and the children at the same time. When I came back to my school in Korea I gave a presentation to the elementary school and encouraged them to be grateful for the cafeteria food that we get to eat every day. When I find myself wanting to complain, I remember the faces of those Myanmar children. Can you imagine eating rice, and only rice, every single day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
A few times on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday I felt a little off. My stomach wasn’t used to this food and I figured my digestive system just needed some time to adjust. The team shared stories about “Burma Belly”, but I didn’t think I would become a victim to it. I have traveled quite a bit and never had a problem.
Early Wednesday morning I broke out in sweat and felt like my entire insides wanted to come out. I rushed to the bathroom and without going into tooooo much detail, lets say that anything that was in my body came out one way or another. I immediately felt so much better. I went back to bed. Exactly two hours later the same thing happened again. I ran to the bathroom. Etc.
I woke up feeling like I had the swine flu all over again (been there, done that, don’t need to repeat it). I made it from our motel to the orphanage but I could barely sit up. I was given medicine, ate a cracker, and ushered into a small guest room. Two hours later, I threw up the cracker. For those who suffer from “Burma Belly” throwing up is not a part of the package. Of course, I would get sick differently. I was given a different meds and told to drink water mixed with sugar (and something else, salt maybe?). Of course this was the day I was scheduled to lead most of the training for the teachers. My colleagues and I created the training schedule together and we all knew what each other was doing, but still. I felt bad. And my body felt even worse. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t move, I slept fitfully, and everything I ate I threw up.
We were scheduled to leave the next evening. One last morning of training, the exchange concert (where they danced and sang and we danced and sang), and then a 10 hour bus ride back to Yangon. If I felt the same way the next morning I didn’t know how I was going to handle that day or that bus ride.
Everyone prayed for me. I prayed for me. There was a lot of prayer.
The next morning I woke up feeling a THOUSAND times better than I did the day before. It was a quick healing but we had such a busy schedule we didn’t really take time to acknowledge it until we came back to Korea. I had been really sick, and then the next day, I was fine. Praise God! The last day was full of joy and laughter and many, many tears. We hopped on a public bus this time (no large recliner seats or thick blankets) and the stories of how cold it got on the bus were officially understood. Our bus driver drove so fast we made it back to Yangon in record time, arriving at 3:30 in the morning. We waited at a bus station until a shuttle bus came to get us for a day of sight seeing at 4:30 in the morning. We watched the sun rise at the Shwedagon Pagoda and ate a very western breakfast at some brunch spot. Most of the students ordered burgers. At 7 in the morning. Oh, high-schoolers.
We went to a museum, stopped by a war memorial, and visited the market, all with about three hours of sleep and not having showered since the morning before. We were looking good. Our flight didn’t leave until close to midnight, but I was incredibly impressed by the attitudes all of the high school students on the trip kept. They were upbeat and positive and never complained about being tired. We ended up seeing a moving around 6 or 7 in the evening just to be able to sit down for a while. I love watching movies in different countries. I mean, I love watching movies no matter what, but it is so interesting to see how movie theaters are the same or different. In Myanmar you stand before the movie starts to honor the leader of the country or recite the anthem (I think it was the latter and in Thailand you stand to honor the leader, I get confused). I just can’t imagine everyone in the states standing before a movie starts and pledging allegiance to the flag. That was probably the most entertaining part of the movie, and it wasn’t even a part of the movie. The movie was bad. But we were in a dark theater where no one had to look at my greasy hair for a few hours, so it was good too.
We chilled at the airport after that for a few hours and flew back to Korea. I immediately showered and gave praises to Jesus for hot water (did I mention the cold bucket showers?).
Myanmar. You are filled with such beautiful people. I pray some day I can come back. I might bring my own food, but I want to come back.
Here is a video I created after the trip:
Here is a website one of the student’s created for a school project after coming back from Myanmar.