As a visitor to Myanmar recently, its obvious the Burmese are generous, loving, and hospitable people. They care for their country and their children.
It is shown in their welcomes, water bowel and cup at every gate, the great hardships parents endure to send their children to school.
Despite suffering years of military government neglect there is still a strong resolve for a better life.
If you were to visit Myanmar you would see glimpses of people living in distressing poverty. Bamboo huts on each side of the road. Fragile shelters resting near rice paddy fields. People collecting water to wash. Irregular electricity. Broken roads. Crumbling buildings.
A curious visitor may notice small things in shops. People buy a single sachet of shampoo. A single cigarette. A single biscuit. A small bottle of petrol. There is no spare money. Life is lived day to day.
There is a nation-wide struggle for parents to get their children to school. School uniform. Transport. Tuition fees. These expenses come after food. Life is difficult when you are poor. The government has just officially stated the minimum wage at 3,000 Kyat ($2) but even this is not received by everyone.
Yet ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’. I witnessed a beautiful example of solidarity in central Myanmar with a women’s ‘cup of rice’ project to support poor children get an education. Over 1000 women in over 40 villages save a cup of rice each day and it is transforming communities.
As each mum counts out rice for each member of the family, she also puts her hand into the rice sack and brings out one ‘cup of rice’ for a poor child. This is placed in a bag.
When the Mothers gather they combine together to make a sack of rice. A local family in great need is identified by the group and the sack of rice is sold to them for half the normal price.
This money raised is saved by the women to support children’s education, a course, a learning opportunity, transport needs.
Whereas most groups struggle constantly for funds, currently the Women’s association now has over 250,000 Kyat and responds to needs from the interest earned. A slow but sure impact is being made from a daily ‘cup of rice’ and the women humbly rejoice in their simple efforts together. They have learnt the smallest efforts combined can create change.
As a foreigner visiting Myanmar for the first time, I now know and feel why Burmese become ‘economic refugees’, and journey as migrants into Thailand to find work. There are now an estimated 2.5 million Burmese migrants currently in Thailand. A fact not many in Myanmar knew of.
There are also times when you are reminded Burma has been ‘closed’ to the world with a military government.
Many areas have been ‘off limits’ to foreigners. Young children curious and frightened to see a foreigner for the first time share with each other ‘look.. he has different coloured eyes from us’.
Women young and old want you to sit and talk about your life and world. You hold a story of the world they do not know beyond the rice fields.
Visiting Myanmar close to the 2015 November elections, every conversation drifted toward hope for change. Better crops and food. Proper roads. Regular electricity. Useable internet. A functioning education system. Improved transport. Simple permission to build (its astonishing to learn that 70% of the country is actually without electricity affecting 35 million people).
The challenges for Myanmar are so vast. Democracy, if allowed, will not bring immediate development. There is 60 years of abuse and corruption to untangle.
Despite a picture of her in almost every house, Aung Sung Su Kyi is currently ruled out of being President of Myanmar because she was married to a foreigner.
Yet she is someone they trust and identify with in contrast to military turned politicians turned government workers turned business men. She at least is a symbol, heavy with hope, a moral compass for the journey ahead for the country known historically as ‘the golden land’.
Lets keep all the people of Myanmar (Burma) in our prayers for November 8 elections, 2015.
If you wish to learn some more information about Aung Sung Su Kyi click to read a past story
If you would like to share in helping the education of Burmese children click to become a friend and supporter for 70 cents a day $20 a month