Hannah Evans - General Care Projects in Myanmar
I have always wanted to give my time and volunteer abroad, so when the opportunity arose to do it as part of my university course, I grabbed it! I was the third volunteer to have volunteered at Grace Home Orphanage in Myanmar, as Projects Abroad had only recently started working here. This is because Myanmar’s borders have only recently been opened. At first I was hesitant to choose Myanmar as my destination, but my experience of the country and its people could not have been more positive.
My Care placement
I spent three weeks helping out at Grace Home, an orphanage in Bago which is about an hour and a half from Yangon. There were about 40 children aged from three to 21 and they were all treasures! The children were so eager to interact with me. They were constantly passing a pen and paper to me to write English words and sentences from them to copy.
I stayed in a hotel about a five-minute walk from the orphanage. The older children enjoyed walking me back to the hotel each evening. I did not need much spending money and I had my lunch and dinner with the children each day. If you go to Myanmar, remember to ask for your food to not be too spicy, as the food the children ate was very hot. On top of this, the children eat their food with a side of chillies! I loved seeing the new and different foods available and the children were more than happy to show me how to prepare and eat them.
The mornings were spent doing activities I had brought from home. For example, I had brought cardboard cut-outs of people, which the children then had to label with ‘arm’, ‘hair’, ‘knee’ and then they could dress them up. They also loved activities involving making things, like friendship bracelets or origami animals. However, it is very difficult to get hold of materials when you are there, so make sure to take craft and writing materials with you.
In the afternoons, we played games and I had the chance to play with the children individually. What they are able to entertain themselves with will amaze you! I had great fun simply being outside and running around, without feeling the need to keep up with social media or Orange is The New Black. I rarely felt homesick as, despite their circumstances, the kids are constantly laughing and smiling, doing their cheeky dances.
Projects Abroad support
Before I left for Myanmar, the Projects Abroad staff kept in close contact with me and ensured that I had all the information I needed. They answered all of my questions and reassured me when I felt worried. When I arrived, I was met by Kaung, who showed me to my hotel before showing me some of the sights of Yangon. Kaung also helped me to exchange money and get a local sim card.
After a rest at the hotel, we went for dinner and visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is stunning at sunset. The next morning Kaung travelled with me to Bago, showed me how to use the public transport and introduced me to the directors of the orphanage. Throughout my three weeks, Kaung was available to contact and visited me every week.
My free time
Myanmar is gradually escaping its oppressive military rule. However, life there remains very traditional and unpolluted by Westernisation. I loved the little corner shops and the outdoor markets. If you love markets, you’ll love Yangon’s Bogyoke Aung San Market!
My advice to future volunteers would be to make sure that you buy a good mosquito repellent. The mosquito bites are big and nasty. It was definitely useful to carry around hand sanitiser and make sure to take a sturdy umbrella if you go in the summer months. Moderate dress is very much respected and expected in Myanmar; make sure you are covered up when you are working and during your personal time. Take every opportunity that arises while you are there, because the culture and the people of Myanmar are the friendliest and happiest I have ever met. If you ever get lost or stuck, you can trust that the locals will help you out and want to chat!
If you are placed in Bago, there are plenty of Buddhist sights. My favourite was the snake temple which is home to a 12ft Burmese python! If it is your first time travelling on your own, you won't have anything to worry about. The older kids were willing to visit all the sights with me and they involved me in everything they did.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.