Hello from hot, humid Myanmar! I have been to Canada where several people told me again that they actually enjoy reading these blog updates, and a few friends have admitted to not actually knowing my whereabouts, so I’m feeling freshly motivated and compelled to write.
I left Uzbekistan at the beginning of October, and stopped along the way VERY briefly in Russia, Barcelona, and the Azores Islands of Portugal. I met up with some CEU classmates in Barcelona for a lovely couple of days while they waited out the strikes and protests. Then on to Canada, where 6 or 5 weeks or so flew by as I bounced around between Southwestern Ontario, Ottawa and Toronto. Thanksgiving and its many pies were a special highlight! As always, all visits were lovely and it was fantastic to see so many people!
On November 8 I left Canada for Myanmar. I’ll be staying here for 12 months, working in a small city called Mawlamyine. You may recall that I’ve actually been to Myanmar before, but I never got this far south in the country. It’s brand new territory!
I’ve taken a position through a Canadian organization called Cuso. Cuso finds local partners and helps them to decide how a “volunteer” from Canada might best be able to assist in developing capacity and then finds the best person for the job. The local partner in my case is a small, community-based organization called Jeepyah, and I’ll be helping them to first assess their position as an organization and then develop sustainable strategies for stability, growth and impact. The idea is to transfer my technical knowledge and skills to various members of the group, and since I up until now have been somewhat of a generalist, it is fitting that we’ll be working through multiple areas together over the next year.
The process through Cuso has so far been a dream. The level of support given to us (they call us volunteers) before and during the placements has so far been exceptional. I spent the first two weeks in Myanmar doing an in-country orientation in Yangon (the capital). Everything was provided for us, including a very productive language class.
Cuso works all around the globe, matching the needs of their partners with the skills of applicants. From a development perspective, this is an excellent model for building the capacity of people who already have excellent ideas about what should be done to improve their communities, and is a very sustainable way to go about supporting them. If you think you’d like to contribute to such a sustainable and high-impact activity, feel free to click this ridiculously long link and contribute a donation to the organization! And if you were going to get me a Christmas present, please donate here instead!
I am only a few days into working with Jeepyah, and I’m still figuring some of it out. It is split between a Women’s Empowerment Project, a Community Development project, so Child Rights Monitoring, and Community Mobilization. It is an ethnic organization that is particularly focused on the Mon people. In Myanmar, the Burmese are the majority and are the most represented group in government. All other groups are considered minorities, including the Mon, so their commitment to ethnic identity and tradition is strong. The office is a house in a residential area in Mawlamyine, and they have a training center nearby. Only a few of my colleagues speak English, and they are the ones I will work most closely with. Jeepyah also has close ties with other civil society organizations. I think a more detailed blog will follow once I figure things out a little more.
|Two (and a half) very important colleagues!|
Mawlamyine is the capital of Mon State, and sits on a large river, not far from the ocean. It is a pretty quiet town, with one modern shopping center (thank the heavens it at least is there!) with a LOTTERIA (Korean McDonalds) inside it to cover my western fast food cravings. I’ve also seen two places advertising “pizza”, although the quality and standard remain unknown. I’ve seen a few tourists around, mostly backpacker types on rented scooters. In the hills surrounding the city there are some beautiful Buddhist pagodas, reclining buddhas, and other stupas and places of worship.
|500 monk statues|
|The world's largest reclining Buddha|
My apartment isn’t half bad, especially because it has an AIR CONDITIONER! It is also spacious, comes with an oven, and is conveniently located nearby to places that sell pizza and beer. It does NOT come with hot water, and there have been a couple power outages, and I saw a cockroach the other day (but just one!), but these things are all fine. Until March it also comes with a spare room with a king size bed in it…just saying. Maybe I’ll be driving my own motorbike by then too and can be a personal chauffeur!
There you have it! A short sweet update to fill ya’ll in on the wheres, whats, whos, whys and whens, and just in time for Christmas so that when people ask how I’m doing there will be something to tell them! Much love to all who read, and ta-ta for now darlings!
|Check out this cutie|