It feels to me that the world is very strange at the moment. There’s so much anxiety, stress and anger on both sides of the Atlantic; friends and families are falling out over politics and when you venture out, just about everyone is in their own world, absorbed in their digital device of choice.
It can be a challenge not to fall down a rabbit hole of negativity and become completely absorbed with what’s wrong with the world and forget just how much is right.
We recently spent almost three weeks in Myanmar (or Burma as it used to be called); we’ve travelled to South East Asia before, and it was different and a great wake-up call.
It was a wonderful trip and I’d like to share three stories that brought home to me exactly how much I have to be grateful for. They remind me that I have an easy life compared to many women and that so much of what we achieve in life is because of where we were born.
Being the family breadwinner
In Bagan our guide was a really lovely lady in her early 30s. She’s supported her Mother and 2 siblings since her father died when she was 15. There’s no financial safety net so, in order for her family to eat she had to leave school and get a job. Through hard work and determination she became a tourist guide and still lives with her family in a one roomed house. She’s had a tough time and made many sacrifices, and because of this she’s still unmarried and likely to stay that way.
Working in the fields
We walked round a number of villages, with houses made of teak or bamboo, no running water or electricity (maybe a solar panel if they could afford it), an outside ‘Burma style’ toilet (hole in the ground). Fuel for cooking is charcoal and candles provide lighting.
We also visited a number of cottage industries where the work is done completely by hand with absolutely no mechanisation at all. We saw silk and cotton weavers, ironmongers, people making gold –leaf, candles, paper, boats and rice noodles.
The land is extremely fertile and they grow a huge variety of crops. And, with the exception of ploughing, the majority of work is done by women.
Ok there are some steep hillsides where working by hand is the only option, but walking round Inle Lake we saw people harvesting and threshing rice by hand (photo above) and, hardest of all women cutting sugar cane (photo on the right). This is back-breaking, hot work and they had acres to harvest.
What struck us is the complete absence of any machinery, especially bearing in mind that we had steam engines to do this maybe 300 years ago, and before then used horses.
We take attending school for granted, but what if your family is too poor so the children need to work, beg or steal to support the family income. And what if you’re now 12 and have never attended school?
This is the case for a number of families in Myanmar and through a friend we found a UK charity called Scholarships for Street Kids and took time out to see their work in action.
The charity provide educational help to around 300 children in Yangon, aged between 6 and 12 who haven’t previously attended school. The education is fun and, in addition to reading, writing, maths and basic English, includes craft and vocational skills, as well as life skills.
The class we saw included a mix of children of different ages, most at First Grade level. In addition to learning to read, we saw them making mats from used food packaging, a great way to improve their creativity and dexterity, to work together and to generate income for the school.
The visit really made a massive impact on us both and was a truly inspirational way to end our holiday. We’ve been looking for a children’s education charity to support and will be exploring S4SK further.
Being grateful for what we have
I hope these three short stories encourage you to reflect on all that you HAVE in your life – as a minimum you have a warm house with utilities, access to education, you live in a country where there’s support for struggling families, and most importantly you have a choice as to what you do with your life.
My aim is to hang on to this gratitude and not be sucked down the rabbit hole of negativity. And I will use these stories as a constant reminder that I have a fabulous life compared to many people in the world.
I encourage you to reflect on all that you have in your life and, if you feel like helping to give disadvantaged children like these in Yangon to get an education, please consider making a donation to S4Sk.