The main objectives of the project were carried out as planned: teaching Burmese refugee and migrant-worker students English, which incorporated lessons on basic hygiene, nutrition, and disease prevention skills while building a school library from scratch with the students, parents and faculty on a truly grass-roots level. A secondary objective was to initiate open discussions and challenge current notions of ethnicity and religion with an emphasis on personal agency in combating age-old beliefs and government propaganda. While I ended up working for three different organizations including the school where I spent most of my time, the orphanage and a Christian adult learning center in the middle of a rice paddy field during the weekend, the unifying theme was to introduce children and adults to the love of learning and opening their perspectives regarding freedom and public health, be it through dialogue or books.
The key tangible impact I made was building a beautiful library at The New Blood School. This was a unique exercise in fostering leadership and communication skills for everyone involved. The library now has books written in English, Burmese, and Thai, supplemented by the purchase of Burmese-English books and dictionaries, and supplies such as scientific calculators and compasses. Coordinating with the headmaster, we started weekly library hours for students of different grades to foster literacy and learning. This worked very well as the school was extremely understaffed and the students idled around while their teachers taught other classes. The students were such wonderful artists while painting the murals they put me to shame!
This past summer, I saw both the best and worst of what human beings are capable of. I saw children whose parents had been shot in front of them in Burma but also the adults who cared after them in Thailand, rescuing them from the dangerous streets. I received enormous help from strangers but also got majorly ripped off by others such as the bus driver on the way to Mae Sot for the luggage I was carrying with all the used clothes I had brought from home for the orphans. I also saw the headmaster care after Burmese Muslim orphans in a majority-Buddhist school while his fellow countrymen ruthlessly burned and looted Muslim villages. What I can say from all my adventures is this: I learned that human beings are paradoxically complex yet simple creatures everywhere you go. The level of idiosyncrasies reflected in our preferences, beliefs, strengths, weaknesses and backgrounds separate us yet at the heart of it all, we just seek love, acceptance, comfort and the potential to change our circumstances if we so wish. If you are interested in any of the details of the library or photos of the amazingly adorable children I worked with (extra incentive!), here is my blog: ttseky.wordpress.com, and please do not hesitate to write me if you any questions.
Cheers from a former CMC student who studied Economics and Spanish, now cooped up in the Minnesota winter studying for the dreaded MCATs (all in all, a truly liberal arts experience),