Monday, September 29, 2014

Through the Delta and Back

I'm back in Yangon, again at the Savoy Hotel to cool off and recharge before setting out for another remote outpost. This hotel is very nice but caters to the person who wants to "do" Burma but not really experience it. I sat in the bar for a cup of tea, kind of dumbfounded at the women in there dressed up, carrying Prada bags. Where do they go? It's honking, humid chaos outside the hotel walls. I've heard there are some fancy restaurants, but I have no desire to go see foreigners spend the equivalent of one month's wages for a local person on one meal.
Typical bus, Myanmar style

The contrasts are unbelievable. This morning I was loaded into the front seat of the mini-bus, direct for Yangon. No seat belts, which was not too alarming so long as we went slowly along the always-under-construction single lane roads. Once we hit an open stretch, the driver floored it and I looked over to see how fast we were going, but all dials were at zero, broken. I was convinced that if there was an accident, I would be dead. Serious. Decapitated on my ejection through the window of the bus. Perhaps fate intervened when the engine overheated and I had to change to another bus, seated in the middle (severe injuries but not certain death).
This boy was left at the orphanage at only 8 months

It was all worth the chance to visit the orphanage in Myaungmya, a tidy compound of 6 houses holding 14 staff and 61 children. Some of the children came when they were very young, and they clearly have been loved and cared for in this place.  I learned about their policies and procedures and came away with many ideas and insights for Bethel Children's Home.
Baby A, abandoned at 8 days

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Back to Burma

Here I am in Burma again so soon. I am back to check on things at Bethel Children’s Home. We left funds for a couple projects, and helped put some new procedures in place to make it run more smoothly, and I had promised to come back soon,
so here I am.

But first I have come to Myaungmya, in the Irrawaddy delta region, far to the west of Yangon, the capitol. There is another orphanage here that I had heard about and I wanted to check it out and see how it is run.
We came to Myaungmya on the 2006 trip to Burma (me, my dad, my aunt and my sister) as it is the place my father went to boarding school after essentially being orphaned himself.  At that time, only certain hotels could take foreigners, and the only game in town was a dilapidated old house being run by some ex-military thugs. The place was (is) filthy, the sheets and towels stank, and you could hear the rodents in the ceiling. Lots of guys were laying about, collecting a salary, apparently, but no one was cleaning. Helena and I christened the place “Thug Motel” and it stands out as one of my worst hotel experiences ever (although not hers, I think). So it’s crazy that I am back here again. It’s still the only game in town. They built some new rooms adjacent to the house but they already seem 50 years old (with 50 years of accumulated dirt).  The AC works. Essential, as it is moist out. Not humid, MOIST. And they now have wifi. (Not that this is not the ideal time of year to visit; the best weather is Dec-Feb).

The orphanage is impressive, having between 60 and 80 children at any one time.  They are fully funded by an organization from the U.S. so they don’t need our help, but the director, David, has been graciously hosting me and answering all my questions. On of my father’s old friends, Ba Hla Thein, also lives out here and I was able to spend time with him and his wife. He’s one the who originally founded the orphanage and even late in his life he is still giving back.