Myanmar Trip Debrief

He calmly swerves a truck on the wrong side of the road and continues his line of thought unperturbed. After a week of working together our translator and guide is obviously starting to feel safe enough to speak his thoughts more openly on the broader situation in Myanmar. It seems a senior General with significant political influence had been flying his 14 year old son to Singapore each day in a private jet to attend an elite school that is very highly regarded throughout Asia using government funds. “And they tell to us where is the money!?” he says with undisguised anger.

I am told later that Myanmar has the highest number of child soldiers in the world, with over 70 000 having simply disappeared into military service with no warning or notice provided to their parents. What does this mean in a world stalked by statistics even more grim and shocking? It can mean very little to you from where you read this I assume, but to me it now has a human face. In fact it has 120 human faces after working with the dedicated team of the Mykids project who tirelessly support a youth development centre for orphans and abandoned children in Yangon.

Those faces are home to the kind of radiant and guileless smiles I have encountered repeatedly in disadvantaged communities across the globe. They laugh and play in all the same ways as my two young children back in Australia. Many of them also appear quite healthy at first glance – until I learn their age. An irrepressible little 3 year old dances in front of me and then runs away; one of the project managers then informs he is actually six years old. The emotional impact of this is impossible to describe. Another predatory statistic that now haunts me: 34% of all children under 5 in Myanmar suffer from moderate to severe stunting due to malnutrition.

IMG_1264The experienced team members seem to cope very well with all this, and set to work doing the nutritional assessments and health seminars they came to provide. I assist where I can with some of the more difficult cases and allocate funds for much needed repairs: the septic tank is leaking raw sewerage along the perimeter of the girls dormitory, and the kitchen is a health hazard of similar proportions. The $200 000 donation of nutritional supplements from Blackmores I came to oversee takes on even greater levels of importance from where I now stand.

I share a feast with the children on my last night, their first truly nutritious meal since I have arrived. They sing like angels. Since I only have two hands but possess ten fingers, they discover that five of them can attach themselves to each hand if they each clasp one of my fingers. My eyes brim with tears of joy as I realise how happy these children really are; they are a family of 120 with half a dozen parents or more. The statistics still haunt me, but now they are tempered by the knowledge that, thankfully, they are not the whole story. At least not for these children.