Myanmar is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world, with visitors eager to explore this country as it emerges from roughly 50 years of military dictatorship. By the same token, this is also an amazing time to be a volunteer in Myanmar, with today’s volunteers actively involved in one of the most inspiring development projects of a generation.
A trip to Burma (as it’s also known) is, in essence, a journey back in time. You don’t have to travel far outside the city to encounter farmers who still travel by horse and cart. Likewise, mobile phones and Internet access are a luxury rather than a given here. Elderly people flash red, betel-nut-stained smiles, many locals still don traditional dress and a staunch reverence for Buddhist teachings prevails.
Volunteer Roles in Myanmar
Today’s volunteers are active at a key transition in Burmese history. More than 2 million tourists landed in 2013 (twice as many as the previous year), and that growth is only expected to continue. The interactions that these tourists have with Burmese communities and outlying ethnic minority villages are shaping the way an entire generation views the international community.
This is a crucial time for people to volunteer in Myanmar – and not only because of their contributions to development. By spending their time in Myanmar working local villages and communities, volunteers are actively communicating the goodwill of the international community. Straightforward tourism injects revenue and a sense of upward mobility into developing nations, but it can also be a source of misunderstanding and frustration. Conscientious volunteers in Burma help to counterbalance this effect.
Experience the Real Burma
The chance to experience this traditional side of Southeast Asia is bringing people to Myanmar from all over the world. However, tourists still experience a closely regulated (some would say ‘sterile’) side of the country. Meanwhile, volunteers gain deeper access to the real Myanmar as they join community projects and teach English across the country.
The tourism industry in Myanmar may be growing rapidly, but it’s still in relative infancy. Access is still restricted in some cases, and an overarching package-tourism feel lingers in many places. The desire to engage and make more meaningful connections with the Burmese people and communities is inspiring many to volunteer in Myanmar.
However, it’s not as easy as simply showing up in Myanmar with a desire to work and a can-do attitude. Government regulations are subject to constant development and revision. With that in mind, the best way to approach volunteer opportunities in Myanmar is through an organization that has a strong relationship with local project sites and understands the legal framework.
Working through a well-networked organization – be it an NGO or a placement agency – is the wisest course of action for volunteers. These organizations are aware of which projects have the greatest need, are equipped to avoid missteps with corruption and offer valuable support during your tenure. This helps make the most of your volunteer service in Myanmar.
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