Volunteer Staff in Myanmar
Being a part of volunteer projects in Myanmar exposes you to countless new experiences. As soon as you step off the plane, sights, smells, and tastes flood the senses. While working in various volunteer projects throughout the country, you will meet others who share a passion for helping others. Volunteering in Myanmar in less fortunate communities allows you to meet and learn from all kinds of people. Locals and foreigners are all involved in volunteering in Myanmar.
Volunteering in Myanmar would be impossible however without the help of local staff every step of the way. The locals who help with volunteer projects are people who share a passion for helping others. They too want to help the lives of others who have been affected by the turmoil in Myanmar’s past. Local staff help with the day-to-day operations but they are a much more integral part of the volunteer’s experience.
Getting to Know the Locals
When working in Myanmar, volunteers will see a side of the country and it’s people that tourist don’t get to see. Following a tour guide limits the interactions you can have. Volunteers, on the other hand, have completely different experiences. Local people do not see volunteers as tourist. When a volunteer come half way around the world to lend a helping hand locals view the volunteer as some one who has come to help and learn from a different culture.
As you work among local communities, you will interact with locals every day. Local restaurants are a great place to start. Luckily, the local cuisine is delicious. And since there are not many western food options, finding local food is something all volunteers must do. Eating is one thing the people of Myanmar love to do and sharing their love of food with foreigners is a real joy for them. Local volunteers staff can also help you find new places to eat and drink.
While at project sites locals will assist you with the work. Volunteers take part in a collaboration to help get the job done. The experience of working together with people of other cultures rewards everyone involved in a number of ways. Each person’s experience will be different but all will be rewarded in the same way. Working alongside and for locals gives you the opportunity to take and learn about each other’s cultures and language. Learning even a small part of the language goes a long way in forming bonds with the locals and getting a deeper insight into the people.
Learning the Language
Volunteers usually don’t have enough time to master a language in the amount of time most can commit to a project. It’s not expected for volunteers to master a language in three weeks, but picking up a few phrases and words can make life a little easier when trying to accomplish everyday task. It also gives you small but important interactions with locals that you can’t have any other way.
You say hello in Burmese “min-ga-la-ba”. But it’s important to remember that Myanmar is home to some 150 ethnic groups, many of which have their own languages and dialects. But you can learn small words like “hello”, “goodbye” and “thank you” for local staff quickly. You’ll be amazed at how far a smile and a friendly hello will go in Myanmar.
Ordering food is easier that you may think. Try a few local dishes and learn how to say each one. Next time you go into a restaurant you can order something you like and impress the locals. It’s a good idea to learn the names of certain foods if you have allergies and the cooks will happily cook you something that is ok for you to eat. Learning words for other foods like chicken, pork, and fish can allow you to add variety to your orders just by adding or exchanging one or two words. Not only will learning small phrases of the local language help you get small things done or talk to the local staff more easily but you will also start to form a clearer picture of the customs of the area.
Learning the customs
Learning customs and traditions while volunteering in Myanmar is one of the great reasons to come serve people in the country. Myanmar is made up of so many ethnic groups that it’s hard to say exactly what it will be like wherever you end up volunteering. But there are a few things that ring true across the board. The more you pick up on certain customs the easier and more fulfilling your volunteer experience will be.
The culture is deeply connected to Buddhism and, thus, respect toward religion and those that follow it is expected. Monks are a common sight throughout the country and one should always treat them with respect. It’s’ good taste to give up your seat on a bus or train to a monk and women should avoid physical contact with monks.
Body language is something to be mindful of while working with locals as well. Feet are seen as unclean and you should avoid moving things with or touching things with your feet. Also touching someone’s head, especially if they’re older than you, is considered rude, so best to avoid it.
Myanmar still has a few unspoken gender rules that should be considered while trying to learn and interact with locals at a volunteer site. Burmese women rarely drink in public but it’s ok for foreign women to drink in moderation. Some temples may prohibit women from entering certain areas as well.
Accepting hospitality while in Myanmar shows the people humility. Being humble and gracious is a crucial part of volunteering in Myanmar and shows the locals that you respect their homes and traditions. Some locals may invite you over for a meal and serve food you have never seen before. Be respectful and at least try some of the food. You may be surprised at how much Burmese food you enjoy!
Making friendships is one of the best parts about volunteering in Myanmar. Working and living with locals and volunteers from different cultures forces you to interact with people who are different from you. At the project sites as well as the volunteer accommodation, volunteers make connections through work and play. Sharing experiences and learning from one another is why volunteers leave with relationships and memories that stay with them for a lifetime.
Other volunteers live and work together to accomplish the goals of different work sites. This collection of cultures is a key part of making a volunteer’s experiences memorable. Realizing that people from so many parts of the world share a passion for helping others changes the way you look at the world and yourself. Getting to work along side foreigners and locals alike shows you that people are more similar than we are different. Learning from other cultures through direct, personal relationships helps everyone one involved see our similarities more clearly. When finished, each person involved will go home with new-found appreciation for cultures, get a sense of community with others, and memories that last forever.