As Myanmar continues to grow in popularity on the international travel circuit, Yangon is leading the way as the international gateway. And while it may have lost capital status a few years back, this historic city still serves as Burma’s cultural headquarters.
You’ll probably be surprised by Yangon. A population of 4 million easily makes this the biggest city in Burma and secures its status as a small metropolis. But don’t get the wrong idea. Yangon has a village-like atmosphere, complete with warm locals and the highest concentration of colonial buildings in Southeast Asia.
It’s easier for volunteers to integrate here than in many other Southeast Asian cities. English-language proficiency is high – especially given the country’s low development standard – and that means you’ll have ample opportunity to meet and interact with the local Burmese while working on your volunteer project.
Underpinning all of this is a palpable sense of excitement. Burmese people are cautiously optimistic about Myanmar’s democratic reforms, and many are thrilled that the international community has taken such a strong interest in their country. That sense of optimism is contagious, and you’re likely to leave Burma with renewed hope in the human spirit and its ability to overcome oppression.
Volunteer Projects in Yangon
Most of the volunteers in Myanmar are based in Yangon on the front lines of one of the leading developmental projects in the world right now. There are so many places where volunteers can get involved – from orphanages to community development projects. Neighborhoods are being revitalized, education programs implemented and infrastructure enhanced.
This is a key period of transition for Myanmar. In fact, the environment in which today’s volunteers are working probably won’t exist for much longer. Much-needed development projects are undoubtedly positive for Burmese people, but they’re also fundamentally changing the country. With that in mind, volunteers who sign up today are among the last to experience a bygone age of Southeast Asia. It’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Experience the Real Yangon
We’ve been fortunate to work with volunteers across Southeast Asia, and in the process we’ve met some of the most conscientious travelers in the world. These are people who want to see and interact with the world – not as consumers, but as global citizens. They make lasting impressions on the communities they visit and take a bit of Burma home with them when they leave.
But that’s only part of the equation. Volunteers in Yangon are a drop in the bucket compared to the 2 million tourists who visited Myanmar in 2013. Even so, they experience the city in a way that a tourist never could. Of course, volunteers make the obligatory stops – Shwedagon Paya (a spectacular gilded pagoda), colonial neighborhoods and outlying ethnic minority villages. But all of this is just window dressing on a much richer, more rewarding experience.
While visitors spend their time in touristy districts interacting with guides, volunteers are actively involved in local communities. Everything from the food they eat to the neighborhoods they visit is more authentic. That alone is strong motivation to volunteer in Yangon.