Doing something back for the kind people of Myanmar.

Before I started my long-term travels, I decided to set aside a dollar day while I traveled, to support the local people. I planned to either give money to a local non-profit or help out people in whatever way. With the help of my mom and a friend we were able to buy and deliver medicines for the poorest people of Siargao, Philippines. My girlfriend at the time ran the clinic for the poor people, which inspired the idea. I’ve never seen €2000 better spent. My second project was supporting locals in Myanmar.

Supporting locals in Myanmar

Supporting locals in Myanmar: Reason for the project

During the 8 weeks I spent in Bagan in 2018 I met a lot of local people. Working on the project was great, but the best part of it all were the friends I made during that time. There were 2 restaurants I’d always eat at, Weather Spoons in Nyuang-U and Khaing Shwe Wha at Old Bagan. I found online that they served great, clean food. I (almost) never went anywhere else, but that had everything to do with the people working there. They treated me better than anyone could wish for and I’ve really come to love these people dearly.

They are some of kindest and most genuine people you’ll ever meet. I spent countless hours talking with them about Myanmar, as I really wanted to understand the country better, understand they way of life for these people. I learned much. And the more I learned, the more sad it made me. We have no idea how hard life is for them.

Supporting locals in Myanmar

At Bagan you have loads of people selling stuff tourists, many of them drive around on their motorbike trying to find tourists to sell to. They will offer to show a great place for sunset or whatever, free of charge, all they ask in return is that they show you what they’re selling. Hoping of course that you’ll return the favor and buy something. I kept on running into the same people over and over, sometimes several times a day. And with most of them I’d end up talking, they all wanted to know why I was there for so long. Some of them became good friends and we’d often spend long times talking about their life, family, Bagan, Myanmar, all sorts of things. It was great, I had such a great time with them. I learned how tough life is in Myanmar is for these people. 

Supporting locals in Myanmar

My friend Win at Weather Spoons needed some designs and a new logo, so I helped him out. When I refused payment, he offered to take me to his village in return, thinking I’d appreciate the travel experience and seeing true local life in Myanmar. I was quite shocked, to be honest. I felt like going back in time. People have so little. They are lucky to a water supply and electricity, since 3 years, thanks to themselves saving up for it. The government doesn’t support its people with these basic needs. In between that poverty though you find the greatest of smiles and curious looks of people and kids. I learned about how in these poor villages, of which there are so many, people live with so little money that often times they can’t buy books for their kids, or even rice to feed them. 

This is a series of me visiting my friends’ family:

Supporting locals in Myanmar: Returning for the project.

Shortly after my second visit I returned home for a while. I thought much about my experiences in Myanmar, how I really wanted to see my friends there again and show them the result of the project I’d been working on. But I really wanted to do something back as well and decided to set aside €1000 to help some of my friends as I planned to return end of 2019. Eventually I managed to raise another €5000 from some friends and my mom. 

Supporting locals in Myanmar

Seeing them back was better than I hoped for. I hadn’t seen them for a year. I didn’t know how they’d react and if they’d even recognize. But it was great. I stayed a month. Although I had a bunch of timelapse and drone scenes I needed to finish my big project, I had plenty of time to spend with them. My plan was to find out in conversations what they needed most. I didn’t want to just give money, I preferred to buy or pay for whatever they needed. I did find out that is not always possible or the best thing, some people who have little to no money are best off with cash to pay for basic needs.

Supporting locals in Myanmar

Dozens of hours were spent with my friends, trying to find out what I could best help them with. I talked with Win about my project and what I could perhaps do for this village. It was with him that I got to do 3 projects in his town. He was of great help, as he helped me order a wheelchair, get $800 school-needs for 400 kids and teachers (through him we got it cheap, a foreigner pays more..) and we supported the poorest people from his village. I could not have done this without his help, many thanks to you my friend Win Tun from the best restaurant at Bagan > Weather Spoons.

This is a series of the village my friend lives at and where I supported the people for some projects:

PROJECTS: Supporting locals in Myanmar

Supporting local school

With help of my friend and his friends/family we bought books/pens/pencils/erasers/etc for the school in his village. When school started we made 400 sets for all students and teachers and handed them out one by one, the kids all bowing their head as a thank you.

This was a such great morning, it was so much fun to be surrounded by all these curious and excited kids with their pretty Thanaka-decorated little faces. 

Supporting poorest people 

Most of the poorest people in this village are old people who have ails and can no longer work. They have no family nearby, if they even have family. They have no income and no way to take of themselves and rely completely on the village, fed by neighbors. So to walk in there, being be big white stranger, and (after my friend would tell why I’m there) to hand over money to help, well that’s quite a thing for these people. It’s as if some wish comes true, some would grab my hand, all crying, and speak all these wishes for me, may my dreams come true and all that. It was intense, but I’m so grateful to have been able to help these lovely old people.

Funny enough later that very same day I got offered a free balloon ride, so perhaps their wishes worked!

NOTE: To be honest, I’ve been having a rough time deciding if I should be posting there photos. I actually never intended to post any of this, I only documented it to show my friends who donated money, what I was talking about. I wanted to show the faces behind the stories. It was only after talking to other people about this project, that I was convinced that I should share it, to also make other people see the situations these people are in.

So please, take a close look at these images to see the situation these people live in. What you see is what they have, the little hut and few things. The situation in Myanmar is bad. I put 10.000 words into 1 word there, ‘bad’. Please read the last section of this post.

Wheelchair and laptop for disabled boy

Years ago this kid was sleeping behind a truck, while villagers were filling it with sand. The sand slid, breaking his legs. As villagers tried to pull him from under the sand, they broke his back. All he could now was lay on his left side, to be switched hours later to his right side. He had no wheelchair and no way to move around. His laptop was broken. He was promised a wheelchair by someone, who never delivered.

I bought him a new wheelchair and a laptop with Adobe programs that I stuffed with music, movies, my photos, videos etc. Enough to keep him busy and hopefully inspire him to create. The sparkle in his eyes was priceless.

Building a house for a young family

Through many conversations I found out about the unfortunate situation one of my best friends was in, a young girl who was just married and had a kid. I was able to have a house built for her family, so she had her own place and was in a better environment. Here I really was able to change someone life completely. She’s so thankful, it’s the most adorable thing ever.

Supporting friends

There were a few friends that I supported buying one of their painting for the best price they ever had. I learned before about how they find it very hard to accept a gift. They just really want to do some honest business. They help you, hoping you buy something from them. But they don’t really like hand-outs. 

A few times I got invited by friends to come over for dinner as a way of saying thank you. It’s a funny experience, because they prepare a table full of food, but you’re the only one eating! They will sit there staring at you as you eat. 

Date with 2 girls!

Two of my best friends there are Nin Nin and Zin Zin, best friends since they were young. Their life is all about supporting their family, they don’t go out, never go out for dinner. I thought I’d take them out to my favorite restaurant. In the afternoon I tricked them to a shop, told them I needed help buying a dress for a friend, but had them both pick a dress, to their surprise. Shoes afterwards, took the longest. They went home, got dressed, we met up later for a photo-shoot at the temples at had dinner together. They loved it. I enjoyed just watching them giggle the whole time. 

Supporting locals in Myanmar

I’d like to finish this post with an important message. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in Myanmar, it’s how important it is to ‘Support Locals’. I’m not talking about projects like I did. I’m talking simply about spending your money at local-run businesses. Don’t stay in fancy owned-by-rich hotels with swimming pools, stay at a guesthouse that supports many of the local people. Eat at local-run restaurant, buy your souvenirs from a local person. A lot of things are owned and controlled by the government, even souvenir markets. Choose to support locals, doesn’t cost you a cent extra 😉 Simply spending your money at the right place has the power for supporting locals in Myanmar.

Other links

Watch the full Bagan photo series and other Myanmar photos at my portfolio.
Don’t miss my Myanmar travel guide and other Myanmar posts at my blog.

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