Going to Myanmar to visit and do some loose English teaching in 2014 was a bit of an adventure following my retiral but little did I realise it would start a life-changing passion.
Myanmar is the country which was known as Burma until 1989. It is slowly and painfully emerging from years of unilateral rule by the military dictators who took over the country in a bloodless coup in March 1962. National hero, General Aung San’s daughter, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, despite having been placed under house arrest for 21 years, formed NLD (National League for Democracy), the opposition party which immediately won popular support and eventually gained enough votes to form a government in November 2015. However it is widely recognised that there is still a significant military presence within the government and that this is slowing down both the democratic process and Myanmar’s progress. It is the poorest country in Asia, 23rd poorest in the world.
There are ongoing tribal wars around Myanmar’s borders and, in 2017, the country received widespread condemnation when more than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Rakhine State. A new United Nations report accuses the military leaders of carrying out genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, calling for six generals to face trial at the International Criminal Court. The same report accuses Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of failing to prevent the violence. The Myanmar government refutes these findings.
Despite all of this, visiting Myanmar is a joyful and unforgettable experience. The people are friendly, curious, humorous, and immensely grateful for any interest taken in them and their country. They are anxious to improve their standing in the world and learning English is a way of leading young people to better job opportunities and life skills. There is a simplicity and innocence not evident in the more advanced countries of SE Asia. Much of the landscape is as it would have been hundreds of years ago.
My small charity www.ahtutucharity.org.uk goes to the peaceful Ayeyerwady (Irrawaddy) Delta in the south west of the country every January in the cool season to teach English through active lessons and support worthwhile projects to help young people. For example, January 2018 saw us building a new ceiling in the local boys’ orphanage with fans and lights so that the dormitory can now be used all year round. Until then the boys had been sleeping in the crawl space under the concrete floor in the hot season.
The charity is holding a Ceilidh at the Cathedral whose funds will support Ahtutu and Together with Cambodia on Friday, 28th September – see https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ceilidh-at-the-cathedral-tickets-48910354186. Whilst Ahtutu puts all of its funds towards supporting young people, engineering students from Edinburgh Napier University have begun a crowdfund to join us for the second time – see https://uk.gofundme.com/teaching-young-adults-in-myanmar. Please help us to help all of the young people we work with. Thank you.