“It is, as I suppose, the fairest place that doe bee in all the Worlde.”
Ralph Fitch was the first Englishman ever to come to Burma, in 1584 as the captain of ‘the talle ship Tyger’ (the ship mentioned, some say, by Shakespeare in MacBeth), and he said this of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Burma.
–from “Where China Meets India” by Thant Myint-U
Guest post from Brenden, about his Sept. 2015 trip to Burma:
First trip to Burma! You all know how long I have been feeling the pull to Burma and its peoples. You all may or may not remember seeing, in our fundraising presentation last year, my smiling face in a picture on the Thai/Burma border from my 2012 exploratory trip! And, I bet many of you are eagerly waiting to hear about my thoughts and experiences from my first trip “inside”.
Well, Thanks Be to God! My first trip to Burma was a bit unexpected, but perfectly timed with a break in language school, and it was smooth and wonderful. As Becca mentioned in the send-off post, I was a part of a Community Development Training course (CD) for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in Northern Myanmar.
My role was a pretty basic one, read the material, come and assist in any way that I could in order to one day be able to reproduce and lead the training somewhere else. The trip and training were a really great experience. The training was loosely based on the Biblical account of Nehemiah. (It’s pretty neat actually, to see how present-day community development principals were implemented successfully 2,500 years ago. Or is it the other way around?!)
Nehemiah, a Jew, was a high official in the Persian court of King Artaxerxes I in the 5th century B.C. in what is now modern-day Iran. High position though he had, when he heard that a remnant of his people were living in the city of Jerusalem but without the protection of a fortified wall around the city (imperative in those times), his heart was burdened. After much praying and fasting about the matter, of reminding himself that God intends good for His people, the day came when the king himself asked Nehemiah why his heart was sad and what he wanted to do about it. Ambition of all ambition, this was Nehemiah’s reply.
Then I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild the wall.’ (Nehemiah 2:5)
And then we trainers implemented the following principles that enabled Nehemiah to succeed in such a massive task.
Nehemiah obtained permission from proper authority, set a timeline, worked alongside other community leaders, thoroughly inspected the proposed project, helped create a detailed plan to rebuild the wall by maximizing the community and the resources they already possessed, and advocated for resources from others outside the community who could help. He oversaw the wall rebuilding and he interfaced with the many forces who opposed the project. The people enjoyed a dedication ceremony celebrating the completion of the efforts, for many many people had devoted blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish the task. It was a true communal effort.
Just as rebuilding the ancient wall was critical to this society’s success (http://www.gotquestions.org/rebuild-walls-Jerusalem.html), so it is valuable to choose needs and issues that are critical to communities’ success now. To identify other people from within their own community who believe that change is possible, even when the task seems insurmountable.
The concepts of this CD process listed above are not very new or complicated to our western way of thinking and educations, but they are very different and are new ways of thinking and looking at problems for most of the people who attended. We helped them think through:
- What do you as a community need? (Is it a physical need, social need, etc.?)
- What resources does your community already have? (It is not helpful to assume that communities do not have much to offer just because they do not have much materially. This assumption does not empower them to believe in and hone their abilities. It is helpful to assume that each culture has strengths and skills to help them meet their needs.)
- What resources will you need to bring into your community?
and really the big one…
- What is your plan to make this happen so that the project is truly successful? And in a way that the community is actually benefited?
It’s not about an NGO coming in and deciding the project and resourcing it, either with the funds, the ideas, or the skills and follow-through. Community development that succeeds happens when a community takes ownership, finds their own sources of motivation, and works together as a community, in the community, to bring about the lasting change they need. Partners Relief and Development serves to support these communities, encourage them, and help them get the balls rolling and the ideas flying.
This particular training was super exciting because we were training local leaders from five IDP camps in Myitkyina on the process so that they can take it back and lead their own community through real actual projects themselves. The situation in Myitkyina looks to hold a lot of promise for success due to the ease of access by our staff, and because God has given us some very capable and invested partner organizations and individuals to help with follow-up and consult as communities take their situations into their own hands. I look forward to hearing how the leaders from our training are faring in the months to come: it is inspiring to see leaders emerging from people living in such vulnerable and difficult situations as the IDP camps in Burma.
On the personal side, it was so surreal to finally be in Myanmar/Burma! It was familiar, as in I was in a SE Asian country, and I was with familiar faces from Partners, and yet it was definitely not Thailand. I was finally where I have been waiting/God has been preparing me to go to for soooo long. It was great to take in the sights and sounds, the tastes and smells. I enjoyed having a new perspective, since moving to Thailand, to process it all through. Basically, I liked it a lot and kept on thinking I could live here, followed closely behind by the thought, we (family) are NOT ready to move here. (It would be a much harder adjustment than Thailand.) However, as my supervisor said, “No one is asking you to move there. . . yet.” 🙂 But still, I just continued to think about it every day. I took this fascination as God’s way of confirming why we came half way around the world in the first place, that Myanmar and its peoples are worth investing in and fighting for!
Thanks Be To God for His perfect timing, His perfect teaching and growing, and for this opportunity to refresh the reason that we are here, adjusting to all that life has to offer and requires!
(Also, in the weeks following the training, both Maja and Emerson mentioned Burma over and over, in some context or other. Even now, a month later, Maja will bring up “Myanmar” or “Burma” and talk about it as if it’s familiar to her. When we pass the airport, Emerson still says “Daddy. Plane. Burma.” And while visiting a new church today, Maja’s first observation was “There’s the Myanmar flag!” We like this direction…)