Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


“Welcome to Donors and Tourists”

By Becka

            The blackboard says “Welcome to Donors and Tourists,” and I wonder which exactly our group of students and RDs is.  We sit on the wooden floor of a one-room building, raised a foot or two above the mud we stood barefoot in moments before.  The children sit a couple meters away on mats, between wooden tables, in front of another blackboard.  Our guide tells us that the uniforms the children are wearing were paid for by the donations of Semester at Sea Students who visited in the spring; I guess we’re donors.  The children look well-fed and relatively clean; a contrast from many of the children I’d seen on the streets in the previous few days.  They all wear the yellow cosmetic that’s so common (thanaka); some simply have their cheeks painted, while others their whole faces.

            Their teachers look as if they’re still children themselves.  Their long black hair is pulled into loose pony-tails.  If Burmathey’re as old as the youngest among our group, I’d be surprised¸ I find myself thinking, but chastise myself.  A young boy, no older than three, runs into the room.  His head is shaved and on his cheeks are painted two yellow suns.  He’s seated in the corner by one of the teachers, but can’t seem to sit still.  He wants to touch everything and is very disruptive, but the teachers and students ignore him.  We’re told he’s the adopted son of the monk in charge, which explains why he’s not punished for his precociousness.

            The children pray to Buddha and then we’re all ushered off to play with them.  The language barrier hangs thick in the air, yet we all manage to communicate in some way or another.  We color pictures; draw a house and the children do the same, a boat, a dog, or a cat, write their name and smile, they smile back.  As it’s time to leave the children all wave and grin, they seem pleased with their new crayons, stickers, coloring books and balloons.  They’re sheltered in this orphanage-school, run by monks and teachers, boys and girls so different than the ones who sell post cards on the streets of Yangon, fed and clothed by donations. 

Anthropologist Monique Skidmore, in her article Darker than Midnight, writes of the military government in Burma as “. . . creating a fear of the Other, whether a neocolonial presence, a foreigner, an internal traitor, or simply change and difference.”(8)  I’ve no idea if these children know about the struggles of their country, but I hope that for now they’re only children, as children all around the world should be, carefree and protected from what surrounds them.

Return to course home Send me your comments: