Books for Burma

One of my favorite giving strategies while touring a new country is to stop by and visit a school. It gives me a good look at the country’s needs and I get to meet the kids = bonus! So as not to disrupt classes, I always ask a local the best time to visit and to make an introduction if necessary.

Donating School Supplies

Before I go, I load up on pens and exercise books to pass out to the students. The way I figure it, I always bring a hostess gift while visiting someone’s house, so why wouldn’t I do the same visiting a school? I choose pens and books, but also throw in a map or chalk, if I can find them.

I like to buy the goods at a local market too. Give the community a little support all the way around! My gauge for spending is usually about $10-$15. It depends on the typical class size, but I try and buy enough school supplies to furnish at least one class.

Speaking with the Students

I normally give the donated items to a teacher or the principal to distribute how they see fit. Much of the time they invite me to pass out the supplies to students individually, which is great fun since I get to interact with the students a little more.

And if they offer for me to stand up and teach a while – I’m in heaven! (Way back when, I used to teach students at the Korean International School in Hong Kong.) In many countries English is being taught, so a lesson with a native English speaker is an advantage for the children. Even here in Burma, English is taught from second grade on. This is a perfect opportunity to ask the children a few questions about their lives.

Practicing My Burmese

I also practice my local language skills. When I went on the school visit in Bagan, Burma, I only had about 3 sentences to try out. Admittedly, not a very big repertoire. No matter! What counts is that I’m speaking their language (or at least trying to!).

Here’s the extent of my Burmese (all phonetic spelling):

  • J Zoo – Thank You
  • Knee Cowl La – How are you? (Mom thought that we should say this phrase like the Swiss cough drop commercial: a sing-songy “Ricola” — but that’s totally wrong. The emphasis is placed on the second syllable.)
  • Show Ba – I want a bargain! (Terrifically useful in the market, not so much in the school. In fact, the merchants always laughed at me and I get at least a 20% discount!)

Visiting Swei See Tai School

The students at the Swei See Tai (again phonetic) school didn’t have much – but they all had desks and chairs to sit on. There were blackboards in the room and it was clean and tidy. There were only about 45 students (apparently there are usually are about 80).

And there were some really small tykes there! I guess the villagers use the school as a daycare option when they need to work in the fields. The kids were very polite and loved having their pictures taken! We’d snap a few and then show them their portraits.

Bringing books and pens to a small rural school in Bagan, Burma produced big smiles all around. Although I actually think mine was the widest grin of all!

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This entry was posted on Saturday, March 17th, 2012 and is filed under The Giving Guide.

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