Singing songs of success in Myanmar

By Robyn Jewell, child sponsor

I’ve been a child sponsor with World Vision since 2007 and during the intervening years I have visited South East Asia several times. However, I had never been to Myanmar, which is the home of the child I currently sponsor, a young girl.

Last year it occurred to me that this might be the right time to go to Myanmar, to meet her and perhaps some members of her family. It would also be an opportunity to see some of the work of World Vision in the project area concerned, which is Than Byu Zayat, about nine hours south of Yangon.

I contacted Beck, the World Vision sponsor visit coordinator and we spent several months working through the various administrative steps required to turn such an idea into reality.  

So, ultimately, the paperwork at both ends completed and armed with my Myanmar visa and a quantity of brand spanking new American dollars, off I went to visit this fascinating country. Before eventually travelling on a long overnight bus to a town about 65km north of Than Byu Zayat, I spent three wonderful weeks visiting Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. 

My sponsor visit was scheduled for the end of my time in Myanmar, so I had plenty of time to get a feel for the country, learn a few words of the language and adjust to the heat and humidity, which were impressive.

The afternoon before my visit, the Area Development Program (ADP) manager, Tin, arrived at my hotel to say hello and finalise the arrangements for the following day. It was great to meet him and have a short chat, as well as to meet the project driver, who, not for nothing, is affectionately called the Super Driver! 

Road travel in Myanmar is challenging at the very least – lots of traffic, two and four wheeled, petrol driven and man-powered, on roads which, even when sealed, provide plenty of rock and roll!

We left Mawlamyine next morning at 7am and arrived in Than Byu Zayat at about 9am, collecting the government liaison officer, who needed to accompany us, and stopping for a coffee en route.  

My reception at the project office in Than Byu Zayat was utterly heart-warming and actually very emotional.  I think it is fair to say, we were all nervous – I certainly was! My sponsored child wore a beautiful white dress in the traditional Karen style and was accompanied by her mother and two sisters. 

About half of the project team were also present – and this was Sunday, normally a day off – as well as Tin and his assistant Moh Moh, a delightful young woman who went out of her way to make sure everything went well.  

After many smiles, handshakes, introductions and exchange of gifts, I had the opportunity, by means of a short presentation by the ADP, to get acquainted with the scope of the project and the work of the different team members. After that, we went out to visit various places within the project area, including a water tank construction project, built to provide piped well water to homes, where otherwise it has to be carried by hand.


Robyn with her sponsored child's family and World Vision staff.

Later in the day, we visited an informal education project set up to assist children of fishermen who are needed to help with the family fishing, thus keeping them away from school in the usual daytime hours. Under the aegis of World Vision, two hours each evening are provided for them, to help with the acquisition of basic literacy and numeracy skills. 

These children had composed a song and sang it, with their teacher accompanying them on guitar. I felt very moved and privileged to receive such a reception, both there and everywhere we went. 

Also included in this amazing day was a visit to a beautiful riverside pagoda and also to the museum which commemorates the Thai-Burma Railway (which ended at Than Byu Zayat) and the cemetery nearby, the resting place for about 4,000 POWs, including many Australians, who died during its construction.

I came away from this visit, having met my sponsored child and her family members, with a real sense of connectedness – I feel that I have a whole family in Myanmar – and that includes the project team, to whom I feel a bit like a surrogate grandma!! When I write my letters from now on, I will be able to see their faces and feel the warmth of their smiles and their welcome.

Thank you World Vision, for the opportunity to visit, thank you Beck, for doing your bit to make it happen and thank you to my sponsored child, her family and all the team for providing me with a personal experience which will stay with me always.