Oh Little Children of Myanmar

The children in Burma waited for us, greeting us with smiles and postcards. Buy a postcard, buy a postcard, buy a postcard. They greet us with impeccable English, helps us merrily on our way to the next attraction.

The children in Burma told us which were the nice fruits to eat, the cheap shops to buy from. They wore perpetual smiles.

They wear yellow circles of Thanaka paste on their cheeks, for good skin and sun protection and mosquito aversion. The story goes that the paste will show a father if his daughter has been kissed.

Many of the little children we spoke to had never been to school. Tuition is free, but out-of-pocket expenses are not. So instead they help out at the market, directing tourists and locals to their parents’ stalls. They pick up English and German and Japanese at an alarming rate. They learn, even out of school. They are hungry for knowledge, they absorb it thirstily.

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At the pagodas I see the little child monks, training for a holy life but children all the same, skipping along the marble walkways, laughing with their friends. And the little children patrons are dressed up as if for church, hungry hearts discovering their religion.

What do you do, when a little child asks that you purchase her painting? Do you refuse, because it condones her absence from school? But their world is not my world. Refusing to buy from them would not automatically send them to school.

I grew to love these little children. They remind me of the little South African children, eager also to learn; the children in the hospital who don’t embrace their sick role but want out, out. The children of Burma – Myanmar – made me feel closer to home, far away as we were. But I think that these children have more challenges than my little South African patients. I wish them strength, passionate teachers, compassionate doctors, and a kind government.


  1. denise.puchert@gmail.com says:

    Wat doen di persoon op di tas?

    Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

    1. Sy skilder! En sy is net 10 jaar oud!

  2. Well, hi 🙂 Your blog is lovely. I was just wondering, did you go to Burma as a medical student? I’m planning my elective at the moment and have always longed to go there. Did you make any connections with hospitals or clinics while you were out there? Thoughts very appreciated! Zoe

    1. Hi, and thanks! Burma is a tough one right now. There is still a bit of unrest and getting a Visa is still quite difficult too.
      I went while I was a student with Semester at Sea, so I was the only medical student on the ship. I basically organised my own “field trips” in the countries. I visited the Yangon General Hospital during my stay there, but it was pretty on the fly, I walked in and spoke to some nurses and doctors but they were not keen on even sharing their names (maybe because my translator was also a journalist, oops).

      Anyways, I would suggest contacting the University of Medicine 1, Yangon. They have a website with some contact details, but I honestly don’t know if you will get a speedy response, because email is very unreliable there at the moment. My suggestion is to leave anything like “volunteer” out of your email. They don’t like volunteers but they do like education. So basically explain your elective and that you would love the opportunity to do an elective there, and hope for the best. I think it will be hard, but not impossible. They have a big emphasis on public health, so that could be one option for a focus area. Additionally, there isn’t too much of a language barrier in Burma. The biggest problem is getting used to their jargon and accent.

      If your school has a dedicated office for international studies, I would suggest asking them for help too.

      The Mae Tao Clinic in Thailand is another option you might consider… just do a search for it. 🙂

      I should also mention that you are more likely to be successful in your endeavour if you focus on a city like Yangon which is generally open to tourists. The rural areas are still fairly restricted to foreigners by the government.

      Good luck – let me know how your search goes! I loved Burma so much, you will have an incredible time there.

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