Fierce faith

See the picture of Mary praying? Her faith is huge. It’s fierce!

Mary lives in a village orphanage, with 40 other children, in a rural area of Burma. Every child there has a story. What does it take to really give hope? How do we empower a child? Make an impact for life?

Whenever I visit, I make a point of setting aside time to play – of spending time as children should – playing on the swings, skipping, riding around the soccer field on a bike…try that wearing a traditional Burmese longi!

Having fun, laughing. Far away from the horrors that brought them to this place of safety, and the fears that still visit them in their nightmares.

Mary had a beaming, infectious smile and soaked up every ounce of affection I gave her. I was heart-broken to learn that she had been assaulted like no young child should ever be violated. And yet she had a strength and demeanour beyond her years, from which it was evident that she was now in a home where there was an abundance of love and nurturing. Mary was learning how to trust and to share, and most of all, to forgive. I believe that this is the foundation that we need to provide these young girls who have suffered needlessly in whatever circumstance. To really come out of poverty, pain and loss we need to start by showing them love. This is the start of a healthy mind and spirit that will lead to a healthy life of learning and growing into a productive woman in her community.

Mary praying: she loves God so much and knows that there is hope because this is what she is taught by her caregivers. This is what she experiences every day. Her radiant face relays a thousand words! Mary is an outstanding young girl who has taught me much about my own life.

A world of difference

Pensive, but determined.

rural village leaders in plansNot so long ago we were meeting to discuss the needs and possibilities for the rural communities of Burma. Together we were exploring projects to build a village school, to support a medical facility, to expand a crucial water pipeline…and to bring electricity to a village in Mon State.

It’s kind of unreal to think about all these things when you can barely figure out the day-to-day responsibilities for feeding your family.

This particular day was especially wonderful. It went beyond merely sharing dreams – to actually making them happen. The culmination of a year’s worth of planning and final preparations to train Myanmar’s first grandmother solar engineers at Barefoot College.

Mon State Village leaderIn the ‘before’ picture my arms are wrapped around one of the five village leaders who had been crucial in collaborating for the future of her community. This woman is strong and dedicated to her family. Somewhat shy and insecure about her abilities to participate in the program, she was nevertheless filled with wonder and amazement at how she would be able to help her community. To be able to send her grandchildren to school, for them to be able to study with the lights on, for no-one in the Barefoot College 2013village to have to travel miles to get clean drinking water – all these things were in her reach, as she was going to embark on the training program.

Last month the group returned from their 6-month trip to India. From the overwhelmed shock of emotions to the incredible confidence and joy – these pictures are testimony to a journey of empowerment.

According to the Myanmar Times, deputy minister of rural development, U Aung Myint Oo, described the women as “an inspiration”:

“It is unthinkable that these six semi-literate Myanmar women from remote villages travelled abroad to study solar assembly. Their desire to light up their remote villages is highly commendable. It is an inspiration to all people in Myanmar that women of their age can learn something really important for their communities.”

And so, as one life-changing journey ends for the individuals, another rousing journey starts for the sustainable development of their rural communities.

As a side note, Barefoot College founder, Bunker Roy, has since received the Clinton Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Civil Society at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City. A perfect recognition for all the amazing work that he has initiated around the world!

What does love look like?

It looks like this. A child, in pain, dying.

what does love look like?

When I look at this picture my heart is ripped out. I am anguished by his suffering. I ask myself, how can I ease his pain?

Young boys work in grown-up jobs all over the world. In dangerous jobs. In this case, a young, orphaned boy tumbled out of a truck overloaded with rocks that he had been helping to distribute. He was earning a mere dollar a day, which translates to about 850 kyat in Burma. A pittance, but what were his options?

After his accident, the already emaciated Soe Min became seriously ill. With no-one prepared to take him in, he somehow found his way to our orphanage. The hospital could do nothing more for him, but at the orphanage he found care. For a short time, he had a loving, nurturing home. He died in dignity a few weeks later, surrounded by caregivers who cherished him until the end.

That’s what love looks like.