This trip marks my 20th volun-tour with Together We Can Change the World. I’m proud to be the only member who hasn’t missed one yet.
Each tour is unique in its own way and always with its share of magical moments. Part of the
magic on this trip was the participation of our first family of five with the kids aged 10, 12 and 14. These good, thoughtful, worldly kids have been homeschooled for the past 14 months and have been traveling around the world with their parents, Lorne Resnick and Juliet Funt.
Both realize the invaluable education of global living and have enrolled many interesting teachers along the way asking for 10-minute “life learning lessons” to help educate their kids in the school of life. This adventure surely added to their education.
Each tour is made up of three components: Leadership Summits that raise money and awareness for the causes we serve and support in that country; visits to those causes; and an authentic touch of tourism….and if we’re really lucky, a JanaStanfield.com concert with 1000 or so new local friends. These spontaneous jam sessions at a restaurant/bar with a band or on an outdoor patio are magical parts of just about every trip.
This particular tour was to be focused on our causes and authentic tourism… a nice, reflective way to celebrate our 20th tour.
After a relaxing night and a group orientation at a hotel in Yangon, our first stop the next morning was PMO, Palel Myntta Orphanage, 50 minutes or so outside of Yangon. It was a poignant and powerful first stop. All the kids there are AIDS victims who have lost their parents to the cruel disease as well. Other family members have chosen not to be involved; thus, the kids have found their way to PMO. It is definitely a harsh situation. However, on a brighter note, they have a good home with compassionate caretakers and where medical expenses are taken care of.
Our mission in our two-hour visit is to share as much love and hope as possible. We do this with group activity then, smaller groups, and even some one-on-one.
We start by sharing some singalongs, the chicken dance, games, and then they do the same including their “Hookey Pookey” version of the Hokey Pokey, as the Burmese call it. This leads to more intimate sharing and the kids opening up a bit. When you come with an open heart, it gets filled up quickly with special moments of connection.
The most effective way we have found to leave any home or school is with Jana leading us in a version of “I Want to Be Your Friend” It goes like this… “I want to be your friend, a little bit more, a little bit, a little bit, a little bit more.” It’s our cue that we need to finish our conversations and offer a last bit of encouragement.
We sing it until we’re all on the bus ready to go to our next stop. It’s never an easy goodbye, and at PMO, for sure, even harder, not knowing for sure what the future holds for these precious kids. After many touching goodbyes and a few tears, we sang a longer than normal “We Want to Be Your Friend” as all 11 of us boarded the bus.
The next five hours on the TWCCTW tour bus included some heartfelt sharing, reflecting on our experience, a little Juliet-led meditation session that soon became part of every bus ride. These road revelations included the three kids sharing some iPhone App lessons, and getting to know our fellow travelers a little better. Our destination, The Hpa-An Life Hotel in beautiful, Hpa-An, Myanmar, a scenic mountainous city full of rivers and beauty. Each morning we would visit a different orphanage with well-behaved kids eager to learn and play. The afternoons were spent exploring the treasures and people of Hpa-An.
In the past year, we have allocated a significant amount of money to build computer centers at two of our schools, Guiding Star Monastery School and Koenawin Monastery School. To achieve sustainability in our causes and the lives impacted, we have learned that teaching skills on the computer is one very effective way. Computers are new to the learning landscape in Myanmar and will make a big difference as these kids find their way in a complex, digital world.
Four days of magical moments included a scenic sunset beer-and-wine cruise on the Thanlyin River, candid conversations with monks, and school leaders. Money-producing social projects started by Bill Taylor and the Southeast Asia Empowerment fund include brick and candle manufacturing operations. Then, we celebrated with a big community concert featuring Jana Stanfield, Jake Resnick and other talented artists, a sunset hike with a priceless view, and Alex Reznick’s birthday lunch feast with special life-learning toasts. It was a memorable four days with lots of smiles and new friends.
As you might expect, the visit to Palel Myntta Orphanage lingered in the hearts of our travelers. The driving question that continues to come up on our morning bus rides? “How can we provide a better life for these beautiful kids with such unfortunate circumstances?” On our last morning before heading back to Yangon, Juliet and I accompanied by our committed guide and partner, Treasure, stopped by the bustling local market to pick up desired fruit for the kids and staff at PMO.
We left a little earlier than planned to make one more stop to deliver our gift of grapes, dragon fruit, pomegranate, and pomelo to our cherished friends at PMO. Some of us engaged the kids in guitar playing, a game of catch, and conversations while a few others were busy measuring the grounds for playground and exercise equipment that the kids had mentioned they would like.
Once again we had trouble pulling away as we went to find our lodging and get ready to create a few more days of lasting memories. As we said goodbye a few days later, the verse from our Together We Can Change the World theme song proved itself right again, “The life you change may be your own.”
Twenty tours completed and hopefully many more to come.