Kara and her boyfriend Nick are ETB board members from Ashland, Oregon, who have volunteered for ETB from the US since 2012. Kara, accompanied by Nick, recently finished a five-month volunteer work position with ETB in Mae Sot. With a background in photojournalism and education coordination for an arts non-profit, she was excited to utilize her skills and work directly with the community.
From Kara, May 26, 2015:
“I’m writing this from inside the house of a family whose daughter is getting married. For the past fifteen or more minutes, various family members and friends have been coming up one-by-one to the wedding couple, dipping strings in food and drink laid out in front of them, and then tying the strings around the young man’s and woman’s extended wrists. Next the couple moves outside and three monks are invited to sit at a table inside. Fresh food, tea, and coffee are brought out for them.
Many people from the community have been here to eat and take part in the festivities. Romantic pop music is playing loudly from a speaker system set up in the home, attached to a battery. There is delicious pork stew, fish soup, and rice that’s served to everyone, including ETB’s CDC students who were there eating when I arrived at 7:30. It’s casual dress for some, but men from the couple’s families are dressed finely in button-down shirts and stately longyi and the women look beautiful in colorful scarves with longyi and skirts in a variety of patterns. People are invited to put money into a bowl resting in front of the wedding couple next to a large bouquet of roses.
I’ll type these notes up later on a computer, and I hope when I do I remember the music (‘My Heart Will Go On’ played a couple times, a song Moon, an ETB translator and community member, said she really liked), the laughter, the kind offerings of pink-frosting cookies and tea, one of the women from the community cheerfully teaching me phrases in Thai, and the general bustle of party preparations and chatter.
I feel very humbled and honored to be here and to feel so welcome.”
Preparing these notes to share with you, I am reliving the happiness I felt during my time working with the community at my-pohn* and volunteering for ETB.
*’My-pohn’ is my phonetic spelling of what people call the rubbish dump in Burmese, which a few people translated into English as “garbage bin”
My five months in Mae Sot feels difficult to describe. It was a challenging emotional journey that was important to take. It gave me more perspective and a better understanding of the complexities surrounding the issues of poverty and human rights. I worked with, and learned from, people with diverse skills and talents, from first aid to teaching to house-building, and who also possessed great emotional strength and fortitude as well as a deep commitment to helping others.
I am excited to have the opportunity to share some of the highlights from my experience, including getting to know people in the community, working with Fred and Joe, seeing community-based projects in action, and being in awe of community members’ kindness and talents.
To give readers some context, I was in Mae Sot from late January to the first week of June. For most of the time I was there, it was “summer vacation” from school. Many in the community were working agricultural jobs in addition to collecting plastic and preparing for the rainy season. ETB was focusing on the water project in addition to several other priorities, including: handling emergencies, assisting Sky Blue School with transportation, working with the community on school registration, providing daily recreational and educational offerings at the ETB community center, and getting ready for the new school year, including managing daily breakfasts for CDC students.
To start, I want to introduce some of the people I met and worked with on the ETB team.
ETB has Burmese staff, including people from the community, and local volunteers, like our English teacher in the city. There are also people who support ETB from afar, including Canada, US, Denmark, and Australia, and they visit ETB and the community each year to make donations, volunteer, and see the progress made. In January and February we also had a couple short-term volunteers from abroad.