Written by Kevin Yang
Published by Vera Zhao

"Helping the students in need will change something in their life. And in return, you'll make a difference after this visit."

-By Kevin Yang, Sales Manager at Odynovo

"My Odyssey Tours Cares" is our corporate social responsibility project that we started earlier this year. We did this to support our core value of being responsible in the travel business and to teach the idea of sustainability. Supporting schools in need is an important part of this project.

The logo of My Odyssey Tours CareMy Odyssey Tours Cares is a project that focuses on responsible tourism.

During an inspection trip to Myanmar in June, our vice president, Candy Yu, and I went to Sandar Yama Monastic Education School, which is in one of the poorest areas near Yangon, Myanmar.


Why Myanmar?

When we decided to commence the program, we were told about Myanmar, which is a place where education is still in poor condition. Statistics from UNESCO show that the average adult in Myanmar only goes to school for 2.8 years. And the reason? Even though Myanmar has laws stipulating that primary school education is free, due to the lack of government support, it is difficult for low- and even middle-income families to pay for transportation to schools and additional fees to help the schools buy textbooks and desks. This is in part why a growing number of schools run by monasteries are likely to play a role.

Abbot Sandar Yama, who started the school, was there to greet us when we got there. The name of the Sandar Yama Monastic Education School derives from the Abbot who established it in 2012, and he raises funds to provide free education to other monks. He told us that there were about 400 students, starting from kindergarten.

Next, he showed us around the school.

The classroom of Sandar Yama Monastic Education SchoolThe Sandar Yama Monastic Education School was simply built several years ago.

The school has set up a reading room and is getting books from the community, nonprofits, and social enterprises that have volunteers. This time, we brought over 2,000 exercise books and 100 English storybooks to the students.

Look around the reading roomWe looked around the shabby reading room.

Donated booksWhat we brought them was far from sufficient.

While we were walking in the school, some of the students stood up and gazed out of the window, gesturing "V" to say hello to us, although they were still in class. What's more interesting, several adorable students even made faces at us secretly.

It seemed that our coming caused a stir in the school.

During recess, as soon as we got into the classroom of a senior class, many students pointed to the board that had some drawings and words, which they had drawn to show us about their present and their dreams. Education and effort offer them the opportunity to realize their dream.

The board that shows the students' dream and presentThe board indicated the children's present and dream.

Student's lovely smilesTheir lovely smiles were accurately captured.

Before coming, we designed an interaction course called "READ A STORY" at the school teacher's suggestion. Starting with some easy chit-chat, Candy, who had been an experienced English teacher, introduced herself in a soft voice and encouraged the kids to do the same. She then invited them to share their dreams. A girl overcame her nervousness and said loudly, "I want to be a teacher!" Later on, many students spontaneously spoke out their dreams: soldier, doctor, businessman, worker, etc. But being a teacher was the shared dream of most students.

A girl talking about her dreamA girl was invited to talk about her dream.

Feeling that the atmosphere became lively, we distributed the storybooks to every student and Candy read the story - "Duck on a Bike" to them. This book is written by Caldecott Honor winner David Shannon and is believed to a good outside reading material for English beginners.

When the story mentioned dogs and cats, Candy asked the students what the dog and cat would say. Students answered quickly by imitating these animals' voices, "Meow, meow, and woof, woof!" They looked much more concentrated than usual.

We had a very happy hour with these lovely students.

Students listen to the storyStudents were immersed in "Duck on a Bike".

After we finished all activities, students bided farewell to us lingeringly, singing their nursery rhyme "Goodbye, goodbye, my dear friends. See you, see you, my dear friends…"

A group photoMay a photo memorized this valuable moment.

Before we left the classroom, Candy continued to ask the girl who shared her dream with us first, "Why do you want to be a teacher?" The girl thought for a while and said: "Because I know the teacher plays a very important role in our life. They can bring many new things and ideas to us. I want to be a helpful person like them!"

Abbot sent us to the gateWhen all the activities were finished, Abbot sent us to the school gate.

On our way back to the hotel, something important still echoed through my mind. We heard some of the teachers say that the school was lucky to have visitors like us, but actually, we were the lucky ones. We were extremely privileged to talk with these students and know their lives. It broadened our horizons to many new perspectives of the world and for that, we would be grateful forever.

Sandar Yama Education School welcomes sincere friends. But meanwhile, we are acutely aware that the school is not an attraction. Of course, on one hand, sharing fun and laughter with local students is an unforgettable experience during your travel, and your visits are actively encouraged. On the other hand, unprepared visits might expose the students to many additional risks, both physical and psychological.

So, if you want to do some good for schools like this or have interaction with these students, My Odyssey Tours could tailor-make you a visit that is helpful, professional, and friendly. With over 10 years of operating experience, we can assure you that the students are not exploited and you will make a difference after you finish the visit.

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