The road to Mandalay
World Vision artist ambassador Dave Bilbrough recently visited his sponsored child Myo in Myanmar, and was incredibly encouraged by all the positive work he saw in the community there.
By Dave Bilbrough, Tales of a Troubadour
Rudyard Kipling may have written lucidly of romance and mystery in his classic poem Mandalay but to many in the Western world Mandalay and the country in which it resides, Myanmar, still remains an isolated and remote land.
As an artist ambassador for World Vision, I recently travelled ‘East’, along with my wife, Pat, and was delighted to see first-hand the positive impact that World Vision initiatives are having in the region.
One of the poorest nations in Asia, Myanmar is gradually coming into democracy. Under colonial rule until 1948, and subsequently military rule, things are slowly changing. World Vision has been active in Myanmar since 1991, and during my visit I could really see the merits of this long-term commitment as long-term changes were very much in evidence.
This is a land of golden pagodas where shaven-headed monks on every street are dressed in their distinctive russet coloured garb, and swarms of motorcycles spray out across the city. We saw the unfamiliar sights of women and children wearing bark paste on their faces as sunscreen. Men dressed in sarong-like longyis instead of trousers are the norm. Beyond the exotic and unusual sights our eyes could see great need; so many are facing an everyday struggle with income, education and health.
Meeting face to face for the first time
At the heart of our trip was the opportunity to meet our sponsored child, Myo Min. Now aged 15, I was warned that he might be a little shy, as is typical for adolescent boys the world over. At dinner the night before the visit I realised I didn’t know what my reaction would be or what to expect.
However, all my anxieties soon evaporated once we met.
Taller than I’d imagined, with a firm handshake, I was immediately struck by Myo’s black hair; just like his father’s who stood some feet behind along with his mother. Myo spoke a few pre-rehearsed words of greeting in English, and then through a translator we conversed together. He told us of his progress at school, his younger sisters, and his love for Chelsea football club. We kicked a ball together; I played my guitar and even taught him a few guitar chords. Myo also brought out the letters and Christmas cards we had sent him over the years, and it was humbling to see how much he valued them.
Chatting to his parents we learned of some of the challenges that they face as a family. Recent flooding, a regular occurrence, had destroyed personal belongings. As a result of the destruction, many people built their own fragile and temporary homes, which can be found perched precariously by the roadside for two to three months of the year. Myo’s parents also described how the daily journeys to work and school become longer and more difficult as roads are blocked or covered over. For Myo Min’s family, and others like them, life is tough.
Throughout our time Pat and I saw first-hand the impact that World Vision is having on the area. Through sponsorship, World Vision has made a commitment to children like Myo Min to change their environment. The primary channel for this is through the Area Development groups. We met with one group and saw for ourselves the diligence and care with which they operate. Schools and pre-schools were visited, as were a disabled group, and ongoing nutrition and hygiene education programmes. We also saw micro-finance initiatives where small businesses were being launched and visited people who are now supporting themselves with activities like basket weaving, manufacturing bamboo walls, or running a street-corner clothes kiosk. It was impressive to see all the activities that have been funded through your generous giving.
Pat and I were left with an overriding feeling that these projects were a success exactly because they are empowering the communities to make decisions and design their own development. We saw projects just starting out, in the early state of formation, and others that were near completion. We also saw clear benefits to World Vision’s long term commitment to the communities with which it works. Both in Yangon and Mandalay groups of people with diverse skills are working together and it was lovely to see the obvious care and affection that they have for one another as well.
Tales of a Troubadour
My one man show, Tales of a Troubadour, describes my travels across the globe and shares the music and songs that I have learned along the way. During the show I also share memories of this recent trip and invite the audience to sponsor a child for themselves. Seeing first-hand the effect that money has in a far off and needy land has reinforced my desire to find practical ways in which to help and affect change in the lives of others.