Well, the rainy day bit is true. The rains have arrived, and they are nothing if not persistent. Thunderously loud, they dominated my training, fortuitously coming at the end of the day to usher us out the door.
Three days of a training for the Food Security Working Group was the nail-biter of my nine weeks in Burma (also known as Myanmar). Nothing is more intimidating to me then standing in front of a group of expectant people, hoping that my material is the right level, the right amount. Students here don’t grow up in the system that we’re used to in the United States; we learn from day one to ask questions, to be persistent in our learning. Here they learn to copy, to repeat, to move on. That does not always transition well into a participatory training in which all participants sit, poised with pen and paper ready to listen, copy, repeat.
How do you get students like that loosened up, talking, laughing? Start by cracking jokes, taking advantage of your position as awkward foreigner. Icebreakers – we’re talking about communication, so we’ll play the telephone game! Still fun, even in your thirties. Ask them every break if they have questions until they finally take pity on you and begin to interact. Wear ‘em down.
By the last day they were friends. Interactions became more meaningful, comments flowed with less probing. One group prepared a material that they hoped to continue to work on and publish after the workshop ended. An organic farming organization from Shan State asked me to help them form a partnership with Winrock for future trainings. Good things are happening for farmers in Burma. Slowly, slowly.
The days flew by. Too soon it was over, right when I found my rhythm for working with a translator, choosing my pauses, remembering tea breaks. They learned from me and I from them. I want to stay and work with all of their organizations, they’re all residing in beautiful places with interesting people.
Time, however, marches on, and I begin my last two weeks both reluctant to leave and excited for the road ahead.
–Volunteer Chantel Welch, Burma (Myanmar) F2F