After traveling for a while I felt like I wanna try something new. I heard a few times about volunteering and got more and more curious about it. These days there are a bunch of platforms to find a host for volunteering. As soon as I signed in I got overwhelmed by all the volunteer opportunities all over the world. I could easily spent the rest of my life moving from one to another volunteer spot without getting bored or homeless. Most likely the volunteers get accommodation and food offered in exchange for their help. In my opinion that’s a brilliant idea and usually means a win-win-situation for everyone.
Volunteering in Myanmar
Compared to other countries Myanmar doesn’t offer a big choice of volunteering opportunities. When I was checking for it I found 16 hosts looking for a volunteer all over Myanmar. Most of them were hostels or hotels looking for a receptionist. I contacted two hostels and a meditation center. As the meditation center answered first I decided to start my Myanmar trip there.
Thabar Wa Center – Thanlyin
Located 1,5 hours south-east of Yangon the Thabar Wa Center is definitely more than a meditation center. Even though I checked the homepage and received some information in advance I wasn’t completely sure what to expect there. Quite soon I realized it is more like a small village for sick, old and homeless people. A community helping each other as much as possible. No question I was a pretty shocked when I started exploring the area and getting an idea of the everyday life there. Despite the shortened living conditions the people seemed to be satisfied with it. I decided to try my best helping as much as I can. At this point I had to think a lot about the famous ‚comfort zone‘. Honestly, the day I got in the center I was quite sure I won’t be able to handle this for more than 2 days. But after a while I started to see the big picture, how much there is still to do and I actually really enjoyed spending time there. I realized it is a lot about your will that might let you manage unfamiliar situations and conditions better than you would expect.
The main concept about Thabar Wa is the fact that your help and effort is highly appreciated and needed but it is absolutely not mandatory.
Everything is up to you and as long as you respect and follow the rules of the center you may decide how much time, energy and effort you wanna offer and what exactly you wanna do.
There are several daily activities in the morning as well as in the afternoon but of course you are free to help wherever you want. The people living in the center are happy about any attention and care they might get.
One afternoon I went to one of the hospitals with two other volunteers to offer the women some hand and foot massage as well as nail painting. In the beginning they were really sceptical but as soon as one women agreed for a hand massage, out of sudden everyone wanted a nice massage and we ended up painting nails in beautiful red or even silver-glitter. It is hard to find words for the feelings overwhelming me while making someone so happy with those small and simple things in life.
One of the daily tasks for the monks is the collection of the alms. For me it was definitely the most intense and interesting experience to join the monks for this activity and most likely taught me a lot about buddhism and its principles. Walking side by side with the monks through bit streets as well as small alleys touched me and will stuck in my head for ever.
Besides all the activities you can also join meditation class or just meditate on your own. There are several rooms and floors available all the time. As I haven’t been into meditation yet and the center is a quite noisy place I attended the meditation class only twice but definitely got more interested in it and hope to get back to it later.
Sometimes it ends up totally different
Maybe I had been too naive but I wasn’t expecting my time at Thabar Wa to be that intense. The time I’ve spent there has been full of emotions and intense moments. Most volunteers leaving the center concur they came to help but finally received more from the people in the center than they could have ever given them. I totally agree. Being part of the life in this really special place, watching the people suffering and struggling but still thankful for every kind of help and company, still able to smile at you and don’t complaining made me think about a lot of things in life – a lot of things in MY life. I am really happy I had the chance to spend time in this center and may come back one day to stay longer.
Lover View Hostel – Ngwe Saung
I took the bus from Yangon to Ngwe Saung to start another volunteering experience at a hostel close to the beach. The view from the common area on the ocean and the Lover Island is amazing as well as the Infinity Pool. As soon as I got there I’ve got warmly welcomed by the sweet english couple running this place (actually there are five them but currently only they’ve been there).
Working in a place like paradise
My daily business at Lover view was to run the bar in the restaurant from 6 PM to 11 PM. Some lovely Burmese women are responsible for the kitchen, cooking delicious local food every day. Working together with them has been a really nice experience as it gave me the opportunity to get closer to them. Of course it took some days to get to know each other and though they had been quite sceptic about me in the beginning they were joking and chatting with me (as far as it was possible considering the language barrier).
I had a wonderful time, spending the days at the pool, taking a motorbike to discover some of the surrounding beaches and villages, exploring the jungle and joining hostel guests at the sunset boat trip. I didn’t feel the duty to work at all. More like spending time with the guests in the restaurant. Although it is not the most exciting region of Myanmar I really enjoyed spending my time there and I can’t wait to meet my British couple again.
Special days at Lover View
Whilst my stay I was lucky to celebrate the first anniversary of the hostel. We went on a scavenger hunt spending one of the best days of my trip.
Asides from that we went to a gorgeous hidden beach to prepare a special barbecue in the sand. We dug a big whole and covered the bottom of it with stones. After burning some wood fully down we put some banana leaves on the hot blaze. We spread all kind of seafood, potatoes, corn, onions and garlic all over it, covered it with another layer of banana leaves and let it stew for 1,5 hours. Although the result was a bit sandy it was super delicious and we spent an amazing day at the beach, jumping from 12 meter high cliffs, sipping coconuts and enjoying life in its fullest.
Being so far away from home it is something special to stay in one place for more than 2-3 days, bound with the people and just have something similar to a daily routine. Staying at the hostel for 10 days has been the best way to recharge my batteries to go on and I could have easily stayed a few more weeks without getting bored.
I definitely enjoyed the 2 weeks and I am planning to keep going with volunteering as often as possible. It is a great possibility to get in closer touch with the daily life, to safe money and to have some rest from continuously moving while traveling.