Karine Werdmolder stepped off the bus in Thanlyin village, just outside Yangon, Myanmar, and found herself surrounded¬†by 50 children, waiting anxiously for visitors. As she walked through the group¬†of children, she noticed¬†warm¬†eyes and shy smiles.
Werdmolder¬†made her way into the Su Htoo Pan Monasteric School and Orphanage along with a group of fellow Semester at Sea students and sat herself next to two young girls as they began preparing for lunch. Werdmolder was there as part of the IMPACT Program: Thanlyin Local Life and Service Visit, a reoccurring program where Semester at Sea students get a glimpse of life in Thanlyin village and spend time with local children.
That¬†afternoon, Werdmolder and other voyagers¬†colored with the children and played together outside. Later, ¬†Werdmolder reflected on the compassion¬†the children showed Semester at Sea students.
‚ÄúThey are still so giving even when they don‚Äôt have anything,” Werdmolder said. “They would just try and give us all that they had to show us how much they appreciated us.”
Werdmolder is a sophomore studying Family Youth and Community Development at the University of Florida. She focuses on working with kids and volunteers in her local community. For her, Semester at Sea was an opportunity to give back¬†elsewhere in the world.
‚ÄúI was really excited when I learned that Semester at Sea offered IMPACT Programs that revolve around spending time with children and families,‚Äù she said. ‚ÄúI think it is so important that when we go to these countries we are helping out the locals.”
Werdmolder has always had a passion for volunteering at local orphanages and schools. Her thirst for humanitarianism began when she studied at Hong Kong International School. During her freshman year, she enrolled in a Humanities in Action course where she and other students¬†regularly met with native Chinese students.
‚ÄúEvery Saturday with the class we would go to a local Chinese school and teach English,‚Äù Werdmolder said. ‚ÄúOnce a month, a local school for disabled children would come to our school and we would play with them and read to them. Being able to brighten up these kids lives for just a short amount of time was so rewarding because I knew their lives were harder than I could ever imagine.‚Äù
After her time in¬†Thanlyin, Werdmolder expressed her hope that fellow voyagers¬†strive to get to know the local people on a deeper level.
‚ÄúI get frustrated when I see people who go up to a random child and just ask to take a picture,‚Äù she said. ‚ÄúI am all for taking photos and remembering who you spent your time with in these countries, but before you take a photo, immerse yourself. Teach the child how to fist bump or play a game of soccer with them. Talk to the man or woman running the market stand. These people want to get to know you and your culture just as much as you want to know theirs.‚Äù