Not until I found out I’d be traveling to Myanmar on the Spring 2014 voyage did I think about the conversations I had during my freshman year with my friend Okka, an exchange student I met from Myanmar. I had spent time with Okka hearing all about his life at home and his hope for the country’s future despite the many challenges facing Myanmar.
I contacted Okka, but to my dismay, discovered that he was in Europe and wouldn’t be back in Myanmar for several months. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see him, but he sent me the contact information of one of his friends who was willing to show me around. Okka’s friend Thint worked out some plans for showing my friend Jennifer Thompson from Stanford University and me around Yangon. One of our most memorable stops was the Stubonminga Buddhist Monastery Orphanage, where Thint volunteered regularly.
Over the course of the next few days, through talking to Thint and observing daily life in Myanmar, I learned about the key role that monks play in Myanmar society. Poverty is a very real problem in Myanmar and it turns out that much of the care for the needy falls into the hands of the monks, such as the care for the orphans like those we visited at Stubonminga. In turn, the people provide food for the monks, and occasionally shelter and medical treatment.¬†As we passed a group of monks who were laughing and waving to us, Thint told me, ‚ÄúMonks have nothing, but they don’t need anything or want anything, so they are so happy and they never worry.‚Äù Their jovial spirit was contagious.
In Myanmar, the monks, constituting five hundred thousand people, nearly one percent of the population, literally own nothing, and are, in fact, happy. I felt that seeing the monks who walk the streets in their red robes is a daily reminder for the people that happiness and fulfillment are not found through materialism. And for me as a student it was a good reminder that serving is far more rewarding than being served.