We asked Felicia Kodderitzsch, Business & Operations Manager for Octopus Cash to tell us her top five most memorable moments volunteering with educational charity Prospect Burma in Myanmar.
Memory #1: The warmest of welcome
“Arriving in Myanmar was an experience in itself. There was beauty everywhere. Stunning colonial-era buildings lined the grid-system roads of downtown Yangon. It was hot, humid and sticky. And it smelt like sickly sweet fruit, fish sauce and jungle. Everyone was roaming about in flip-flops, the men wore longyis (long sarong skirts), and the women had wrap-around skirts with matching blouses.
Myanmar is now the poorest country in South East Asia, but until as recently as the early 20th century it was the richest. But despite its poverty, I never experienced a city as smiley and welcoming as Yangon. No matter how basic homes were, there was always a brightly painted door, a makeshift flower pot or a board game painted outside on the pavement.
And at the same time, in a city that was incredibly hectic, the people of Myanmar were willing to just leave you be. I didn’t get stared at, I was never hustled, and I never encountered any uncomfortable moments. By the end of my first day, I must have received over a hundred sticky high-fives. It was really welcoming.”
Memory #2: My first workshop
“One of the first things I did was a practical workshop with the Prospect Burma team. We started with basic Post-it Notes, and ended with a long discussion about some of the problems the charity has with fundraising locally. Many of the stories came as a surprise to me.
Myanmar is one of the most generous countries in the world and I assumed local people and companies would be delighted to donate to Prospect Burma’s cause. But because it’s a British charity, the locals regarded it as a well-funded International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO). Myanmar people, regardless of their wealth, see themselves as recipients of INGOs and not donors.
This is just one of a number of obstacles Project Burma faces. In Myanmar today, there are children without even basic education, so people are less inclined to donate to higher education programmes. And INGOs believe Myanmar people (regardless of their wealth) are recipients of the donations, rather than donors. But with such an incredibly wide outreach, there’s so much this organisation can do with the right funding.”
Memory #3: Meeting the students
“Before arriving in Yangon, I knew a fair bit about the country’s recent history and had a hunch that the education situation wouldn’t be great. Primary education is lacking in Myanmar, so many young people aren’t ready to take on Prospect Burma’s scholarships to study abroad. To offset this, Prospect Burma offers younger students a three-month scholarship. They learn English and many of them go on to study abroad in a scholarship programme.
Talking to the students put everything Prospect Burma does into perspective for me. There were 30-40 students in total, each one as eager to learn as the last. The kids had a quick pep talk before one of their main exams, which showed how much the people running the charity care.
The passion and positivity in the room was palpable. These kids were all super-keen to practice their English language skills, but they were all so determined – to study abroad and then to return to their villages to make a difference. Suddenly, the work I was doing here became a lot more real. The more funding this charity receives – the more opportunity for young kids like these to prosper in education.”
Memory #4: Exploring Myanmar
“I got to explore a lot of Myanmar on my time off. One of my favourite trips was to Ngwe Saung Beach, a weekend consisting mainly of long walks along stretches of entirely deserted beaches. It took me one hour to walk to the next town and I only saw one confused fisherman on the way. My phone hardly had any signal, so I was utterly alone.
On top of that, the hut I was staying in had rats living in-between the walls. In the night I could hear them scratching and scurrying around. On my own, I tried to rationalise the situation and attempt not to care. With somebody else, I would have probably found the whole thing hilarious. What is it about having someone else present that would make rats in the wall a fun experience?
I’ve come to learn that I am okay by myself and can enjoy my company, but I am and always will be a people-person, no matter how much I can get annoyed by others sometimes. And as much as I would love to be able to, I don’t see any long-term solo trips planned for myself in the future!”
Memory #5: Little gestures made the biggest difference
“My Prospect Burma work was very much office-based. At first, I found this frustrating – I’m the kind of person who’s really results-orientated. But in Myanmar, I learned to celebrate everyday victories.
With it being such an exceptionally busy team, they rarely had the chance to sit down and reflect on improving their processes. It was great to be able to use my knowledge to help them with tasks such as Excel training and Facebook strategy. I had a lot of casual conversations with the team that ended up helping to streamline how they did things.
For example, the team would send out individual emails to sponsors, but they were emailing hundreds of them. So, I showed them how to mail-merge their emails and together we worked out how to send them all at once on their CRM (customer relationship management) platform. It freed up so much of their time and all it took was one quick conversation!
A small victory to be proud of, but typical of the many everyday tasks that I can now see made a huge difference. I’m so proud of all the incredible work we did together, and can’t wait to see what the future holds for the charity.”
For more information visit the Prospect Burma website.