Circles of white paste, or thanaka, cover the cheeks of small children. Their hands press against the glass in the Arrivals Lounge while mothers with long hair watch protectively. Darkly-patterned skirts cover the legs of fathers. Grandmothers, squatting along the walls, patiently smoke scented cheroot cigars. The smell of spices mingles with heavy humidity in the air. Choose to volunteer in Myanmar, a complex country, and after only one step off the plane, there’ll be no doubt that you’ve arrived in an exotic, unfamiliar land sure to fill your travels with mystery and intrigue.
Where to Volunteer Abroad in Myanmar
While Myanmar, formerly called Burma, has opened its borders to international visitors and economic development, it is still mostly undisturbed by big business, tourism, and other paths to Westernization. To the chagrin adventurous travelers, many of its ethnic regions remain inaccessible to visitors. In spite of this, here are the best places to volunteer in Myanmar.
Bagan. This ancient city is located in central Myanmar with vast plains that are on the bend of the Irrawaddy River. Bagan is teeming with historical Buddhist architectural sites, such as glittering stupas and mysterious temples.
Yangon. Formerly the capital of Myanmar, this metropolis is a commercial and industrial hub, and is one of the most popular places for volunteers interested in teaching English. Marvel at Shwedagon Paya, sashay through the colorful markets, explore the colonial architecture, and feel the vibes of this new take on “city.”
Mandalay. The second-largest city and an economic hub boasts more than 700 pagodas and several monasteries, thus earning it the title of the religious and cultural center of Myanmar. Find glimpses of culture here in the teahouses and workshops as you meet locals who relish their newfound freedom.
Popular Types of Projects in Myanmar
Before even considering a volunteer program in Myanmar, do a bit of background research. Before any Myanmar volunteer trip, familiarization with politicians and activists that are well known in the area can be extremely useful. Here are the popular volunteer projects in Myanmar.
Teaching English — the most popular choice for volunteers visiting Myanmar. Because parts of the country were formerly considered an English colony, many people speak basic English. A desire to catch up with more progressive countries in Southeast Asia has led to an increased demand for advanced English skills, and also English teachers.
Agriculture. If the peaceful mountains and farms in the local villages don’t make you revel in the beauty, the waterfalls and ancient caves will sure do the trick. Help a local community and get your hands dirty with their farming tasks, such as planting, paddy harvesting, digging, picking fruit and coffee, and more.
Community Development. Dig deep into the history of this country, as you learn about the politics and economy that has shaped it over the last century from servicing thousands of disadvantaged students and promote sustainable development. Make a difference by connecting with the nonprofits to address social challenges.
Costs of Volunteering in Myanmar
How much does it cost to volunteer in Myanmar? It varies depending on the program, placement, and duration. While Myanmar overall is affordable, the rising number of expats is causing prices to rise for living expenses in big cities such as Yangon. Lunches typically cost from $2 to $5; the taxis are the most inexpensive and effective way to get around the cities, and they run around $6 per hour.
Most program fees will cover the cost of housing, food, in-country transportation, and some excursions. You’ll need to pay for airfare, but you can look into using FundMyTravel to cover some of the costs.
Volunteer Accommodation in Myanmar
What types of housing are available for international volunteers in Myanmar? Where you’ll lie your head at night will depend on the program’s projects and locations. Just know that Myanmar is hot, and many places lack modern amenities, such as air conditioning, Internet, and hot water.
If you’re teaching Buddhist monks, you’ll likely live in a monastery, which has conservative rules about couples staying in the same room. You might consider guest houses or hotels, but you would be distancing yourself from the day-to-day life of the locals. In most cases, you’ll be staying in a shared apartment with other volunteers.
Visas for Myanmar
What kind of visa do I need to volunteer in Myanmar? The visa process in Myanmar can be elaborate, long, and technical, even for those who want to volunteer in Myanmar. Many Westerns are still denied entry on the basis of questionable careers (such as a journalist or an aid worker). Know that this can take weeks or months, and should be organized well in advance. You can get the process started with GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory.
GoAbroad Insider Tips
Be aware that the government still has a firm control of most aspects of the country, including media. With human right issues still leaking beyond Myanmar’s borders, there are ethical questions connected to every volunteer placement that you’ll need to ask yourself, like: Who are you helping? Where is your money going?
Foreigners are treated with respect, but can be a rare site in many locations. Volunteers should feel safe traveling around the parts of Myanmar open to foreign visitors; as the locals joke, “It’s the safest country in the world” with a police force determined to promote an image of friendly non-violence.
Whether you’re biking through the countryside, watching the sunsets, or delving into the complexity of its complicated past, you’ll find that Myanmar’s situation is constantly changing. If at first you are unable to find a program you like, keep looking. The Myanmars maintain a very realistic — yet relaxed — concept of time: Everything can happen, as long as you are patient enough to let it.