Seeing is Believing: A Look at a Volunteer’s Experience in Myanmar, Part II

DSCN0612This is part two in a three part story from the field. The author – a teacher in Yangon, Myanmar – describes a field trip his students take to a school for the blind, where the blind students teach their sighted counterparts a lesson.

Before our field trip, my students discussed what they knew about blindness and organized some games to play with the children. Most of my students had never worked with blind children before and did not know what to expect. Several expressed that they were nervous about the field trip and were afraid that the games they organized would not work because the kids were blind. In general, the students underestimated the capabilities of the kids they were about to work with.

When we arrived at the school we were greeted in an old auditorium by a group of about thirty kids ranging in age from about 8 to 14. To break the ice, my students each introduced themselves. To my students’ surprise, the children then sang several Christian songs in Burmese, harmoniously accompanied by an older student of the school playing the guitar. I overheard one of my students expressing surprise that the guitarist could play so well without seeing the strings. The sound of the children’s voices was radiant, and judging from the expression on my students’ faces, the power of the moment was not lost on anyone.

After this poignant introduction, my students separated to the four corners of the room where they set up different games, and the children then rotated around the room after completing each game. My students expected the games to only take forty five minutes in total, but it ended up taking twice as long because everyone was having so much fun. Some of the games were adapted because they weren’t working out for one reason or another or because someone saw a way to improve it.

One such game was a resource-deprived interpretation of piñata in which a student standing on a chair held out a plastic basket and the children would take turns trying to hit it with a rolled up newspaper. After a child was successful, his or her face would inevitably light up in a bright smile, and one of my students would hand the child a candy egg as a prize. The game was running smoothly, but one of my more musically-inclined students thought it would be fun to add a musical component to the game. He put the basket on the ground upside down and performed a drum solo on it while the children approached. As they neared, he stopped playing, and the children had to rely on their spatial perception of sound in order to successfully hit the “drum.” The kids loved it because it was challenging to hit the basket on the first try, and my students loved it because it was entertaining to watch and also because it opened my students’ eyes to the special talents that the kids had.

At the same time that this groups of kids was trying to hit the drum, there was an amorphous line of kids and students snaking around the room as they played “London Bridge is Falling Down,” indiscriminately bumping into folks along the way. To my left, a different group comprised primarily of girls was singing happy birthday to one my students, and in the distance, a group was giggling as they played a clapping game, the rules of which I have yet to figure out. The auditorium, albeit chaotic, was filled with laughter and smiles.

After the games, we were treated to farewell song, and we said goodbye to the children. One of the administrators gave us a tour of the center. My students were impressed by the school’s extensive Braille library and its Braille printing press. My colleague noted to me how cosmopolitan the world has become when she saw a copy of Gulliver’s Travels in English Braille with a sticker on it saying that it had been donated by a Japanese aid organization. Myself an amateur geographer, I found myself drawn to Braille map of the world on the wall.

We were also shown the school’s music classrooms where students learn how to play the piano, guitar, and other instruments. The school even has a recording studio! We were then led across the way to the computer lab where the technician, also a former student of the school, showed us the “speaking computers.” Whenever a key was pressed or a menu item was scrolled to, that letter or menu item was “spoken” by the computer. In this way, computers became accessible to children who cannot see. Once again, I was impressed with the sustainability of the school as former students become instructors, trainers, and in this case, technicians.

The final segment of our tour was to a vocational training center in an adjacent building where older students in their late teens and twenties were busy making stools, fans, and other crafts out of bamboo and rattan. The stools I saw one man making looked oddly familiar to me, at which point my colleague pointed out that she had bought several of the stools last year and that I’d been using one as my desk chair periodically since I arrived.

Seeing is believing: A lookl at a volunteer’s experience in Mynamar, Part 1

Seeing is believing: A look at a volunteer’s experience in Myanmar, Part III