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

DSCN0666 “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” – Desiderius Erasmus

This is the third and final installation in our story from the field. Some of the best and brightest students in Myanmar take a fieldtrip to a school for the blind. Their reflections on the experience reveal that perceptions can change based on personal interactions.

Field trips at our program always include reflection of some sort. For this trip, we had a discussion afterwards where students shared their impressions and experiences. All of the students agreed that it had been a positive experience. When I asked how their impressions changed over the course of the afternoon, one student admitted to initially feeling “scared by the kids’ eyes,” but by the end, he had forgotten that their eyes looked different from his own. Another student said, “At first I felt sad, but not anymore. I realized that they can cope and do things that I can’t do. They’re very intelligent.” Another added, “I feel we can learn a lot from the children. They know how to not give up.”

For most of my students, this was the first time they had interacted with blind people for any length of time. They came out of this experience with greater awareness of the challenges that blind people face on a daily basis in Myanmar, but also of how with the right support and environment they can overcome these challenges and develop unique abilities and skills. Perhaps, most importantly, my students discovered that the children they met are not defined by their blindness; it is, instead, just a part of who they are.

My students have a couple of weeks before they have to select their service sites for the year. I hope that at least one of them will choose to work at the school for blind students. My school has a long standing partnership with this school. Students who have volunteered here in the past have had powerful experiences. In addition to forming meaningful relationships with the kids at the school, they also learn about themselves through the experience. Students who volunteered there last year reported developing increased confidence and patience and a greater sense of connection to their communities.

I’ll close with something one of the volunteers wrote at the conclusion of his service last year at the school:

[Before], I always thought that blind people are weak and not capable to do things that ordinary people can do. I hate to say this, but I really was [the] kind of person who looks down on people who are blind. [I thought] they have lost their lives. How are they gonna read? How are they gonna go around the city? Things like that. But, when I started volunteering at the school I was amazed to see them doing lots of incredible stuff… They play guitar perfectly, sing great, read books with Braille. Moreover, they can even walk around comfortably by just [using] sound… [In our discussions,] they came [up] with brilliant ideas… I learned a lesson. Just because a person is disable[d], it doesn’t mean they cannot do anything anymore.”

Seeing is believing: A look inside a volunteer’s experience in Myanmar, Part I

Seeing is believing: A look inside a volunteer’s experience in Myanmar, Part II

By Guest Author, Wesley Hedden