Month 1 in Myanmar: 7 things I’ve been up to

(While based in Myanmar, I am posting both personal travel experiences like this one, as well as non-profit sector-specific posts about my work doing civil society mapping. If you get my blog via email and don’t want to see the personal travel posts or only want to see the travel posts, be sure to update which emails you receive via the link at the bottom of your email).

Here’s a highlight reel featuring 7 things that have filled my first month.

Going to work

I work at Local Resource Centre, generally M-F 9-5. To use North American terminology, LRC does training for local nonprofit organizations and does policy advocacy on behalf of the nonprofit sector to the Myanmar government.

At work. Power outage.
At work. Power outage.

My time here is focussed on figuring out what nonprofit organizations are up to in one of the southern states (Mon state) – who’s doing what, what their training needs are, what government policies help/hinder their work. If time allows I may do more states. In future posts I’ll share some of the practice behind my work (called civil society mapping). While I’m based in Yangon right now, I’ll be moving to Mawlamyine (the capital of Mon) in a few weeks.

Most of my days involve sitting at a desk and reading or writing. A few meetings here and there (e.g. the launch of the EU-funded international aid database, based on open data, very cool!, some UNDP meetings this week). It’ll get more interactive with local organizations once I’m moved.

There are about 15 people in my office, some of whom are often away facilitating training. Lunches = sharesies! I take the public bus to and from work most days – it costs 10-20c each way, and usually about 45 total including a bit of walking.

Sharesies at lunch! The aftermath.
Sharesies at lunch! The aftermath.

Two hospital visits

The first was after not feeling well for a week (I’ll spare you the finer details); the doctor diagnosed giardia, which spell check oddly wants to change to Guardia. The treatment for giardia has not been a treat, and I’m still waiting to see if it sorts my health out.

The second visit was after falling down a few stairs in my house. Slippers be slippery, plus it was the morning after taking my giardia medication and I wasn’t feeling great. Blood pressure at the hospital was 87/59. I took a gash out of my arm, and while I didn’t get stitches, I’ve got the special sticky tape to keep the rip together. I’m not supposed to get it wet for 5 days and I have no idea how I’m going to pull that off with the humidity, multiple showers a day, and the rainy season. That and not bend it. I have to get a colleague to put my hair in a ponytail. It’s a challenge.

And now I have a cold, so basically this last week has sucked a lot.


The weather is consistent here, I’ll give it that. Days are 31 (feels like 38 with humidity), nights get down to 25 outside. I dread the sun, when it gets both hot and humid. I love a dreary day here. I carry an umbrella at all times as is the custom—perfect for sun or rain.

Rain, but the temp was so moderate I walked home from work.
Rain, but the temp was so moderate I walked home from work.

I’m not a huge fan of air-conditioning, but we have been suggested to use it a little bit each day to keep the mould away. I usually put the aircon around 27 to cool down my body and my room before I go to bed.

Rainy season is almost over, then it will be hot and drier for a month or two, and then it’ll be —YAY— cold season, where it gets a bit hotter during the day, but cools down a lot at night. Can’t wait!!

Taking Myanmar classes

I’m taking language classes every Saturday and Sunday, and am totally enjoying it, especially learning to read the letters. So far I know about 8 consonants and 3 vowel tones that sound pretty much identical, which means I know about nothing.

Going to Super Win beer station

This is the Friday night haunt for Ken (my fellow Cuso International volunteer, and roomate) and me. Mugs of draft Myanmar beer are 700 Kyat (pronounced “jat”, about 70c) and you can get almost any type of vegetable/tofu/meat BBQed. Last Friday I invited folks+friends from my language class, including Ivan from Belarus and Erika from New York, and we had a good crowd of 8 in all, coming volunteers, teachers, and telecom consultants from a total of 5 countries.

Super Win!
Super Win!


This what I collect when I travel (other than art) – salon experiences! This cut is possibly my favourite cut ever—in Canada or otherwise—and it cost me 1000 Kyat (about $1). She cut it dry and then blow dried it with cold air. Not sure how that works, but I was pleased with the results. Pity it’s so sticky here and have my hair up all the time.


Digging into Myanmar life

So far I’ve been to a wedding, had lots of mohinga (a noodle soup staple), and done a lot of walking around, exploring markets and side streets and more. I’ve got to experience the horrid traffic, watch the smart phone connected young folk in their K-pop attire, and shower with a bucket of water and a cup (about 20 cups without washing my hair) when the water or power is out.

Baptist wedding ceremony. Beautiful Kayin dress made by grandmother.
Baptist wedding ceremony. Beautiful Kayin dress made by grandmother.

A few more photos from my first month:


Young people hanging out at Inya Lake.
Young people hanging out at Inya Lake.
Fried stuff at Inya Lake restaurant.
Downtown Yangon.
Downtown Yangon.
Pagoda across the river in Dala.
Colonial architecture repurposed.
Local ferries in Dala. Downtown Yangon across the river.
Dala fields.
Shwedagon pagoda.
The kitty that sometimes sleeps on our porch chair.
Insein Road (near my home) by night.
Insein Road by day.
Insein Road by day.

And finally, a bit on the dichotomy on wealth/poverty. These last two are directly across the street from one another.

IMG_1381 IMG_1383

On my way to Myanmar/Burma

Myanmar tickets

I’m heading to Myanmar (Burma) for six months. Literally on my way now (writing this from the Vancouver airport).

Out of the blue you say? Yeah, for me too. There was less than 4 weeks between accepting the offer from Cuso International and leaving the country. In the middle I’ve rented my condo, got vaccinations and the variety of health/police checks, got my foster cat adopted, spent 5 days in training in Ottawa with Cuso, visited family, and wrapped up a few non-travel things. It’s been a whirlwind.

What am I doing in Myanmar?

Doing what I do in Canada, but in a new context. While I don’t know the specifics, my volunteer role title is “Stakeholder Mapping Consultant”. I’ll be working with Local Resource Centre,a central umbrella/capacity building/hub organization to the nonprofit sector—aka civil society in Myanmar—in their new Mawlamyine office.

I’ll be researching what is going on in civil society in Mon state, the “landscape” – who’s doing what, with who, for who, to what ends, with what resources, with what skills, and with what challenges. And going from there. Or so I understand at the moment. It’s possible that my work may change once I’m there, but I’m sure it will stay in the general realm of “nonprofit sector capacity building.”

I’ll blend my skills for listening, asking good questions, facilitating, researching, and strategizing, to learn about civil society in Mon state and give that learning back to the sector.

Want to contribute to Cuso International’s work (and get good vibes and a tax receipt)? I’m trying to raise $500 before my birthday on September 9th. Donate here!

What will I continue while away?

I’ll continue my outreach re: a data strategy for BC’s nonprofit sector. It can take time for money and other assets to come together, so I’ll stay in touch with a variety of stakeholders and collaborators.

Quiet changemaker project. This will be my downtime/alone time hobby. Writing. Agent/publisher pitches.

My research agenda aka manifesto—emergent trends that I feel the nonprofit sector needs to act on. I want to increase my focus on these areas in a research and strategy capacity upon my return, so I’ll continue to network with allies and share my thinking as time allows (like I am doing with the data strategy). I’ll share this research agenda in a future post.

Staying connected. Depending on internet access, I’d like to have at least one Skype chat a week with an interesting person in order to stay connected, stay inspired, and stay informed.

What am I putting on hold?

I’m not taking on any new contracts while I’m away, but am happy to have exploratory conversations about future contracts. I’ll be back in Canada for the end of the fiscal year for Canadian government and many other clients, so I’ll be ready to jump into contract work and consulting upon my return.

Do Good Better Podcast. I hope to release the remaining interviews I’ve already conducted, but unless it fits with my work objectives in Myanmar, I won’t be spending time on it while away.

Wish me luck and health! Stay in touch—it’s a connected world, even in Myanmar.

PS. Will you donate to Cuso? It’ll take you about 5 minutes online, and you will get my gratitude and a charitable tax receipt (or my non-Canadian friends, you’ll get just get my gratitude)!