We Built a School in Myanmar with GiveBackGiveAway.com!
2 guys who knew nothing about charity, NGOs, architecture, engineering nor playgrounds. They know very little about owning tour companies, or being responsible for the well-being of a group or community either. But they want to do something good, leave a little positivity on the world, amass all the negative headlines we hear. That’s Josh and me. Clueless, but well intentioned. And we made it work, because we wanted to make a difference. So here we are.
A lot of you guys, my readers and followers, will have seen our foundation, the GiveBackGiveAway, since it’s inception back in 2015 when we ran our first project in Senegal and the Gambia. We scrambled together $5k or so from my social media followers, and with that we worked in conjunction with a local NGO in Senegal. They were trustworthy but ineffective, we spread our funds too thin. A few sets of sports kits here, a few bags of rice to families in need there. We were proud, as were our volunteers, but we could do more and we knew it. So from then on we made the conscious decision to take full ownership of the social-good projects we would fund. No longer would we spread it thin, we’d focus our effort and finances on 1 or 2 projects where we felt we could make a difference.
Furthermore, we’d invite you heroes from around the globe, people who didn’t only want to backpack, tick a box and go home, but people who knew they wanted more from their travels. Like us, you guys wanted to help out and make a difference. So each project we have run since, we’ve concentrated on high-impact tours. We chat with our partner communities, find out what they need, go in and help them with that, then on we go to explore the country. Changing the way we travel. For good.
Senegal and the Gambia was just the beginning, closely followed by Cambodia where we renovated a school and gifted those gorgeous kids the playground they never had. Next up was Northern Thailand/Myanmar Border where the Burmese refugee kids had nowhere to sleep. We managed to build those 16 kids a dormitory to sleep, watertight, electricity, a place to call their own rather than sleeping inside the bamboo shack each night in rainy season. We managed to throw them in a playground too, and I don’t think our volunteers would mind us saying that watching those kids engulf their new playground and dormitory may have invoked a few tears, even with the organisers themselves!
And then on to Myanmar, our project last month, in November 2017….
Building a School in Myanmar
The world has a strange way of helping you out when you’re doing the right thing. I used to think visualization, karma, positive energy was American mumbo-jumbo, but the older I get, the more I’m convinced that when you strive deeply for something, to the extent that it’s the only thing you can focus on for months and months, you make it happen. And the world helps you on your way.
So here Josh and I were, eager to run a project in Myanmar, with the Rohingya Crisis fresh in the mind and knowing that rural sections of Myanmar had been decimated by natural disasters over the last few years. Carl, one of my closest friends and our superstar project leader on our GiveBack GiveAway projects in both Cambodia and Northern Thailand had been working in Myanmar recently and had identified a community who needed a little helping hand.
The community in question, the Hmaw Bi community 2 hours from Yangon, had been ravaged by Hurricane Nargis 2 years ago. Their entire school found itself 3m underwater, and then destroyed. The United Nations moved in with a disaster relief team to treat the most demanding injuries in the direct aftermath of the hurricane, and with that disaster relief came the construction of a relief centre. As the disaster subsided, that relief centre essentially became the communities high school, as their previous school was now entirely gone, as was their kindergarten. But the kindergarten had no replacement.
So the community did their best, 22 kids, 16 of whom were orphans (many parents lost to the hurricane), and they constructed a bamboo shack, banana leaf as roofing and a weaved floor. Naturally the rainy season in South East Asia was unforgiving, the kids napped in there, soaking wet, their pens and books got drenched every time the rain fell. When we visited the amazing teachers wouldn’t allow me to walk along the back side of the classroom as the floor had subsided. The community had done amazingly well to create a kindergarten at all, but they deserved a proper school, both the teachers and kids alike. So, thanks to Carl’s research and contacts, the GiveBack GiveAway was eager to step in and fill the void!
Nothing comes for free. A new school, complete with running water and new toilets to ensure the community receives the dignity it deserves, a water tight building with windows, electricity, tables, chairs, school supplies and PLENTY of games for the gorgeous kids was in order. But we needed $10k+ USD to make the changes. So we came to you guys.
Through our crowdfunding campaign, and generous donations from a few of our past volunteers who’ve partaken in GiveBack GiveAway trips before and KNOW that all the money genuinely goes directly to the cause, we managed to raise what we needed. From there, we liased with the local community and organized construction to start. Weeks and weeks of building commenced, and the building was taking shape. Before long, Josh, Carl and Myself had flown to Myanmar along with 8 of you crazy guys, who amazingly believed in us, trusted us and bought into what we’re trying to do, and we were ready to go.
3 days of hard work, painting, hard labour, furnishing the new learning centre, making it feel like a kindergarten should, and we were ready. The community couldn’t have been more grateful. An amazing opening ceremony, hundreds in attendance, blessings from monks, karaoke, dancing and our volunteers were on stage spinning with the locals in true Burmese style. We did it, all of us, and it was beautiful. As we were ready to leave, to look back at the construction, at their brand new school, it was a poignant moment. We did this. All our 194 donors, all our 8 volunteers along with Josh, Carl and Myself. So thank you guys. Thanks for your trust, your concern and of course your money. And today, as I write this, or as you read this, those 22 kids are in that school, using your books, your building, your bathrooms, and that’s one small step in the right direction. Are we changing the world? Of course not, not yet. But travel with a difference, this is the future, and we’re just the beginning. Thank you all.
Backpacking in Myanmar
The GiveBack GiveAway is more than a charity. We know you want to travel the world, WE want to travel the world too. We get it! But we’re hoping we can be one of the catalysts to show how travel can be more than selfies and ticking a box. So we go to a beautiful destination, we truly do our best to help out, then we get on our way to explore the country, to have fun, to travel. So off we went, and Myanmar didn’t let us down!
Yangon, Lake Inle, Taunggyi Balloon Festival, Mandalay, a boat trip across the country, Bagan (and its hot air balloons) and then back to Yangon for a teary goodbye. It was one hell of a 10 day trip. New friends for live, far too many rum cocktails to count and travel experiences to tell all our grandkids about. Is it weird for me to be counting the days to 2027 so we can have our 10 year reunion already!?
Check out our FaceBook photo album at facebook.com/onestep4ward, and have a look at a couple of these pics, but it was the trip of a lifetime. Thank you everyone.
Onwards and Upwards
No rest for the wicked, that’s what my Granny says, so here we are, staring 2018 in the face. One GBGA trip in 2015 (Senegal/Gambia), 1 in 2016 (Cambodia), 2 this year in 2017 (Northern Thailand and Myanmar) so where do we go for 2018?
Nothing happens through indecision, and as I get older I realize no one really knows what they’re doing. After 10 years of travel, 5 years of making money online and still pretty clueless about the whole lot, I’ve realised it’s only after the leap of faith where the magic happens. So 2018 is a big year for the GBGA, and we need your help. We’re going to run 4 projects across 4 continents:
March 2018: India
April 2018: The Philippines
June/July 2018: Kenya & Tanzania
October/November 2018: Nicaragua
Our dates are ready for both india and the Philippines but we need 2 things. First, we need your donations, safe in the knowledge that ALL the donations go directly to our GBGA foundation, 100% of them, so please donate what you can, skip one round of spiced-chai-lattes or whatever it is white people drink in the West these days, and help us please. Secondly, COME HELP! We need 10-15 volunteers per project, which means we have roughly 50 spaces for people to come help us next year, so please come and help us build these projects. Whether we’re donating smart classes in India, or building playgrounds in the Philippines, we need you! Our trips generally run around 2 weeks, priced between $1699+project fee of $299, and $1999+project fee of $299, so while other tour companies are priced similarly, our trips go deeper, AND you’re doing something genuinely good, and we’re proud of that. We don’t buy into this ‘volunteer at an orphanage for 48 hours’, poverty-tourism is not our game. High impact, in consultation with the community, and on we go to explore and travel. I hope all travel is like this in the future, but for now, we’re happy that we offer that. So I hope to see you guys on the road. Oh, and mine’s a rum sour. Cheers!