ISY’s annual Olympiad was held on the 24th of January which was then followed by a Service Learning Afternoon, where over twenty service learning groups at ISY were given the rest of the afternoon to carry out “Service Actions” which were either on or off-campus to help students gain further awareness, interact with the community and help those in need.
After the activity-filled morning of Olympiad, a large group of students from sixth to tenth grade gathered at the teak steps to head out to Hledan on a Trash Hero excursion. The aim was to pick up as much trash in the Hledan neighborhood as possible and to bring the trash back to ISY and analyze it. We wanted to know what types of trash are being thrown the most and whether this activity could lead to a bigger service project. The students were greeted by the founder of Trash Hero, Mr. Carl an ISY Alumni, at the Hledan site and given gloves, masks, and trash bags. Despite the afternoon heat and small alleyways, the group picked up several bags of trash together with local YCDC (Yangon City Development Committee) garbage collectors. “These people clean the streets ten hours a day,” Carl, founder of Trash Hero and 2002 alumni of ISY, told the students. Referring to the garbage collectors Carl also mentioned that, “We’ve only been out here for forty-five minutes. It’s important that we acknowledge those that pick up after us every day.”
Among the variety of garbage collected, plastic was definitely one of the top finds. Ranging from plastic bags, straws, snack wrappers, and water bottles, students slowly started to realize just how much of this material was polluting the streets of Yangon. Another unpleasant surprise was the number of cigarette butts that roamed the sidewalks, ditches, and alleyways. Although the students were not able to clear all of the trash on the streets, large patches of the garbage along the way were cleared off and the pathways were left in an overall better condition than when the students first arrived.
“It’s very satisfying doing this,” one of the Trash Hero members commented while clearing away a large patch of trash in a ditch. “I’ve been part of Trash Hero for four years now and I still love it.”
It was also noted how pedestrians and residents of that area watched the students pick up after the waste that they had created and even though, “the trash (you guys) picked up today will most likely be there tomorrow, it was an eye-opener for the surrounding community to see young students picking up after them and this has definitely educated people in a small way.” At the end of the day, everyone who participated felt some sort of satisfaction and pride in having taken care of the city we all live in and care about.
For the service learning afternoon, the new service group inspired by Doh Eain went on a tour to downtown Yangon. The group members were able to spot the change in alleyways of Yangon and newly renovated heritage buildings led by the organization.
The most significant works that Doh Eain has done are cleaning alleyways full of trash as well as converting them into community spaces where people can play, enjoy, and spend their time in. The average time for a renovation project requires about four months and it is usually funded by the embassies. Each alleyway usually costs $7,000, including the costs of cleaning and fixing facilities, such as the reparation of leaking water pipes.
The residents of these alleyways in the past disposed garbage through the back window of their houses for their convenience. Therefore, Doh Eain had to convince the residents about how remodeled alleyways can not only get rid of bad smells but also provided public space where people can enjoy leisure time, although there may be an inconvenience of where to dispose their waste. Doh Eain makes a community committee for maintaining the alleyways afterward, such as cleaning any trash in the area, watering the plants, and managing the opening and closing times. That way, the backstreets are able to be left clean in the future.
The organization was only able to proceed with its project after getting the agreements from the residents. The tour guide mentioned that “there are cases where the residents disagree with the project and refuse the group’s proposal to renovate the back alleys as they think that the problem would still stay the same, even after seeing the changes that it brought up.” These disagreements led to parts of alleyways that residents didn’t agree to renovate staying blocked with trash. Doh Eain explained that they are doing their best to convince the residents to let them transform their street for the better.
Doh Eain also took the ISY students on a tour to heritage apartments that the organization renovates and rents to the public. The profit earned from the rent is then shared by Doh Eain and the owners of the house. After five years, the owners can choose whether to keep working with Doh Eain or not.
Based on the successful service learning field trip, the ISY Doh Eain group is eager to engage in further projects, such as renovating a place at ISY or starting to participate in Doh Eain’s projects.
Girl Up organized an elementary school reading, where the members went to kindergarten, third grade, and fifth-grade classes and read them stories with strong female lead characters that convey the group’s aim to promote gender equality to the students.
The fifth-grade class was read stories about Disney princesses except with alternate endings, where the princess was not rescued by a prince but became an independent woman with a strong career herself, which the students found very interesting.
Meanwhile, the third-grade class was read a story about a Pirate Princess where the princess did not act the way a girl is often expected to behave but instead formed her own path to become a pirate. The kindergarten class was read a book called Princess Smartypants, where the female lead is pressured by her family to marry and form her own family but instead she found an alternative and intelligent way to solve the conflict.
All these stories were followed by discussion questions where Girl Up and the students interacted and talked about gender stereotypes in school and society, and how the group is battling them and how the students could help. “It was so interesting to see the students pick up on what the changes in the story meant and to hear about their own experiences with gender stereotyping,” said Stuti (G10), one of the Girl Up members.
Community in Action
For the service-learning afternoon, Community Action (CA) went to the Bethal Home orphanage in Chayah, Yangon, 10 km outside of central Yangon. Bethal Home is a Christian orphanage currently housing 68 children ranging from the ages of 7 to 19. When the CA group arrived there, the children welcomed the group with two songs, a Christian Hymn and a traditional Chin state tune. The young adults were separated into two groups, an art group, and a sports group, where CA carried out a series of activities with the children there to get to know them.
The arts group focused on origami, teaching them how to make envelopes, cranes, hearts, fortune tellers, and planes with origami paper. Meanwhile, the sports group played soccer with the children, taught them how to play dodgeball and tug of war. These games quickly became fun-filled, as the children enjoyed playing these previously unfamiliar games.
Afterward, some members interviewed the head of the orphanage, where she gave an insight into the lives of the teachers and the students. She recalled that they all have to wake up at 4am every morning because the lessons start at 6:45, which continues up till 12:30. Additionally, there is a time designated for the children to read, and there is a library section in their orphanage where books are laid out. The books mostly consist of simple English literature. Furthermore, she said that their orphanage was lacking materials in the art department since they do not have items like markers and coloring pencils.
Overall, all of the 20+ Service Learning groups had a meaningful and productive afternoon of doing their best to make the world a better place!
Published by Global & Photographed by Paing, Crystal, Orion, and Hyemin