It is early March in Yangon. With the cooler months behind us and the hotter months fast approaching the dust hangs in the air like soft smoke and yet it’s 8am and already hot. Like 30 degrees hot.
Today’s agenda: Meet 75 new trainee nurses and begin their training in essential nutrition.
We leave the comfort of our air-conditioned hotel and head out into the bustling city traffic. (Bustling isn’t really the right word – ordered chaos comes to mind actually.) But as we drive north and leave the city behind, the landscape changes, from concrete and steel to fields of green.
Everywhere you look are miles of flat, luscious farmland broken up by streams of running water, small thatched huts and patches of busy village centres. Eventually we made it to our destination. It’s smaller city but there seemed to be as much gusto and movement here, as in Yangon.
On arrival to the nursing college, we are welcomed into the director’s office where everyone sits barefoot as it is customary to leave ones shoes at the door. We are met with traditional sweet tea, the largest dark grapes you have ever seen, and a chance to meet the director and staff of the centre. We share with them our key resource, our training guide, translated in Myanmar of course. It’s a simple but lovely ceremony before every day.
Tea drunk, we are whisked away to meet our class. 70 or more nursing students sit quietly in a large, open room. There’s little décor and no air-conditioning, yet the young, fresh faced women all dressed in red longyi’s and crisp white blouses look intently towards us.
We always begin with simple nutrition, like the function of good fats, carbohydrates and protein. But once we’ve established the basics we like to stretch their understanding and show them just how integral healthy eating is to long term health and wellness and for the prevention of Myanmar’s most common debilitating illnesses.
At the end of the day back in the office the director smiles at me and speaks to our translator. She holds our book, a valued resource, as she speaks solemnly about the desperate need for nurses in Myanmar. The city hospitals, clinics and aged care homes need more staff. But in the rural communities the need is far more dire. We hear that there are villages where nurses are the sole health care provider, and yet these villages are so remote nurses only visit a few times a year.
Myanmar’s most common debilitating illnesses are probably not what you’d expect for a developing country, and the source is not bad water or even mosquitoes. The main culprits are stroke, heart disease, the flu and diabetes, most of which are totally preventable. There are times when the work seems overwhelming but those times are few and far between because when we teach, we create waves of impact.
It is a wave of impact that begins with one teaching session, one volunteer, one who is passionate about preventative healthcare, each when bought together creates a ripple of change throughout the country.
There are many ways in which you can become part of the journey. You can begin by sharing this story or if you want to be a little more hands on you can volunteer with us (and maybe even join us on our next trip)! And there’s also the ‘chip in a few dollars’ approach – like $55 for example; enough to train 10 nurses in essential preventative healthcare!
Either way, you’re becoming part of the ground swell to see the nation of Myanmar reach its full potential!