ere at SEAYSS, we are not only actively involved in helping others, we are always inspired to see youths volunteer and give back to their community. However volunteering is not an easy path; for some volunteering often equaled giving up on a means to survive. I was inspired as a team of youths shared their experiences and their financial struggles day to day by choosing to become social workers.
The Youth Circle, started and entirely run by youth, is a community based organization in Myanmar (Burma) that focuses on capacity training for youths, community management training and community development program. The team, which started in 2008 and opened office on April 2009, is also highly involved in environmental issues and the nation’s change process.
“I never thought the environment is a big issue [for] human beings,” One of the Youth Circle member, SN, shared, “Now I know and love to converse [about] it.”
The team members do whatever they can to contribute their own expertise to the community. SN for example, shares his knowledge about the environment. Although he professes humbly that his abilities are far from that of a professional, he dreams to one day study environmental engineering. Another member, LH, teaches computer, designs pamphlets and does other media related work for the organization. These are just a tiny fraction of the things they do at Youth Circle. They work diligently for 6 and sometimes 7 days a week and travel to different towns for meetings even on Sundays.
Their community management program, for example, involves an organic farm training program to the villagers. These youth travel up to 4 hours to reach the village once to twice a month and assist in organizing the farming project. The lands the villagers are planting on have been donated by parents of people with disabilities. The team also works with other networks such as Myanmar Green Gathering and Save the Rivers network, where they discuss and brainstorm activities together and present their proposals for new activities to be approved by the network.
The group is currently also planning a summer camp for youth, which is typically held every year during the Thingyan Water Festival in April. SN shared that last year; they couldn’t hold the camp because they didn’t have enough money for the program. While their normal activities receive a small amount of funding from local donors, activities like summer camps are run entirely by using the pocket money of the Youth Circle members. The team dreams of having an informal education program for youth in the future.
It is easy to forget that the Youth Circle members are young people in their twenties, most of whom joined the organization after graduating from University. Despite working full time hours (and beyond), these youths do not receive any salary because the funding is not enough to cover administration expenses. They have to depend on family and friends for their own survival. A team member explained that their team was like a family and no one had yet to leave the team despite having no salary because they loved the team so much.
“I love to serve my community because I know they need us and I love to do it,” LH said, “but sometimes it’s difficult to go on.”
Finance and worries about the future are constantly on the minds of these youths. Some are ashamed that they are unable to contribute to their family financially and still have to depend on them despite working full time. They constantly hope the next day would improve so they can continue to work in the organization.
A few members from the team are in the process of planning a small initiative selling organic products and hand-made clothing to earn an income so they may be able to continue their volunteer work, but confessed they lacked funding to invest in the business. Their rationale behind their business was to reduce carbon footprint and save on buying imported products. Again, one could not help but admire these youth for still saving a thought for the environment despite their economic situation.
The team is scrambling their resources so they can cover admin expenses for the next year. If situation does not improve, one team member confessed that he may have to leave the team and go abroad to be a general worker so he could support his family. All I could think of was his dreams of being an architect and building the future landscape of Myanmar; what will happen to that?