Published On: Mon, Dec 1st, 2014

Adam Liaw: “I get it now.”

Bozawoo lost his mother to disease more than 5 years ago and since then UNICEF has helped his extended family to support themselves and keep Bozawoo out of institutional care.

Landing in Myanmar was disorienting and wonderful. It was a country I’d never visited before, and I new very little about it.

We were there to see the effect of Change for Good, a Qantas and UNICEF program built on the simple idea of dropping loose change into a little bag to help others. It’s so simple that I had never before thought about what happened to all those pieces of forgettable money.

Bozawoo lost his mother to disease more than 5 years ago and since then UNICEF has helped his extended family to support themselves and keep Bozawoo out of institutional care.
Bozawoo lost his mother to disease more than 5 years ago and since then UNICEF has helped his extended family to support themselves and keep Bozawoo out of institutional care.

© Adam Liaw

Bozawoo lost his mother to disease more than 5 years ago and since then UNICEF has helped his extended family to support themselves and keep Bozawoo out of institutional care.

An hour’s drive out of Yangon we visited Bozawoo, a young boy of seven who sadly lost his mother when he was barely a year old. His home was small and basic, perhaps 10 square metres of floor space that he shared with his grandparents, aunties and a few cousins. They had running water and electricity that sputtered in and out.

One of UNICEF’s goals in caring for children is to keep them in the care of their families rather than institutions, and after Bozawoo’s mother passed away UNICEF helped his grandparents to support him. UNICEF bought them a piglet that they were then able to raise and breed to produce more piglets, generating the extra income they needed for his care.

That was more than five years ago but UNICEF case officers in Bozawoo’s area still drop in to see him regularly. They see what we saw – a happy kid who wants to be a doctor, who loves playing hide-and-seek with his cousins, is loved by his family, and is completely unaware of the bleakness of institutional life.

© Adam Liaw

Adam takes in the stunning twilight views from Mingalazedi Pagoda in Bagan.

From Yangon we flew to Nyang Oo in Mandalay, near the Bagan archeological zone. If you’ve seen pictures of Myanmar, you’ve almost certainly seen Bagan. It’s stunningly beautiful. Thousands of temples and pagodas of every size and shape poke out of a rich, green and nearly completely flat landscape stretching all the way to the horizon.

We travelled by four-wheel drive for around two hours from the majesty of Bagan to Thet Ke Kan. It’s a village of a handful houses and a school, and it’s bustling with activity. We played with children, reading books, singing songs and molding plasticine. I read English books with the older kids and we all laughed together. It was tremendous fun, but if you hadn’t been looking for it you’d likely have missed the suitcase-sized metal box in the corner of the room.

The school in Thet Ke Kan was supplied by UNICEF’s “school in a box” program, a donation of a couple of hundred dollars that resulted in the delivery of a big metal box full of books, pencils, posters and many of the other resources these children needed for their education.

© Adam Liaw

Qantas Loyalty CEO Lesley Grant and UNICEF Australia Ambassador Adam Liaw reading UNICEF-supplied books to children at the early childhood centre in Thet Ke Kan village.
A few hours away driving on winding dirt tracks that were barely roads, we arrived in Konebalu to find the whole village assembled to greet us.

Konebalu recently installed running water to all of the village’s more than 600 homes. UNICEF provided piping, but the villagers had built a water tower and raised money through taxes and savvy investing to buy a pump and to hire workers to install the system. The impact on sanitation and on lifestyle was immediate. The women of the village (and it was usually the women who did it) no longer had to fetch and carry water daily from wells hundreds of metres away, transporting it on their heads or on bullock-drawn carts. That simple task translated to hours of labour every day; hours that could now be spent caring for children, earning extra money or just enjoying life. This was something the villagers had done for themselves, and UNICEF had helped them do it.

© Adam Liaw

UNICEF Australia CEO Norman Gillespie speaks to members involved with the community-based water pipeline program in Konebalu village.

Before this trip I had expected to feel pity and shame for the privileges most of us in Australia enjoy every day. But it’s hard to feel sad when you’re surrounded by laughing children and smiling faces, and it’s hard to feel ashamed when you’re full of hope. I felt inspired, and I felt like I finally got it.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and in many places that’s not a metaphor. Helping communities helps families, and helping families helps children. Thankfully, the same global economy that gives us in Australia so many advantages over those who live in places like rural Myanmar also gives us incredible power to help.

Before my week with UNICEF and Qantas in Myanmar I “knew” that what to me might be change in my pocket or a foregone cup of coffee in Sydney could in a different place mean books or clean water, or could fix a hole in a roof over a newborn child’s head. I’d heard it a thousand times before so of course I knew it.

I knew it, but I didn’t really see it. And now that I see it, I don’t think I can close my eyes to it again.

What do you think? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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