Myanmar and its People
In February, I visited Myanmar. I wanted the opportunity to experience a country and its people that have remained largely unchanged for centuries and to be able to have a view into their past. I also hoped to capture the essence of the old culture through photography before it is lost, and before the people and their views become too influenced by the western culture.
The people I met, after suffering such hardships through military rule and extreme poverty, are a contrast to their condition. They are surprisingly open and unafraid. Both young and old have seen the beginnings of change through the recent elections. They believe that this path of change will continue. The people are hopeful for a brighter future without really knowing what that encompasses.
I was unprepared for the impact these people would have on me and my photography. How openly and willingly young children and families would smile for the camera. And how easily they opened up their lives to us with their time, their smiles and a cup of tea. Their receptiveness changed my travel experience. I went from wanting to capture a good portrait to wanting to understand and capture their life.
The Monk and the Serpent
It was dark when I entered the temple. The fragrance of incense was in the air. I walked down the back passage and around the corner. There he was sitting on the floor with his prayer book. Quietly he stood to step out of the passage way and closer to the light. The smoky incense swirled around him. The rays of light reflected off his prayer book and illuminated his face. It is a moment I will not forget.
The monk did not speak.
Later, I learned from my guide that a monk’s life in Myanmar is one of hope. The monasteries are open to all, from young boys to old men. Poor families often take advantage of the monasteries and nunneries, sending their children to their care as a means to provide for them. These institutions take in the poor and offer them a home, food, spiritual guidance, and an education. The monasteries are open to those in need – whether it be for food, shelter or for those who need to withdraw and rebuild their lives. Some only stay a few weeks, others find a new family and stay a lifetime.
Given the recent elections where democracy won over the military state, I was unsure what to expect during my visit. These elections have laid the foundation for a democracy, a far cry from the past 50 years of military rule and persecution. With a diverse population of over 50 million and 135 recognized ethnic groups, each with their own language, the new government has their challenges.
Many areas of the country are experiencing positive change which is most evident in the cities. In Yangon, the largest city, a rush hour type grid lock is the new normal for 12 plus hours a day. An infrastructure designed to support 50,000 cars, now contains at least 10 times that number. Traffic and the associated noise and pollution are constant. As I rode around the city, I was surprised at how much of the beautiful classical architecture from the British rule (1824 to 1948) remained. And sadly, how these historic buildings, were now abandon and in decay.
I spent most of my time in the country where I learned that those who could afford an ox or donkey cart for transportation were fortunate. Train travel is for the locals who can afford to go across the country and was described to me as long, unreliable and arduous. Hence, our travel was by plane. Where a plane flight would be an hour, the corresponding train ride would be 16-20 hours, on a bumpy, hot, overcrowded train. Public transportation is just one example. The new government faces many challenges including a lack infrastructure for roads, transportation, sanitation, and healthcare.
Certain areas of the country are still under military rule and are off limits for any travel. These areas have ethnic groups that are continuing to experience severe persecution. Due the political changes, the lack of infrastructure and the continued persecution, the country is vulnerable, especially, it’s people.
Bridging the Gap between Photographer and the People
I was moved by the images of the people in Myanmar, so full of life, yet so poor. I felt almost guilty, capturing such personal photos of these people and the beauty of their country’s landscape. It was as if I was taking a special treasure without compensating those who created it.
The WorldPix Foundation creates this amazing bridge – Between photographers like myself, and the people of the country where the photo was captured. WorldPix enables photographers to share their imagery and donate the sales of prints back to WorldPix. WorldPix supports causes in four continents (Africa, Asia, Australia and North America). Causes that are focused on the people.
WorldPix and Arizona Medical
Over the past 15 years many of those persecuted in Burma have immigrated to the US. Arizona is one state that has been open to accepting refugees and currently has about 4000 Burmese living in the Phoenix area.
Even simple vaccinations required as part of the immigration process, are beyond what they can afford. This is where WorldPix steps in to help.
Partnering with Arizona Medical Clinic in Phoenix, donations made through WorldPix go directly to help the Burmese refugees here in Arizona.
You can help
Consider a donation to World Pix, Inc., today, and receive a copy of this photography by Jeff Dannay. Make a difference in the life of a Myanmar refugee.