Sunday, we went back to the original orphanage out near Yankin Hill. We took about 6 huge bags of clothes with us. When we arrived, young teenage boys carried them to the temple hall and then to the main shelter over the tables. Usually, donations are shown to the monks and blessings are given to the donators. We skipped that part. Instead, we were welcomed into the head monk’s room with heavy wooden furniture and breathable wire walls. His TV played a penguins cartoon and a group of children watched from outside, their faces pressed against the wire. He chatted with the local volunteers for a while, mostly with the one man in our group. Then it was agreed that we should start our donations.
Local volunteers put out a large woven bamboo mat and sorted the clothing into piles—for boys, for girls and also by size. As they folded and unfolded the garments, children started to appear and cluster around the scene. A small mob gathered by the time the folding was complete and they were all told to line up. I didn’t help as much as I’d hoped I might—I didn’t know the order of the clothes and I was worried that the kids might feel shy to work with a foreigner to choose their new duds.
Some of the smallest girls got their turn first. It was cute to watch them come to the front of the mat, remove their shoes and present themselves for their sort of “fitting.” The volunteers held up dresses, shirts and shorts against the kids’ bodies to eyeball the sizes. When it was satisfactory, the volunteer would hand the kids the clothes and they accepted them with a nod. Most kids had a poker face during the fitting, but when they got their new clothes, it was clear that most were thrilled. Once their flip flops were back on, they skipped or ran away a few steps. Then they eagerly unfolded each piece to examine it and most kids had a huge smile. A couple of kids went right away to put on their new clothes. Others went to find friends and compare their loot.
The kids waited very patiently, but their eager, wide, hopeful eyes darted around to follow every child’s turn and every garment the volunteers touched. No one was shy to stand on the mat and take their turn. There was a sort of constant dialogue from the volunteers in Myanmar and the children nodded solemnly from time to time.
We had almost exactly enough clothes to give each child a new outfit- tops and bottoms. There was no sort of attention paid to whether or not the two items matched, only if they would fit. Some kids got dresses, jackets or underwear instead of shorts and a shirt. In some cases, the new clothes also came with an explanation—this elastic can be re-buttoned to tighten the waist-band on your pants, or this shirt is for fashion so it’s short and you must wear another one underneath (I could tell from the body language and pointing).
Once all of the clothes had been given, the children dispersed for lunch. I went over to watch as the leader of the Holding Umbrellas Organization treated the children’s skin problems, also including sick tummies and ear aches. She was very knowledgeable and helpful, giving the children medicine to keep and explicit instructions for their ailments which was translated from her in Chinese through the assistant into Myanmar for the children. The kids lined up diligently for treatment as well. A good chunk of them needed care.
At the end, we chatted again with the head monk as he chomped his betel nut. He asked about my origins and chatted with the only man in our group in Myanmar. He also had a little rash on his ankles treated by our skin care professional. Later, he gave us each a folding straw hat woven by the monks.
I’d say it was another successful day of volunteering!