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Our stay at Swe Nadi monastery

Dear family and loved ones,

Through July 11 to the 14, we stayed at the Shwe Nadi, where we experienced our first learning service. During our stay, the team was given the choice to part take in three activities, planting bamboo trees, adobe brick building, and teaching the students of the monastic school. The team had the opportunity to interact with the local community on a more personal level, where participants taught  classes of 6th to 9th grade students and played with them during recess. The time we spent with these students gave them a rare moment in their lives and brought joy and smiles to their faces.

Due to decades of neglect by the military government, which diverted funds into its own military schools, the public education system in Myanmar is lacking, especially compared to that of its neighbors and the systems we are use to in Western-developed countries. In Myanmar, the number of school years is much shorter, for example, high school is only 2 years. As a result, most of school time is dedicated to academics in class, and little is given to sports and physical education. So when I was asked by the head monk to teach the kids some PE, I was more than happy. Scores of boys and girls from sixth grade exited the small building where all the classes were taught. I proceeded to teach how to count numbers in English with jumping jacks, which was easy for them. I also taught them how to stretch and introduced to them push ups and burpees. I decide to spice it up with a bit of jogging around the courtyard and lifted their spirits with a dash of singing. Finally, to end the period, we let it loose with a soccer ball. The energy surrounding the sport is monstrous, and I myself a soccer fanatic, was blown away by the energy of these kids.

Overall to reflect on these students, they have an incomparable enthusiasm for learning and curiosity about the outside world. These children are connected with nature and themselves through the practice of Theravada Buddhism. Not one student had a phone, and it is realistic to believe that none of them have ever posted a snap to their story and none have ever cared for the amount of likes on an Instagram post. I saw happiness of a different kind in the eyes of these children. A kind of joy rarely seen in the concrete halls of American schools. I even got nostalgic, remembering the few memories I had when I was there age. The students enjoyed our presence and made the most of every second we were there. The pupils of this monastic school are the driving factors to of our devotion to teaching for the continuance of transmitting knowledge to the next generation and contributing to that of the advancement of humanity.

In addition to our stay at Shwe Nadi, our Dragons group reconnected with Mother Nature. Our understanding was established with practices like, meditating at the top of the hill, relaxing to the thunderous wind of the monsoon and planting bamboo in the fields to combat global warming and give the school a meditation ground and future furniture. All these activities showed us dragons to recognize the ever present symbiotic relationship humans have with nature. A sense of reverence to the natural world is born out of this experience and we are reminded that once we abuse what the Earth has given us, we doom ourselves to destruction.

Being within the confines of a Buddhist Monastery. The Dragons group was bound to learn the teaches of Theravada Buddhism. This school of thought emphasizes the strict practice of what the Buddha taught all those year ago. 20 rules for novices, 8 for nuns, and 227 and 338 for male and female monks respectively, represent the rigidity of this belief. Our observations within the monastery and conversation with our local instructor Ko Kyaw and the head monk help us gain real-life understanding of the hardship of monk-hood. On the last full day, we hiked a hill to see a Buddha statue and pagodas. The view was splendid. In learning Buddhism and conversing with the monks, we Sragons unearth the importance of reflecting on oneself; his decisions, actions and reactions and how to be more mindful. By reflecting on our daily lives we can improve our state of health and do more good for others.

At the end, we were all profoundly impacted by this experience in the monastery and sadden to an extreme degree when we had to depart. As we packed up in the morning to get on the bus, a group of little girls came to us. As I put a hat on a joyful girl to take a goodbye picture, her checks were raised by the waterfalls from her eyes, and she begin to cry. All the girls surrounded Sarah and Emma, cherishing the last monument they had together. I took some memorable pictures, gave a big long hug to the little girl and we parted ways. We asked ourselves later in the day about our experience, had done more bad than good by getting children emotional attached to us? Was it wrong of us to come in, give these kids company and then just leave? But there is one thing to say, the activities we did will harden into beautiful memories to take with us for a lifetime.

Best wishes and yours sincerely,