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My dad’s family is from Myanmar. My mom’s family came from Hong Kong, but immigrated to Myanmar during the 1967 Hong Kong riots. Myanmar is a culturally diverse country located west of Thailand,  south of China, and east of India, filled with over 100 tribes. Its government is run by an authoritarian regime that heavily suppresses its people. Though I was growing up in America, my parents would take me to villages all over Myanmar to volunteer and learn about different cultures in the summer. Children no older than 2 would walk around alone in big dirty shirts, or with no clothes at all. Mothers made baby carriers out of old clothes to carry their babies around while trying to sell things in the villages, while fathers did manual labor with the older boys to earn money. Most of these villages didn’t have electricity, and their houses were made out of bamboo. Some villages didn’t have any businesses, nor did they use the currency. I felt sympathetic towards them because of their living conditions. As I observed various groups of families and friends, I noticed how genuine their smiles were, despite not having the things in life that I had taken for granted, like new clothes and tasty snacks. I had figured my parents only brought me to these villages to teach me to be thankful for what I have and to give back. Then, I learned that my dad’s family was not only from the Burmese tribe, but from other tribes in Myanmar like the Shan tribe. I also learned that there was a time when my parents’ families struggled financially and had to live in the villages. It wasn’t until 2015 that I learned this information about my family, so I was shocked. Before I acquired this knowledge, I was insecure about not being fully Chinese because my peers sometimes called me “white-washed,” and said that I wasn’t “Chinese enough.” There weren’t people in my grade from Myanmar at the time, and I didn’t want to be different. If I hadn’t been told of my family’s heritage and struggle, or seen how mesmerizing all the scenery in Myanmar was, I don’t think I would have ever told people about my culture. Today, the people of Myanmar are still struggling and it saddens me that people don’t know more about this country. There are so many people in the country that need help and the government won’t do anything about it. Every year, I try to go to Myanmar with my family and help those in need, but there’s only so much charity groups can do. I want people to know about Myanmar because I want more people to help third world countries such as Myanmar. My heritage is part of who I am, it’s part of my identity, and I don’t ever want to have to feel ashamed of it. Learning about my family’s history and seeing the villages inspired me to become an activist for those less fortunate. Last year, my parents and I traveled with a Burmese company to villages in the Kayin/Karen State. The people of the Karen tribe in Myanmar are currently living in a hostile environment caused by one of the world’s longest civil wars known as the Karen Conflict. When traveling there, we were accompanied by the Burmese Military and military men were seen the entire route there. With the company, I handed out packages to families that had clothes and snacks. We were only allowed to travel to certain places because some villages were part of major war zones. I plan to do more volunteering with this company in the future, and eventually work to coordinate such efforts. Seeing what circumstances some people have to live with and hearing about my family’s history gave me the motivation to help those in need. 

© Julia Bo. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.