My grandmother, Marjorie, was born in Rangoon, Burma. Before World War II, her family was well-to-do, and they lived a good life. But in 1942, her family escaped to India. Although she never returned to Rangoon, my great Uncle did, and his three children continue to live in Burma, now known as Myanmar, today.
A few years prior to my first visit to Myanmar, my mother found my Burmese cousins, who led successful lives in manufacturing and education. I’d admired how despite their success, they had a high level of compassion towards human beings and treated everyone as equals. She and my sister visited them, and we decided to go there as a family in 2008. At the time, Myanmar was very closed off to foreigners, and getting a visa was challenging, though not impossible. Aung Sung Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, the military junta ruled, and Myanmar was recovering from a devastating cyclone that killed an estimated 130,000 people.
We spent three weeks in Myanmar, visiting the token Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake, must-sees for first-timers to the country. That day was the first time I had seen poverty on such a large scale, with children rifling through rubbish, dozens of people ambushing me for money, and malnourished citizens laying on the street. In those moments, a spark within me ignited. I realised the fear my grandparents held when escaping Burma, the foresight they had to move the family to Australia, the struggle they injured to give my mother an education, the unknown times of whether they could put food on the table, all led to my privileged life. A life of health, security and freedom to pursue my dreams. At that moment, I realised that had my grandparents not taken a leap of faith and had my family not ended up in Australia, I could have easily been that malnourished woman laying on the street.
Due to strict rules enforced by the military, we were not allowed to stay overnight with our relatives, nor were we able to go to certain parts of the country. They wanted to keep the country closed to outsiders, and at the time we were hard-pressed to come across more than a handful of foreign tourists. The cyclone had caused unimaginable damage to Myanmar, and many churches were ruined. As a girl of the Christian faith, I was devastated that people had nowhere to worship, and for those who did, the Minister’s had passed in the cyclone, so they had no guidance.
When I returned to Australia, armed with determination and a suitcase full of arts and crafts made by the Burmese people, I began selling these items to my friends, family, workmates and anyone else willing to give me a moment to share my new-found passion. Although difficult, I managed to send the money I raised to my cousin in Burma to help with the rebuilding of a church. From that event, I knew that my time on Earth would be spent helping developing countries. And thus started my journey which led me to Human and Hope Association.