A baby slumbered in a net hammock, swaying gently as patches of sunlight flashed across his face. Several women and teens chattered nonstop as they chopped and stirred lunch ingredients over an open fire. Across the yard, a pair of water buffalo slowly ambled by, pulling a rough wood cart.
In our increasingly cluttered lives, more and more people – in the Western world, at least – feel drawn to the appeal of simplicity. So as we journeyed through Myanmar earlier this year, meeting listeners in their exceedingly humble homes, we should perhaps have been less surprised when our social media posts elicited responses such as: “Seriously, I wish I could be there with you. With all the things we supposedly have, I’m curious if these people actually have better lives.” Others commented, “Maybe I can retire there!”
It was intriguing that our brief Facebook descriptions and plentiful photos could so accurately capture the spirit of genuine welcome, openness, and inter-generational camaraderie that we encountered … and which eclipsed the clearly basic living conditions. Personally, this was the first time that I had visited such a rustic setting in real life. But AWR global engineer Daryl Gungadaoo, who has literally traveled to almost every country on the planet during nearly 20 years with AWR, also said, “This has definitely been the best village experience I have ever had!”
He was describing the place we nicknamed “Mile 71 Village.” We labeled it that way due to the fact that there were absolutely no signs pointing out this particular spot in the forest. Instead, the AWR producers who escorted us carefully watched the mile markers lining the highway from the capital city of Yangon, and turned off at exactly number 71; a few more minutes of bumpy riding along a dirt track brought us to our appointment in the village.
We were welcomed by a man called Peter (yes, likely not his Burmese name). He is the leader of a group of about 40 Adventists in this village of 250.
Peter told us, “While I was looking for the BBC, I found AWR’s programs in the Karen language. We can get a clear signal morning and evening. Radio is our friend, our helper. It’s our only entertainment, so we connect our radio to a loudspeaker and can all hear. We listen as we work around the house.” Many in the listener group particularly like the health talks they hear.
Peter is literate, so he has a Karen Bible, which costs about three dollars. He wrote to the AWR studio and made contact with the producers, and the main Karen producer, Victor Than, has visited the village several times.
Than says, “I worry about the people here. Their diet is not great – mostly just rice. For income, their only options are to cut bamboo for a few cents apiece or work in the rice paddy. To get to the government school, the children must walk an hour each way.”
We quickly saw for ourselves that the nearest water supply was an open well behind Peter’s house, which yielded pretty sludgy buckets of water. When we asked how the people accessed medical care or purchased items that could not be handmade, we learned that the nearest town is 16 miles away. To get there, villagers have to walk or cycle to the highway, take a bus to town, conduct their business, then wait for the evening bus back.
But challenges don’t have to be insurmountable. For instance, in the absence of electricity or easy access to batteries, listeners use a solar panel to charge batteries for their radios. Their much larger goal of constructing a church building was a longer process. The members saved up for 10 years until they had the $7,000 needed to purchase land in the village. They were fortunate to receive $15,000 for construction materials from a generous Canadian donor. The church building is awaiting a few final touches, such as windows, but the congregation is already looking ahead to building a house and well for a pastor.
Peter’s group has good relations with the village’s head man, so their next dream is to build a school right there in the village.
We wondered if they would have to save up for another 10 years to achieve that goal.
by Shelley Nolan Freesland, AWR Communication Director
A Local Face
Burmese producer Chit Hnin Yee Shwe’s parents also live in Mile 71 Village. It took outstanding determination and focus for Chit Hnin to achieve her dreams of a college education. For six years, she worked in a sewing factory, often in shifts that stretched from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., six days a week. Today, she loves being behind the microphone and making Bible stories come alive for listeners. She looks for ways to support her home village, such as collecting clothes through church members in Yangon.
AWR Myanmar – Fast Facts
• AWR Myanmar celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015. One of the first languages broadcast from AWR’s shortwave station on Guam came from Myanmar.
• There are more than 135 languages spoken in the country. Staff in two studios currently produce programs in seven languages: Burmese, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Mon, Po Karen, and Shan.
• Some of these languages have very few Adventists: only five within the Shan tribe, and less than a hundred in Kachin.
• Most listeners are under the age of 30 – “those who are very anxious to know new things.”
• “Before, we were totally dependent on shortwave. Now that we have podcasts and smartphones, we have a really good opportunity to reach people throughout Myanmar.”
• Podcast programs are downloaded 300,000 times a day. Most of these listeners are immigrants or refugees in countries such as Australia, Norway, Sweden, and the U.S.
• AWR is providing matching funds for a new production center in Pyin Oo Lwin (construction and studio equipment).
• The team’s dream is to add a local FM station, and AWR is raising funds for that outreach as well.
To view an exciting 360° video of producers and listeners in Myanmar, visit 360.awr.org.