Jamie Yearns to Return to Mentoring in Myanmar

Jamie Yearns to Return to Mentoring in Myanmar

With Jamie Drew

Jamie Drew began his mentoring role with the Diocese of Pathein in March 2019.  His role included engaging the community in issues of permaculture and sustainability; strengthening staff, and therefore organisational, capacity to deliver the socio-pastoral program; providing advice for sustainable rural development; and teaching/mentoring IT and conversational English. Unfortunately due to COVID-19, Jamie decided to return home to Victoria before border closures were imposed.

COVID-19 Concerns: Leaving My Placement

The title isn’t very attention grabbing but that’s how it felt over in Myanmar when the rest of the world was panicking about the new flu strain. From my perspective with the news available on the local situation I wasn’t worried. It seemed not to be spreading and I thought the world was doing the yearly ritual of panicking far too much about something hyped up by media. I was planning to stay in Myanmar and continue designing, from home if necessary, and tending my garden while the schools were shut down.

However, there were a few reasons I got organised to make my way back to Australia. The first was a panicking family, filling me with their fears which began my serious consideration of the situation. Secondly, DFAT’s Smart Traveller advice changed the status of all countries to ‘Do Not Travel’, which is the highest level and made it impossible for me to get insurance which just happened to need renewing at the end of the month. I also thought about the difficulty of accessing food if shops were shut. Fear for my own health was fairly small because I am young and healthy enough.

After booking flights it started to feel real, and rushed. I went around saying goodbye to those in the office. I felt terrible, like I was abandoning them to their fate and going back to a well provisioned pantry and comfortable house.

I almost cried when saying goodbye with the thought that, ‘If this is real and spreads seriously, some people I know might die, and I’ve decided to abandoned them’. I still have some raw emotions on that topic as I write. Another reason for leaving is that if I was there and got sick I would just be a burden to their already lacking hospital system. I really hope I get back and see all the people I know again; I hope it does turn out that they have resistance or that it doesn’t spread that far. But the fear is that it will spread far, due to thousands of workers coming home from neighbouring countries.

Returning home was not easy, I liked my independence and I liked my role. I will miss seeing my supportive friends daily. There are some people who I have become close to and I will miss their voices, jokes and company. I will miss the good and cheap food and the different kind of freedom that I felt there. I had projects planned for the school children: I wanted to begin audio visual capturing and editing. I will miss not being able to facilitate their making of music videos, documentaries and instructional videos.

A real sadness came on basically with the quarantine, suddenly feeling useless, quite alone and missing and worrying for the people I had left. It is difficult being stuck in the house/on the property at home, not being able to go shopping, riding, running or on adventures. I was really distant for some days and felt like a stranger to my mother in whose house I would undergo quarantine. We could not hug or even share a meal; I set up an outside kitchen and began some practical projects to keep me occupied.

I have a great sadness if I think on the people back in Pathein getting ill, but I hope and pray that they will stay safe. I am embarrassed to video call with my friends there as I don’t want them to see the difference in our living arrangements. I think a lot about the differences between people’s self-isolation; some simply don’t have food or money to buy food and I’m here in Australia with the ability to have food delivered and the money to do so.

The in-equality of the world really upsets me and I don’t think we should accept it, I would really like to make a strong link back to Pathein when the current crisis is over to share what I have, what we have; I really hope to create something of continued benefit through the skills I pass on. Many people in the world, most in fact, will never be able to afford a ticket to fly to another country. That is something we need to aim to fix as a global community, not the airfares, the fact that some people cannot imagine having the opportunities that others do, opportunities that the television tells them are normal.

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