A month at the Phaung Daw Oo School
Myanmar is famous for a few things; it's golden pagodas and temples, the hot and humid weather, but mainly as the worlds most generous people for the last 3 years according to the World Giving Index (they were second the year before that). Its a remarkable feat considering the average income is equivalent to $6000 USD per annum, the next 3 most generous countries the USA, Australia and New Zealand have average incomes that exceed Myanmar by at least six to one. From what I've seen they are a very generous nation.
Using my own index - the stray dog (SDi); looking for the mangy, the nearly dead, the skin and bone wrecks of dogs you often see abroad, there aren’t any here. Most dogs are pretty healthy, people go out of their way to feed them and yes there’s lots of them. And it’s the same for less fortunate people. That’s not to say there is no poverty, there is plenty of it. But there’s a very visible culture of sharing at play.
Buddhism seems to be more a way of life, a culture over simply a religion. It’s deeply ingrained in the ethos of the place, everyone follows it, somehow the people really do “love thy neighbour”. Part of it must be the monastic system, there are half a million monks in Myanmar (1% of the population), all Buddhist males are expected to serve as novice monks, twice – a two year period in their teens and again in the twenties. As a monk, you have nothing except robes and sandals, you relay on the community to feed and support you. In return you provide help and guidance back. All I can say is it works even though the economy is not stellar.
100 years ago, Myanmar then Burma was considered the strongest Asian Tiger economy. Its was expected it would lead the region. But something went wrong, long before the 1962 military coup. It’s now the poorest performing economy in the region, by western measures of GDP etc. But perhaps that’s been its redeeming quality? Had it been the leading economy would it still have the title worlds most generous nation? I can’t help feeling that this real sharing economy would have struggled to survive against the competitive forces of global consumerism.