“I came here alone, thought I was on my own, but then I found you.”
Throughout my gap year I’ve had to say a lot of goodbyes, and they are all hard. After projects in Nepal and Cambodia, after meeting fellow tourist friends in Hong Kong and Australia. Even saying goodbye to places, like the beautiful village in Nepal or the charming Hanoi, I always struggle with the parting.
This time, its the walking to PNO (and getting distracted by street food), the late night trip to the cinema for ice cream and eating 500 kyats tofu egg noodles. It’s the mentors, core team members and mentees who form the SEALNet family. In PM 2017 Taunggyi, I’ve been with such incredible people. Each of them taught me a different thing, each of them colour my world in one way or another.
These are the times where I am torn between my attachment to people and places, and my thirst for more adventure and other things to do.
These are also the times where I feel the most alone. Our pathways have crossed, but to continue on my journey I need to be by myself. There is no reason to continue working and living side by side everyday. An abrupt end after getting used to, or even close to each other.
My only way to remember them is to write down how they became characters in my life story and influenced me.
Fe is my dependable roomie and fellow facillitator, always rational and chill but somehow still the most adorable person ever. Paris is the person who makes me laugh effortlessly and brings me warmth. Thun and her smile is my daily dose of sunshine and her confidence inspires me. Chit’s strength challenges me to be a stronger person. Julienne is so mature and sensitive, I wish I could be like her when it comes to dealing with emotions. Sheena is energetic and loving, lively and warm. Limeng is funny in his own shy and quiet way, and the only one happy to eat vegetarian with me. Vee is so talented when it comes to facilitating that I always find myself learning so much from her. Thida is well-spoken, confident and I wish I could be half as cool as her.
Aung is dependable, patient and never tired of serving others. Khun is another reliable guy who is always ready to be of help, with his infectious smile. Hnin has such strong conviction and faith in her beliefs, and I look up to her so much for believing so much in everything and making all of this possible. Ziggy is the one who is always looking out for others, and willing to support others and to go the extra mile for them. And then of course there is Yuth, our young but incredibly wise shifu that always knows what to do at what time. He is our happy pill, disciplinarian and advisor rolled into one.
I think I tried not to overuse the word strong, but I really thought a lot and learnt a lot about what strength means during the duration of this project. I used to think strong means not crying when I am emotional or being the one to speak and lead in all circumstances. But I realised that everyone can be strong in their own way, just like all of the people’s I met in this project.
And it’s not just the mentors or core team members, but also the mentees. They’ve taught me that making a difference starts from having the smallest wish. They’ve taught me that the quietest passion is also the strongest and the most unwavering. They’ve taught me that people grow and learn, and that achieving great things is a journey.
I remember crying so much during reflections, because I feel like they taught me more things than I thought them. The kind of challenges women face in Myanmar are so different from Singapore; the kind of passion and courage they face to take on this issue, especially if they are girls themselves, is unimaginable. Many of them were introduced to ideas of gender equality or politics for the first time – and this awareness sparked in them the desire for action.
I tried to find the strength in myself and although I cried a lot during this project, I don’t see it as a weakness. I think I cried a lot more as I grew older, because I wanted to process my feelings rather than hiding them.
I also tried to reduce the nagging voices in my head that I wasn’t doing a good enough job. Even though they won’t go away anytime soon, I feel stronger because I promised myself not to let these voices hold me back when it comes to doing things I am passionate about.
“Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.” – Mary Shelley
I knew that this project was about empowering girls in Myanmar, but deep down in my heart, I signed up because I wanted to empower myself. I was a girl who was insecure about my own body and my own abilities. I was a girl who didn’t know what I want in life. What I tried to ‘teach’ the mentees was what I wanted to teach myself desperately.
After this project, I choose to acknowledge the person I am and to work on the person I want to become.
And that ends another chapter in my gap year. *cue happy tears*