Do Something Small in Some Small Place

By Conner McAlary
Oct. 26, 2017
Recently I had the chance to build new partnerships through which I can help promote positive change in my community.  
Handwashing demonstration1
Conner teaching handwashing techniques using the "happy birthday" song
Handwashing demonstration
Handwashing demonstration

I had the immense pleasure and opportunity to work on a secondary project together with Habitat for Humanity Myanmar, the YMCA, and a group of awesome local volunteer youths from an organization called Care Teen. We conducted activities for Global Handwashing Day (October 15) at a local school in my small town, a short river boat crossing and a world away from the bustling city of Yangon.

Following a series of speeches on the theme, the kids participated in great games and activities. Care Teen volunteers led a speech contest, trivia game, skits, and activities and then I was asked to perform the handwashing demonstration. My plan was to teach the children to sing the happy birthday song twice while they scrubbed their hands, which I read somewhere allows for adequate time to remove all the germs and bacteria. In order to do this, I first had to actually teach the kids how to sing the happy birthday song!  I still can never quite get over just how excited and happy Myanmar students get whenever they seem to do anything with me, and the happy birthday song was no exception.  At the end, we set up handwashing stations and had all the kids wash their hands thoroughly, the school courtyard being filled with a resounding chorus of “happy birthday.”

As I was standing there, watching all the kids waiting in line to wash their hands, what really struck me was how this day involved so many different groups and people coming together to make a difference.  From the fledgling program of Habitat for Humanity Myanmar to the YMCA, which has operated in Myanmar for decades, to the Care Teen volunteers, who are just perfect emblematic examples of the energy and enthusiasm of youth in Myanmar…I am continually in awe of my host community’s dedication.

Handwashing demonstration
Handwashing practice with Care Teen

What I have come to realize is that Peace Corps provides a tremendous opportunity to build partnerships and work together with locals who are already working so hard to make a difference in their homeland. That is particularly true here in Myanmar, a country in the midst of massive, sudden, and widespread change.  As we left the school, some of the children waiting by the gate struck up another round of “happy birthday,” and I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that, because of Peace Corps, I was able to do something small in some small place that I otherwise would never have been able to do.  Our focus as Peace Corps Volunteers is about making small, but meaningful, impact and I am greatly looking forward to my next opportunity.

Conner McAlary

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